What’s left of the embers of the Phoenix Suns’ blazing 8-0 streak throughout NBA Bubble play are beginning to dissipate. Although Phoenix fans won’t soon forget their team’s historic stretch in Orlando, future endeavors are now at the forefront of Suns nation worldwide - from the avid couch supporter to the front office itself.
It’s now draft time ladies and gentlemen. Adam Silver has revealed the league’s official selection date to be Nov. 18. For this year’s incoming class, that day marks incumbent transcendence of a dream fully realized, as they emerge from their dormant college (or overseas) cocoons and blossom into fully-fledged NBA butterflies.
For NBA teams, it’s a pivotal turning point, signifying a symbolic crystal ball appearance into their future.
There is perhaps no day more important this year for the Phoenix Suns. It’s foster or flop - and their undefeated typhoon shockwave through the NBA’s final regular season slate raises the night’s stakes even higher.
So who will they select? Well it’s a question that must go unanswered for now, but that doesn’t mean we can't speculate. And that we've done.
But while all we have for reliable information to fall back on when it comes their draft plans is collective hearsay, James Jones and company have begun to enact their future intents with full-throttled force.
Eight seems to be a favorable number in the Suns fortunes, so without further ado, here are eight prospects they’ve spoken with thus far.
Age/Position : 20, Point Guard
Physicals: 6’3, 185 lbs
Stats: 16.2 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds
Jones has a deep familial lineage within the basketball world. His brother Tyus currently fulfills backup point guard duties for the Memphis Grizzlies, while two additional older brothers carved out substantial careers at the college level. Jones though, may be the one who stands head and shoulders above them all.
He’s a seasoned basketball aficionado beyond his years, fully capable of getting to his spots and creating his own shot (as he did so often under Coach K’s helm this past year), while not uncomfortable in the slightest to resign to dime and dish duties and allow other scorers to effectively operate (as was his role when he was surrounded by Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish).
Jones is rated as the pool’s seventh best point guard according to Tankathon, and most big boards have him going in the second round. While it’s easy to envision him as a long-term steady playmaker in a role that projects to be strikingly similar to that of his older brother’s, Jones answered all questions surrounding his alpha scoring prowess with a blatant soured attitude. He’s shown time and again that he’s not afraid of the big moment - and there’s no bigger stage in college hoops than Cameron Indoor Stadium. Phoenix has a plethora of talented young guards on their roster (Ty Jerome, Cam Payne, Elie Okobo) so Jones may be a bit of a stretch, but the offensive chemistry Jones and Devin Booker could create has to be a mouth-watering proposition for management to mull over.
Age/Position: 19, Shooting Guard
College: New Zealand Breakers (NBL)
Physicals: 6’5, 185 lbs
Stats: 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists
There are a lot of RJ’s in the realm of basketball. None though, quite fit the scouting profile possessed by Texas’ beloved RJ Hampton, whose lethal combination of physical dexterity, length, defensive IQ and scoring will have teams scouring over him like the last slice of cake.
Hampton, like fellow draft-mate Lamelo Ball opted for international waters over the traditional college route after seeing - and seizing the opportunity to get paid for his contributive services. His adolescent age is a deterrent for some, but youth translates to longevity in the minds of other scouts, and Hampton’s christening process to the adult world came fast and heavy for the budding headliner.
It was all self-imposed, though. He recalibrated his path towards New Zealand after growing weary of subpar competition at the high school level, citing a preference to play with “grown men.” And contrary to the forecasting beliefs of some, he was visibly unintimidated upon arrival. Hampton torched his opponent for 20 points in just his second ever pro appearance, and flashed all signs of a franchise cornerstone before injury derailed his campaign. But the film was a telling enough sample size to make a favorable evaluation: he’s got springboards for legs, a fleet twitch, and changes directions extremely well. He’ll have to improve his left-handed dribbling efficiency, but assistant coaches revel in fastening flawed areas like that. Defensive awareness and footing also pose another major problem, but what 19-year old doesn’t struggle on that side of the ball?
