No one in this rookie class, outside of possibly Ja Morant who is almost certain to go No. 2 overall to Memphis, is a good enough natural talent to be a quality starting point guard in the NBA inside the next two seasons.
Coby White and Darius Garland are the other lottery-talent point guards behind Morant but neither is a Steve Nash style pass-first facilitator nor do they appear to have significantly more NBA ready skills than two guys the Suns already have on the roster — and under guaranteed contract for next season — in Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton. The two Suns rookies weren’t good passers on the whole, but they were still among the top 5 rookies — from a great rookie class, mind you — in assist rate.*
*all rookie comparisons in this article require minimum 50 games played, 15 minutes per game to ensure valid sample size
And on the other end, neither White nor Garland have the wingspan to match either Okobo or Melton on the defensive end of the floor. Both of the existing Suns point guards have 6’8” wingspans which dramatically help them cut off passing lanes, while White and Garland are both at 6’5” in that area. Three inches might not seem like a lot, but it can be the difference on deflecting a pass or even deterring a passer from trying. Just look at the length the Raptots used against the league’s best passing team and three-time champ Warriors.
And among all four, it’s Melton with the best defensive instincts. leading all NBA rookies in steal rate last year (just ahead of teammate Mikal Bridges) and all rookies under 6’7” in rebound rate.
Yet there MUST be a big difference between White/Garland and Okobo/Melton for the former to be considered top-10 locks in 2019 while the latter pairing lasted till the second round a year ago.
Some of it is quality of draft. Okobo might have gone in the second half of the first round this year. He was ranked that high on talent a year ago in a much more talented draft, but dropped because of concerns that he wasn’t ready for the NBA and yet was adamant to be on an NBA roster. He was against being stashed overseas another year or two.
And some is timing and circumstance. Melton was labeled a first round talent a year ago, but dropped to the second round because he had sat out the entire previous college season while he and the school were investigated in the college bribery scandal (Melton has not been mentioned since then).
Both were considered second round steals, and in a shallower draft (like 2019) they might end up as first rounders anyway. But that just means the Suns duo might go in the second half of the first round if they were in the 2019 pool. Still nowhere near White and Garland.
The real difference between the Suns duo and White/Garland is the latter’s exciting offensive skillset.
Sure Okobo has offensive potential, but it was as raw as raw can be and mostly appears to be limited to jump shots from a low release point. Yet Okobo looks like Steph Curry compared to Melton, who struggles even to make layups let alone jumpers. Neither Suns rookie topped 40% on field goal attempts, and the already-limping Suns offense completely died under their watch.
Garland and White are not great passers, but they are extremely talented playmakers in their own right.
Read this wonderful piece from SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell on prospect Coby White today.
White is a nominal point guard, but he hardly plays like a floor general in a traditional sense. At nearly 6’5, White combines the scoring mentality of an off-guard with an unbreakable resolve to put pressure on the defense with the ball in his hands. In that sense, White’s offensive skill set is a natural fit for how the position has evolved in today’s game.
White remains more of a scorer than a facilitator, but he’s far from selfish. He showed promise as a decision-maker in the half-cout, whether that meant finishing plays himself or hitting a teammate for an assist. He finished in the 81st percentile for points plus assists per possession against a set defense, per Synergy Sports, which is impressive efficiency for a player who has mostly staked his reputation in the open floor.
Ricky compared Coby White to a handful of young NBA guards that should give you perfect context of how he’d fit in the NBA.
In the article, White compares favorably to Jamal Murray, C.J. McCollum, De’Angelo Russell and Collin Sexton coming out of college. All are more comfortable being big scoring options next to another ball handler or two or three and none are incredible defenders in their own right.
The article doesn’t mention De’Aaron Fox as a comp, but the description O’Donnell uses about White’s up-tempo constant pressure game made me think of Fox immediately.
Garland was not a focus of the White article, of course, but fits the same exact mold as a score-first floor general. It appears likely that both White and Garland will have a ceiling at career averages of 20+ points and 3-5 assists per game while providing suspect defense.
Are White and Garland better prospects in the NBA than Okobo and Melton?
Could either White or Garland eventually contribute to a playoff-caliber back court with Devin Booker, along the same lines as Gary Harris / Murray in Denver or Lillard / McCollum in Portland?
Maybe, after a year or two of transition filled with growing pains. Another rookie point guard at the level of White / Garland will need at least a couple of years before realizing their potential, and that’s being generous.
Can you envision a playoff-caliber back court with Booker alongside Melton or Oboko in the same or less time?
I mean, maybe, I guess the potential is there. Especially with Melton, in my opinion.
But the biggest question revolves around the potential surrounding Garland and White. Is it enough to ignore other holes on the roster while undergoing yet another year of prioritizing player development?
I don’t think so.
Banking on White or Garland means signing a stopgap point guard for a year or two, which means someone like Patrick Beverley or Corey Joseph or Darren Collison. Not much better than Tyler Johnson.
Betting on White or Garland also means spending your draft capital AND your free agent money on the point guard position with guys who will almost certainly never be top-15 point guards in the league.
I believe the Suns have bigger problems to address, like power forward or defense, which is why I think that plan is the last thing they should do.
Should the Suns take White/Garland while also signing a 1-2 year stopgap veteran with FA money?
This poll is closed
Yes. Suns need to move on from Melton/Okobo
No. Suns have bigger problems and don’t need to spend draft and FA capital on middling point guards