Finally, draft season is kicking up a notch around Phoenix as the Suns began predraft workouts Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. It didn’t feature headliner names but one immediately popped off the page with SMU’s Shake Milton.
Milton was there alongside five other guards — Devonte’ Graham (Kansas), Tra Holder (Arizona State), Trevon Blueitt (Xavier), Lendell Wigginton (Iowa State), Kendrick Nunn (Illinois) —but he was the obvious standout.
After a subpar performance at the NBA Draft Combine, Milton, who was projected in the 20-30 range, might be there for the taking at No. 31.
Last season, Milton was hampered by his hand injury, which he says is now 100%, but still went on to average 18 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals on 44.9/43.4/84.7 splits in 22 appearances.
Milton’s unique profile standing at 6’6” with a near 7-foot wingspan while shooting 42.7% for his career on 3s at SMU, when diving in further including BLK% and STL%, puts him in the lottery class. Only Mikal Bridges and Zhaire Smith were the only other G/F to have block and steal percentages above 2% while also shooting +40% from deep.
With his high basketball IQ thrown in, 1.92 AST/TO ratio, Milton profiles as the ideal complement to Devin Booker in the backcourt who can do it all.
“The fact that I can really shoot the ball, space the floor. Also, my IQ for the game — I think I’m really able to pick up on things quickly — and just being versatile,” Milton said. “You can plug me in at the 1, at the 2, 3. I have the versatility to guard 1 through 3. Just trying to show I have a little bit of everything.”
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough believes players that fit Milton’s archetype, longer playmakers are tailor-made for today’s NBA.
“I think it is valuable (length at PG), especially defensively. The ability to switch, Houston does this a lot, Golden State does it some where they set screen after screen and try to get a specific matchup with a weaker defender, smaller defender against James Harden or Chris Paul for example. So, I think if you don’t have to protect anybody or hide anybody — if you can just switch 1-5 guard in those switching situations — I think that’s really valuable,” McDonough said. “Then, offensively, the ability to make shots over the top of the defense. Make passes over the top to see the floor, to hit the weak side corner. We talked a little bit about Doncic and his abilities. I think having a bigger guard allows you to do some of those creative things and really not get put in a box on either end of the court.”
If Milton is on the board at No. 31 come draft night, whichever direction they go up top, he fits right into their plan of acquiring a plus shooting guard who can be switch versatile.
McDonough spoke even further on the likes of Ayton and Doncic, who us over at Bright Side of the Sun will continue to break down and nitpick over the next month, but he had some very interesting comments I wanted to share below on both from Friday’s availability.
I am in the camp that believes Ayton’s lack of defensive instincts he displayed in pick-and-roll situations has some concern, but McDonough also pointed to the fact that Ayton rarely was allowed to play center all that often. With senior big man Dusan Ristic clogging up the middle, Ayton was pushed out to the perimeter where he actually handled himself well against smaller guards. He runs the floor like a guard and his foot speed shows it.
McDonough didn’t seem all that concerned about Ayton from a rim protection aspect, but he could learn it under the right environment over time.
“Yeah, he’s a terrific athlete. I think schematically a lot it was schematically. They had him playing they had him playing the 4 a lot with Ristic, so he was guarding away from the basket on the perimeter,” McDonough said. “In the NBA, obviously he’s a center. He slides well. He moves his feet well. He’s a tremendous athlete at that size in terms of strength fluidity, coordination, all of that. What I’ve seen on film and in-person so far, a lot it is just experience. I think knowing defensive rotations. When to switch, when to rotate, that just comes with time. He has a high level feel for the game, especially on the offensive end of the court. And from my experience, guys who have it on that end of the floor usually, in time, able to translate that to the defensive end of the floor as well.”
When speaking further on Doncic, McDonough touched on his lack of elite burst. It’s a legitimate question raised against Doncic that has been further driven under the microscope during Real Madrid’s Euroleague championship run.
However, as many would see up-close if Doncic is the choice, he’s a sturdy 6’8” with an already thick frame. McDonough even compared him to thicker forwards with maybe not high level athleticism, but they know how to maneuver themselves around the floor at high levels.
Hence why many have thrown the James Harden comparison Doncic’s way over the past year plus. McDonough’s level of concern over lacking top-flight athleticism seemed little to none.
“First of all, he’s really big. That’s one of the things that stands out when you see him in person. When you see him on film, physically he’s comparable to Joe Johnson, who’s a big, strong guy as you guys know,” McDonough said. “I think T.J. Warren’s measurements are pretty similar physically. He’s so skilled at that size and has such a good feel I think you don’t realize on tape how big he is. He’s able to jab, create his own shot. He’s able to lower his shoulder to create space and overpower defenders. He’s adept at getting at the free throw line. I don’t have concerns with him physically. I think if you look at some of the All-NBA teams that just came out yesterday some of those guys were maybe better basketball players than athletes where they test off the charts in terms of running and jumping. Things like that, maybe not but if you put the ball in their hands and they know what to do. And I think that’s how I would describe Luka.”
After reports of possible friction with Karl-Anthony Towns arose, many began to connect the dots to Phoenix possibly offering up the No. 1 pick in exchange for Towns. If it ever got to that point with Towns and Tom Thibodeau, but you never know nowadays after New York’s fiasco under Phil Jackson with Kristaps Porzingis.
If it wasn’t for a late step in and hesitancy from the player, Porzingis likely is a Suns uniform right now while Josh Jackson suits up for the Knicks.
Outside of names like Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid, Towns is the only other one to me who fits the criteria of somewhere worth trading the top pick for.
McDonough believes the list itself is very small, as far as who they would actually trade it for, and that decision likely wouldn’t be made if they went in that avenue until June 21.
“Yeah, I think there’s a very small grouping of players that we would consider trading it for. I laid out some of the criteria,” McDonough said. “It would have to be a young, proven star player with multiple years on his contract or multiple years of team control. Once you start fiddling down the list, that list probably shrinks to a handful of players, if not fewer players than that. The overwhelming likelihood is that we keep the pick. However, we’re open. If those teams call us or we call them, but as of now we are planning on keeping it. We want to go through the process. I think if we were to arrive at that destination it would be on draft night or just before the draft. So, I think it’s very likely we keep the pick and draft No. 1.”
One other note I found interesting was that Mohamed Bamba told the Suns in Chicago last week that he wants to compete for the chance to be taken at the top. Bamba told them he believes he’s better than the rest ahead of him in consideration and wants to come to Phoenix and prove it in a workout setting. McDonough loved the confidence Bamba exuded to them, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them have top three grades on him.
McDonough will not be available again to speak with the media until their final predraft workout the week of the draft itself.
The Phoenix Suns hold a lot of poker chips at the moment until draft night, so expect rumors to keep flying in as they become one of the hotter topics this summer. With predraft workouts now in full effect, this adds a new wrinkle to the entire process.