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Phoenix Suns NBA Draft Preview: Getting a real player at 29th overall

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Can the Suns find a rotation contributor at the bottom of the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Loyola-Chicago v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The 2021 NBA Draft takes place next week, on July 29, 2021, and the Phoenix Suns have the 29th pick in the draft.

Considering General Manager James Jones’ last three picks — Cameron Johnson (11th), Ty Jerome (24th) and Jalen Smith (10th) — were all projected to go around 29th anyway, you should be excited about the Suns drafting a player next week!

Cam Johnson is now a vital part of an NBA Finals rotation, and Ty Jerome really came into his own last year coming off the bench for the Thunder after the Chris Paul trade. Jerome wasn’t ready as a rookie, but in OKC this year Jerome averaged 10.7 points on 44% shooting, including 42% on 5.1 threes per game, and a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Maybe Jalen Smith will run the Ty Jerome path and be more ready in year two.

All three were projected as late-first picks, and now the Suns have another late-first pick coming next week.


Team Draft Philosophy

As I wrote about last year, James Jones has a “type”. He’s willing to overlook scouting reports and conventional wisdom to find players who have specific attributes to fit into the sort of system he envisions that can win in the current meta of the NBA. This philosophy on what sort of players believes:

1. Shooting is the most important skill.

2. You have to be great at something, but also good at a lot of things

3. Lack of maturity is a hard “no”

4. Why have players who aren’t ready to contribute now? You gain nothing from a draft pick on the bench

5. Winning programs, and winning attitudes are important

6. Willingness to play a role

7. Defensive effort

8. Treating the game as a profession where you’re always learning to make yourself better

He also seems willing to draft for need to an extent, though the sample size is small. However, this fits with his belief that if you use a draft pick, you want it to be someone who can contribute right away. We’ve seen little indication that he drafts purely on potential. He likes skills, so players who are athletes rather than basketball players are not likely to happen (and why we won’t see guys like Juhann Begarin drafted by the Suns).

Needs

The Suns starting 5 appears to be set. However, there’s some rotational pieces missing, as was shown in the playoffs where the bench was whittled down to Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, and Torrey Craig. Thus, their greatest needs are for a back-up SG, and PF/C.

I’m assuming the Suns re-sign Cameron Payne to roughly a 9 million per year deal using their Early Bird Rights exemption. I also assume that they use either the bi-annual mid-level exception, or the $4.3 million dollar injury exception to sign a back-up to Deandre Ayton who can also play a bit at power forward, and the veteran minimum to get a big man worth 6 hard fouls. (My next article will be on who the Suns should target in free agency).

It also doesn’t help that when reviewing the players likely to be available at 29, none really jumps out as an improvement over what the Suns are likely to have (Payne), or could get through free agency (e.g. Daniel Theis or Nerlens Noel at the mid-level), or the veteran minimum.

Thus, this analysis concentrates on a back-up shooting guard to Devin Booker. During the playoffs, Cameron Payne played as an undersized shooting guard alongside Chris Paul, where he sometimes struggled against much larger, stronger players on defense. When CP3 was out for two games the Suns struggled a bit, needing a secondary ball handler.

I expect the Suns to target a player who looks a bit like Booker as a versatile shooting guard who can both handle the rock, play a little point guard, and shoot from deep. Because of the lack of a back up SG, both Booker and Bridges have logged heavy minutes. Additionally, Booker is playing for the US national team in the Olympics off-season, meaning he’s going to need more rest, and potentially suffer more injuries next season. The goal is to minimize team disruption when he’s off the court.

Methodology

The goal here is more predicting who is on James Jones’ radar than who the Suns should pick. All of the players I review here are forecast to go somewhere in the late first or early second round. Thus, the odds are at least one of them will still be on the board when the Suns make the 29th pick. This is the main reason Corey Kispert isn’t on the list: he’d be amazing in the Suns system as an elite shooter at SG/SF, but there’s almost no chance he’ll fall from late-lottery or mid-first round to the late first. (But if he somehow does, they should grab him the same way they should have taken Tyrese Halliburton when he fell into the late lottery last year).

I also left out several players who are in the right range but have flaws that are likely huge red flags for James Jones. This includes Jayden Springer (Freshman who isn’t ready to contribute yet), Ziaire Williams (Freshman who can’t shoot the 3), Josh Christopher (poor shooter), Cameron Thomas (Freshman who shoots a low percentage and high volume), and Josh Christopher (Freshman who shoots a low percentage). Also omitted is Miles McBride, who lacks the size to back-up Booker.

Fair warning though, James Jones finds a guy he likes, and picks them when he’s on the clock, regardless of where they were forecasted to go. This means despite all this analysis, I still sort of expect him to take a guy forecasted to go in the mid-second round that didn’t make this list.

The Options

Trey Murphy III, SG/SF, 6-9, 206 lbs, Virginia Cavaliers, Junior

Why Trey is a James Jones guy:

Trey Murphy is one of the best shooters in the draft, alongside Kispert and Duarte. He shot an astounding 50/43/93 during his last year college at a great program, and with a relatively high volume of 3-pointers. He’s lanky, has a 7-0 wingspan, and the mental and physical tools to be a good defender, where he’s good already. He reportedly has the maturity Jones covets, a high basketball IQ, is more than willing to play a defined role, and is considered “NBA ready” by scouts. By all accounts, he has the most “James Jones” mentality of any player on the list. He’s been rising steadily in the mock drafts, and is unlikely to be available at 29, however.

