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Suns 2020 Draft Primer: Center Edition

The Suns will have a need to fill in backup center with Aron Baynes hitting free agency, but taking one with their own first round pick is far from ideal.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At this point we have broken down every position from the 2020 class outside of center, so naturally it’s time to take a quick dive into the top centers of this draft class.

Aron Baynes is set to hit the open market this offseason, so adding a backup center will be an area that needs to be addressed. Personally I’d love for them to bring Baynes back for another season if the price is right.

None of these centers make sense for the Suns in the lottery from a value or team needs standpoint, but the goal is to get you all familiar with each position group, so the show goes on.

That being said, there are some 2nd round or potential undrafted targets that I do like quite a bit for Phoenix if they decide to trade for an extra pick later in the draft, which could be a real possibility. For example, Philadelphia and New Orleans are teams to watch in dealing a 2nd round pick, as they each have an influx of them this summer while Phoenix has zero.

Lottery odds:

  • 1st pick = 3.0%
  • 2nd pick = 3.3
  • 3rd pick = 3.6%
  • 4th pick = 4.0%
  • Picks 5-9 = 0%
  • 10th pick = 65.9%
  • 11th pick = 19.0%
  • 12nd pick = 1.2%
  • Picks 13-14 = >0.0%

The process of elimination

I won’t bother to include James Wiseman in my Suns big board because he makes absolutely zero sense in Phoenix for many reasons. You can cross him off the Suns’ list.

James Wiseman, C, Memphis.

7’1”, 240 lbs., 19 years old.

19.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 0.3 APG, 0.3 SPG on 77/0/70 shooting splits in just 3 games played.

Identity/Role: Physical unicorn. Rim runner. Rim protector.

Wiseman has all the physical tools to succeed as vertical lob threat and rim protector at the next level, as he is 7 foot 1 with a freakish 7’6” wingspan and 9’3.5” standing reach.

His overall feel for the game is lacking in general and he relies too much on his size and athleticism which is a major concern, because he doesn’t offer much else. He does move very well up and down the court in a straight line, but his lateral movement is far from encouraging and his defensive awareness is not one of his strengths put to it lightly. There is a zero percent chance Phoenix drafts him, nor should they even consider him with Ayton on the roster.

Suns Specific Center Board

For reference, here are the previous positional breakdowns from previous weeks.

1. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC.

6’9”, 245 lbs., 19 years old.

16.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 2.7 BPG, 1.2 SPG on 61/25/72 shooting splits in 30.6 minutes per game.

Identity/Role: Interior threat. Rim protector. Mobile big.

Okongwu is exactly the kind of center front offices covet in the modern NBA today. He moves extremely well, can guard on the perimeter, finishes at a high level, and protects the rim. The only thing he can’t do is shoot the three at this point. There just aren’t any glaring weaknesses in his game across the board and he’s a good bet to be one of the most productive players in this class.

Onyeka is ultra efficient and understands what his role is and maximizes it with his skillset. He’s drawn many comparisons to Miami’s Bam Adebayo, which are frankly warranted as a prospect due to the similar archetypes and frames.

2. Aleksej Pokusevski, F/C, Serbia.

7’0”, 205 lbs., 18 years old.

9.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.2 SPG on 40/32/78 shooting splits in 21.3 minutes per game.

Identity/Role: Stretch five. Versitile scoring big. Raw upside.

If anyone has star upside in the mid-1st round of this draft it’s Aleksej Pokusevski. Yes, he will likely be a multi-year project, but the Serbian big man is oozing with raw potential.

“Poku” has traits that are extremely unique, as he’s a legit 7 footer that moves like a guard. He is very fluid in transition and handles the ball exceptionally well for his size. Along with his movement and handle he offers an impressive level of court vision which adds up to a unicorn-like prospect. He also has the ability to space the floor with what looks like a promising jumper with an extremely high release point.

The main issue with him now is his weak frame, and if he can fill it out and add some core and lower body strength it would greatly benefit his development as he gets tossed around in the paint at times. If there’s one guy in this class I would pick that is most likely to have GM’s kicking themselves for passing on him five years from now it would be him.

3. Jalen Smith, F/C, Maryland.

6’10”, 225 lbs., 20 years old.

15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 2.4 BPG, 0.7 SPG on 54/37/75 shooting splits in 31.3 minutes per game.

