For two of the three position groups on the Phoenix Suns’ roster — ball handlers, wings and bigs — there is a veteran mentor in place for their young core to sponge as much information out of as possible. However, that void still exists for the Suns’ point guards, unless you consider Isaiah Canaan the proverbial leader just based off experience or Devin Booker, because he’s actually played the position probably more than the rest.
Last month, the Suns traded their starting point guard, Brandon Knight, and Marquese Chriss to Houston for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton. Immediately after, it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania that the Suns would be openly shopping to find their starter at that position. Charania even thought this situation would be solved for Phoenix by training camp on Tuesday.
Well, that’s definitely not the case following Monday’s Media Day at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Not only was there not a deal made beforehand, but new head coach Igor Kokoskov even spoke about turning a weakness into a strength. General Manager Ryan McDonough reiterated he’s comfortable with the current PG depth, but they will keep their options open throughout preseason and up to this year’s trade deadline in February.
No surprise, but the Suns are keeping all of their options up on the situation. We could even see Booker, Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren handle some playmaking duties, as Kokoskov’s scheme is based around movement on and off-ball.
One of those players Phoenix might have to rely upon earlier than expected is Shaquille Harrison, who showed out in Las Vegas Summer League which led to his contract for 2018-19 being kept around. At this stage, if no moves are made before October 17, Harrison looks to be the starting point guard.
Even though Harrison is possibly the Suns’ best point of attack defender, he struggled feeding post-entry passes to Deandre Ayton far too often during their week-long stint in Vegas. Harrison told me he’s not only improving as a shooter, which he says will shock a lot of people this year, but also unleashing his playmaking capabilities.
“I’m making huge strides,” Harrison said of his developing playmaking ability. “That takes me working on the court, off the court with film, picking some vets brains and watching other film on elite point guards in this league. That’s definitely helped me continue to grow.”
It was previously reported by Charania earlier this month that the Suns’ top trade target was Patrick Beverley. He would be the perfect mentor for the likes of Harrison, Melton and Okobo, but if that doesn’t happen could the undrafted guard of out Tulsa fill this role? Well, Harrison ironically enough has been trying to steal some tricks from the likes of Beverley during personal film sessions.
“Yeah, I’ve watched some film on Patrick Beverley a lot,” Harrison said. “I see myself as Shaq Harrison, though, so I try to pave the way for myself but, you know, I definitely look at other people’s games and definitely try to pick up points, little niches that they have and add it to mine.”
When comparing Harrison’s rookie numbers to Beverley’s, it’s actually not that far off from each other, outside of Beverley already having a proven shooting stroke.
Another name to look out for this upcoming season is Melton. The No. 46 pick out of USC could be seen as the better long-term investment in the two-team trade over Marquese Chriss. McDonough told me even though Chriss could have played as Ayton’s backup, he wasn’t a great frontcourt partner to help space the floor which led to Anderson’s arrival too.
Melton, who I had ranked inside my lottery as the No. 13 prospect on my board, could also fill the role Phoenix wants alongside it’s $158 million star. After Melton performed well in Summer League himself, with an improved perimeter jumper from shot doctor Drew Hanlen, it gave the Suns’ more confidence in their evaluations, especially of this high upside acquisition.
McDonough pointed to Melton’s situation at USC — he did not play last season due to the FBI scandal — as one of the strangest he’s seen in his executive career. After talking to some assistant coaches, they thought Melton would play at some point and even scheduled a scouting trip to watch him. With no new tape on him, it made his evaluation tough to gauge.
The Suns’ GM also let it be known that both Melton and Elie Okobo carried mid-first round grades. That means they believe they have four top-20 prospects on their roster, betting big-time on the 2018 draft class hitting for them, and at this point it definitely has to.
“If you look at the prototypical player you put next to Devin it would be a high-level defender and distributor. That’s what you want,” McDonough said of the ideal backcourt partner for Booker. “Obviously somebody who can make a decent amount of spot-up shots to keep defenses honest. So, those guys (Harrison/Melton) have the potential and ability I think to do that.”
Could one of Harrison or Melton turn into that Beverley-like piece, fitting seamlessly into the rotation and giving Booker the defensive buffer he desperately needs? It’s certainly possible, and I could see Melton in time turning into that with how high I was on him during the pre-draft process.
However, we can’t forget about Okobo, who was selected by the Suns atop the second round at No. 31. And from talking to plenty of people at Media Day, there was plenty of buzz behind the Frenchmen’s offensive skillset showing itself a lot throughout offseason team workouts.
McDonough mentioned Monday that Okobo, who made the full-time switch to point guard following his return from injury last year for Pau-Orthez, is reading pick-and-rolls and making plays out of them better than most guards he’s seen his age. Okobo also was advertised as a lights-out left-handed marksmen, who hit 39.4% of his three-point attempts.
“I think, offensively, Elie Okobo has the chance to be a pretty high-level offensive player, based on what I’ve seen, workouts and scrimmages,” McDonough said. “Elie, at least early on, is better at reading situations. Reading pick-and-rolls, making plays out of pick-and-rolls than a lot of young point guards I’ve been around.”
At least on the surface, there seems to be no rush from the Suns about fixing their current point guard conundrum. Whether it’s Harrison or Melton developing into Beverley 2.0 or Okobo’s offensive ability blowing everyone out of the water, one of those three will be counted upon to step up early and often until a move is eventually made.
In the meantime, the can was kicked further down the road as it comes to finding the veteran guidance this group is missing, unlike it’s positional counterparts.