For Hampton, plus far outweighs minus, so his currently liabilities won’t X him off many teams’ draft boards. The Suns seem to be one of those who fit into that category.
Age/Position: 22, Guard
Physicals: 6’6, 215 lbs
Stats: 16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists
Bane is one of the more complete prospects that will likely be available at the 10 spot. He’s been courted by nearly every franchise, but according to AZ Central’s Duane Rankin, has an especially appealing skill package that GM James Jones feels would fit the Suns mold.
Bane’s scouting tape doesn’t reveal any dazzling “eye-test” showcases that force your attention upon him, but he's made his bread and butter through doing the little things. He was told as a college sophomore that he didn't possess the same inherent gifts as some of his concomitant counterparts, and that it would be rugged work that would vault to him to the NBA darling status he craved.
How many do you see in a row pic.twitter.com/JuFBylAOn0— Desmond Bane (@DBane0625) October 1, 2020
Instead of responding begrudgingly, he flipped his inner fire into fuel, rarely wavering from his daily routine of hoops, strength training, then conditioning. That translated seamlessly -to the tune of career-high numbers across the board in his senior season at Texas Christian, and a First Team All Big-12 nod.
Jones took notice. The two had a long conversation detailing Bane’s potential role in Monty Williams’ system, which yielded positive feelings from both on a possible future together. Bane fits the Suns profile - he’s got a dogged mentality and work ethic, is a highly-capable deep-range marksman, and gained invaluable experience as a four-year letter-winner in college. Hmm - sounds eerily similar. Oh yeah, that’s the exact description of Phoenix’s 2019 first-round draft pick, Cam Johnson. Don't be surprised if Bane leapfrogs his way right into the Suns’ lap.
Age/Position: 21, Power Forward
Physicals: 6’9. 225 lbs
Stats: 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.0 assist
The man whom they call “Precious” is one highly sought-after commodity. And with a name like Precious (yes that’s his real name) he’d better be doing something special with his life. Achiuwa chose basketball as his preferred career of choice, and when you’re blessed with his rare combination of strength, athleticism and mobility (of course coupled with a 6’9 frame) that’s not a bad path to chart down.
Phoenix seems to have inklings of wanting to bolster their offensive brigade, and while Achiuwa is lacking on that end in terms of creativity (he mostly relied on pure physicality at Memphis), his defensive presence is undeniable. Like Deandre Ayton, Achiuwa is a tenacious rebounder and stout shot blocker and changer, thanks to a 71.5-inch wingspan. Adequate fit is a question that’s hard to answer right now, but Achiuwa is young, raw and willing to learn. You can’t coach that.
Age/Position: 20, Point Guard
Physicals: 6’1, 160 lbs
Stats: 14.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists
TT (yes I gave him a nickname) can flat out score it. Plain and simple. This scouting report from NBAdraft.net sufficiently gives him due diligence in that regard:
Very cerebral and focused player with great maturity from a mental standpoint...one of the purest shooters in this year’s draft, his release is clean and concise.
Their player comparison: CJ McCollum. Not bad for a 20-year old just coming off his freshman year. Terry fired off a whopping 152 three-balls as Stanford’s starting point guard, but amply substantiated the high attempts total by connecting on 40.8 percent of them. He also posted a stellar 44 percent mark from the floor.
Terry’s name has been circulated with the likes of Stephen Curry and Trae Young for his extended spraying propensity, but those are always murky waters to try and cross when evaluating a player this young. I do know one thing though - the Suns have an affinity for shot-makers, and Terry is unequivocally that. His doesn’t quite yet inhabit an NBA body, but basketball’s highest level also signifies its best physical trainers. Terry is currently CBS Sports’ sixth-rated available point guard.
Age/Position: 20, Power Forward
Physicals: 6’10, 225 lbs
Stats: 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 53.8 FG%, 2.4 blocks
I watched Jalen Smith play in person last year. There’s no other way to describe this guy other than “one man wrecking crew.” He was an absolute tank in the paint, bashing and bruising smaller opponents around like he was in a demolition derby.