Identity/Role: Floor spacing big. Rim protector. Interior threat.

Smith has some tools that you love to see for a big man in the modern NBA, as he can step out and shoot the three and also protect the rim at a decent clip. He hits shots off movement from deep, and anytime a prospect near seven feet tall can do that they’ll grab the attention of NBA scouts. He is also a good finisher in the paint and has a nice touch around the rim with some decent post moves he’s flashed.

There are some limitations with his frame and lack of athleticism. He needs to improve his strength and become a better decision-maker, as his lack of passing acumen raises some concerns to his upside. He can defend the interior well and protect the paint, but in open space he can struggle and get attacked by quicker opponents.

4. Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State.

6’8”, 245 lbs., 21 years old.

13.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.1 BPG, 1.2 SPG on 55/26/67 shooting splits in 32.1 minutes per game.

Identity/Role: Excellent team defender. Playmaking big. High IQ.

Tillman is a bit undersized for a center at 6’8” with a 7’1” wingspan, but he makes up for that with his impressive strength. He is an excellent finisher around the rim, and has flashed some impressive moves in the interior with a nice touch.

When it comes to passing and court awareness, Tillman was near the top of the list for any big in college basketball a year ago. He makes impressive reads out of the pick and roll and can be used to run your offense through in stretches.

The obvious concern with him is the lack of vertical pop or athleticism and the fact that he’s undersized for his position. If he can expand his jumper and become a threat from deep in pick and pop situations, he has starting potential. If not, he’ll likely be a productive, versatile third big in an NBA rotation.

5. Killian Tillie, F/C, Gonzaga.

6’9”, 225 lbs., 20 years old.

13.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG on 53/40/72 shooting splits in 24.6 minutes per game.

Identity/Role: Floor spacer. High IQ passing big.

Tillie’s talent is apparent to anyone that has seen him play, he is quite good. The main concern with him with be his health, as he’s battled a myriad of injuries throughout his college career.

The medical red flags cannot be ignored, but if you take into account his high level of production when he is on the court, he’s a first-round talent without a doubt. He shoots the ball at an exceptional rate from deep, and can pass very well for a big. He’s best suited as a “third big” in the rotation, and could become a very productive rotation player for many years to come health permitted. There could even be some starter upside here if he improves his agility and lateral movement.

6. Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona.

6’11”, 240 lbs., 19 years old.

16.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.7 SPG on 57/29/76 shooting splits in 30.7 minutes per game.

Identity/Role: High motor. Interior threat. Scorer.

Zeke plays with a lot of energy and has nice touch around the rim. I’ve often seen him get lumped into the category of bigs that can’t move well on the perimeter in this class and I don’t believe that’s entirely accurate. He isn’t a liability on the perimeter defensively and can hold his own on switches for the most part.

My main concern is his lack of rim protection and overall feel for the game. His main focus on improvement should be making better/quicker reads in the half court and anticipating weak-side drives at a higher level to boost his defensive value.

Prospects I’m “out” on:

  • Vernon Carey Jr., C, Duke.
  • Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington.

Both Carey and Stewart are likely going to get selected somewhere in the first round, but they are just not the type of player that make sense to invest heavily in with the direction the NBA is heading and how replaceable centers are unless they are outlier good or offer versatile skills.

While they are not the same exact player, they offer similar value and are both slow footed which isn’t ideal for guarding on the perimeter or switching. Most of their offense came from overpowering college players, which is a luxury they will not have in the NBA and is a skill that doesn’t always translate at a high clip once their strength advantage is neutralized or even abolished against NBA size and strength.

Can they become productive situational bigs in the NBA? Absolutely. Is that worth a first round pick? Absolutely not.

2nd round/UDFA targets:

  • Kaleb Wesson, F/C, Ohio State.
  • Udoka Azubuike, C, Kansas.
  • Daniel Oturu, C, Minnesota.
  • Nick Richards, C, Kentucky.
  • Jon Teske, C, Michigan.
  • Kylor Kelley, C, Oregon St.

Scouting Reports:

Did I spend too much time breaking down the very last position the Suns should look to draft? Absolutely! Hopefully these breakdowns have been a helpful starting point for you all.

Be on the lookout for my NBA Draft Guide that should be released in the next week or so. More information will be available on my twitter @AZSportsZone if you have interest in getting a copy.

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