Why Trey doesn’t fit: Trey seems more like a combo forward than a SG, which is what he played in college. He’s not a ball handler or passer, so you can’t run the offense through him. He’s also a below average rebounder for his size and position as well. Was a poor defender before transferring to Virginia. Average athlete, who doesn’t take it to the rack or generate free throws. In many ways, he’s too much like Cameron Johnson, which begs the question where he would fit in.

Player comparison: Cameron Johnson


Chris Duarte, SG, 6-6 190 lbs, Oregon Senior

Why Chris is a James Jones guy:

Duarte is one of the best shooters in the draft. He shot an 53/42/81 in his Sophomore season on 5.5 threes per game. He also fits the “lots of other good skills”. He’s generates rebounds (4.6), steals (1.9), and blocks (0.8) at a high rate for his position. Incredibly efficient inside the arc, (66%), and his mid-range game complements the Suns philosophy. Great footwork and shooting mechanics. Comes from a good program at Oregon where made it to the Sweet 16. He’s old for a senior, 24 years at the time of the draft, which is actually a plus in Jones’ book. Most mocks have him going earlier (around 22-25).

Why Chris doesn’t fit: Chris ticks a lot a lot of the blocks for a “Jones Guy”. But there’s questions whether he has the athleticism, length, and strength to stay with NBA shooting guards, despite having a good defensive mentality. Nor is he a guy you can run your offense through: he never really played as a primary ball handler or distributor. He’s pretty WYSIWYG at 24 years old: his peak is likely no more than competent back up you can trust for 15-20 minutes per game.

Player comparison: Luke Kennard


Tre Mann, SG, 6-5, 190, Florida Sophomore

Why Trey is a James Jones guy:

Mann fills the Suns need for a “poor-man’s Booker” better than anyone else who might be available at 29. Almost every “strength” and “weakness” listed in scouting reports could have described Booker coming out of college. Even his stats are similar. Shot 45/40/83 his Sophomore year and showed great improvement between seasons. Averaged 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists last year, and frequently played PG. He’s a solid ball handler. Operates the pick and roll very effectively at times. Feather floaters, change of pace shots, mid-range game, and great on pull up threes are his calling card on offense, where his game there very much resembles Booker’s repertoire.

Why Trey doesn’t fit:

Mann’s liabilities read almost exactly like Booker’s coming out of college as well. He has a negative wingspan, which is going to make him struggle on defense throughout his career without superb instincts and effort (which he doesn’t have now: he appears sloppy and undermotivated on defense). Good, but not great athlete. Shies away from contact and doesn’t generate free throws. He’s also inefficient as a ball-handler, where he makes poor decisions and bad passes far too often (3.5 assists to 2.8 turnovers). Not quite ready to be the primary option on offense.

Player Comparison: Devin Booker, Shai Gligeous-Alexander


Quentin Grimes, PG/SG, 6-5, 205, Houston Junior

Why Quentin is a James Jones guy:

Solid three-point shooter, clocking in at 40.6% his Junior year on a very high volume of 8.3 threes per game. Solid ball handler who can run the break, and finish through contact. Great rebounder for a combo-guard (5.7 rpg) as a result of his size and strength. Has a nasty cross-over that he uses to create space.

Why Quentin doesn’t fit:

Has shown the potential to be great defensively, but his effort comes and goes. Not a great shooter inside the arc. Three-point release is a tad slow and could translate into big problems in the NBA where defenders are much longer and faster. Not really a shot creator in the half court. He’s only competent as a point guard, and not someone you can run your offense through like Payne, Booker, or the Point God.

Player comparison: Josh Hart


Ayo Dosunmu, PG/SG, 6-5, 200, Illinois Junior

Why Ayo is a James Jones guy:

Ayo’s strength is that he’s good at a lot of things. Good size for a combo guard at 6-5 with a 6-9 wing span. Good shooter (49/39/78). Good passer (5.3 APG) and rebounder (6.3 RPG). Good character guy (consensus first-team all American and the Bob Cousy Award) High basketball IQ player who you can run an offense through, who will find the open man when the defense collapses in on him. Plays under control. Great communicator of defense. Third year college player who played for a #1 seed team in the NCAA tournament. Very much a player who is ready as he ever will be to play at the next level.

Why Ayo doesn’t fit:

Jones likes guys who have at least one elite skill, and Ayo doesn’t have one. He’s been described in scouting reports as a “Swiss army knife” and “the ultimate jack of all trades master of none.” There are questions whether he has the athleticism to thrive at the next level, and relies on craftiness rather than athleticism or strength. Turns the ball over more than you would like for a PG, but it’s not out of line for what we see from Booker. He doesn’t take a lot of three-point shots and prefers the mid-range (which isn’t actually a huge minus in the Suns system, where Booker and CP3 are some of the best in the league at 15 feet from the hole). Scouts don’t see him emerging as a star.

Player comparison: Jrue Holiday (best case)


Jaden Springer, PG/SG, 6-4, 205, Tennessee Freshman

Why Jaden is a James Jones guy:

He’s a reluctant shooter, but when he does shoot he hits at a high rate. Energetic, willing defender with a lot of the physical and mental tools to become a lock down defender at two positions. