CHICAGO — Attention is no trophy for losing franchises, but the Suns are receiving plenty of it from young prospects around the country.
At this week’s NBA Draft Combine, young players are playing and speaking for their futures, contemplating where they might land in the draft next month and how it will determine the course of the rest of their lives.
As they do so, several of the prospects landed on the Suns’ talented young group as a fascinating opportunity where they think they could thrive. Even guys who aren’t in contention at No. 6 spoke glowingly about Phoenix, perhaps proving again that the internet is not a great place to gauge public perception.
It could be the lack of pressure of landing in a situation where they can play a role and help build a culture that stands out to these players.
Tennessee forward Grant Williams said the possibility to be a glue guy alongside stars like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton fit his skill set well.
“Giving those guys the opportunity to not have to worry about putting too much effort,” Williams said. “They have to defend, but not have to strain as much as they normally do, taking the pressure off those guys (by) guarding the best player. Myself and Mikal Bridges being those two guys that no matter who’s on the court, you can defend.”
And based on the meetings Williams and big man Brandon Clarke had with the Suns’ braintrust, it’s clear the Suns covet a smart versatile player for their frontcourt.
“I think they’re kind of looking for guys like me,” Clarke said.
His interest in the Suns is more personal, having grown up in the Valley and attended Ahwatukee Desert Vista high school. However, he’s the one guy who could reasonably be in play at No. 6 if the Suns don’t focus solely on finding a point guard.
Both Clarke and Williams would be in a similar position at the 4 alongside Ayton, playing smart team defense and spacing the floor.
Williams said he savors the opportunity to support star players with his skill and smarts.
“Defending, taking the slack off for Devin Booker because he’s needed so much on the offensive end,” he said. “You look at the youth that they have, Deandre Ayton is a really talented player, a dominant force that probably doesn’t get the recognition because of the record, but he averaged a double-double the entire year.”
It was surprising to hear Booker be talked about like a star from players coming through the ranks because he doesn’t have the spotlight in Phoenix that most scorers do. However, one guy who will have to deal with being compared with Booker his whole career is proud to have earned the comparison.
Tyler Herro was hesitant to buy into his own hype and say he agreed with the similarities between his style and Booker’s, he admitted he has learned from Booker.
“(Booker) and CJ McCollum are people who I watch,” Herro said. “Obviously, Devin’s a great player and what he’s done in the NBA is kind of hard to match but he’s definitely a great player.”
Amid arrests and stories about goat poop, it is easy to be worried about the outlook of the Suns. But if there’s anything the team can hold its hat on, it’s the bright future of the young core it accumulated and the respect Suns players are starting to get from guys coming into the NBA.
It may not matter for much. Certainly, winning will be the only metric by which the Suns are ultimately judged after so many years in the basement. However, a positive reputation and respect from opponents is part of the job James Jones was given when he replaced Ryan McDonough.
Clarke specifically mentioned how cool it was to see a former Sun and NBA champion across from him at his meeting with the Suns in Chicago this week.
It’s a step in the right direction.