But that’s nothing new for the Maryland big man. He’s made a name out of performing feats of this sort, but like Precious Achiuwa, Smith will have to undergo major surgical improvements to his game if he wants to find his footing at the next level.
He’s not a polished post scorer, and is not nearly as quick as need be in certain defensive rotations and pick and rolls. But his physical aura and tantalizing glass-cleaning ability is near second to none. He’s got gigantic hands, a massive wingspan, and like the Cookie Monster, if there’s a basketball in Smith’s vicinity, he’s going to vacuum it up. His timing on blocked shots is a marvel for a player his age, and when you have as soft a shooting touch as he does at that size, you’ve already carved out a niche for yourself in today’s era of basketball.
It was the Jalen Smith show tonight for Maryland— Fundamentally Sound (@FundamentallySD) February 5, 2020
Watch this whole sequence pic.twitter.com/RfKcNyvgxh
He’s slated as a lottery selection in most top scout’s latest mock drafts, and all signs point to his name remaining on the board through the first 10 picks. Phoenix may avoid him in efforts to soothe possible resignations from their current post operator (their games are strikingly mirrored) but if Smith shows he can slot in well with Ayton, that’s a scary two-headed monster to haunt opposing foes.
Age/Position: 19, Power Forward
Physicals: 6’11, 240 lbs
Stats: 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 57.0 FG%
If you’ve got the approval of Deandre Ayton, you must be doing something right. Ayton holds tremendous vying power within the Suns organization, especially considering the girth of his prized #1 overall pick status - the first ever in Phoenix history.
Ayton is an immovable staple in their future plans, which places the weight of his approval or disdain of a certain prospect at the utmost magnitude. His feelings about Nnaji fall under the former, and aside from obvious reasons springing from a shared alma mater, Ayton’s fondness of Nnaji has viable grounds from an on-court standpoint.
Everything about Nnaji’s game screams energy. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year oozes confidence and a brash attitude. He’s hungry for offensive boards and putback dunks. An elegant nimbleness complements his fierce disposition, and he thoroughly excels in the catch and shoot game as well as the pick and roll. Although he didn’t take many three-pointers at ‘Zona, that’s an aspect of his game that can be developed, and Wildcat comraderie matched with a translatable chemistry in Nnaji and Ayton’s styles may be just what Phoenix needs to bolster their front-line.
Age/Position: 19, Small Forward
Stats: 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists
What NBA team hasn't contacted Okoro? Oh that’s right. None.
Ah yes, the hype is very real surrounding the 6’6 small forward from the Heart of Dixie. And it’s very palpable I must say. Okoro has the complete package from a prospective outlook, with minimal weaknesses in his game that could pose a detriment to his ascension into an everyday rotational focal point.
I’ll start with those shortcomings though, and they begin and end with one word: shooting.
Okoro was pedestrian from beyond the arc to say the least, and though his porous display from deep was a horrendous eye-sore, he made up for it by remaining constantly productive from closer range (51.4%). He’s a physical specimen for today’s age - a quick twitch makes him completely capable of guarding portions 1-4 on the floor, and he possesses a sneaky strength in corralling larger targets to boot.
He’s Marcus Smart-esque in his ability to minimize scoring weapons. A capable ball-handle, lightning first step, heady passing touch and impeccable finishing ability round out a solid offensive acumen on that side of the court, and those tools will easily slot him as a coveted 3-and-D project. NBADraft.net’s current mock draft has him slated to Phoenix at 10, though there may be a team or two that shakes the fray and trades up for his services.
The NBA Finals are winding down, which only means that draft talk is heating up. For many, especially the wide-eyed young players (and especially Suns fans) this is where the fun newly begins.
What position would you target for the Suns?
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Ed. Note: Please welcome Justin Morris to the Bright Side writing crew!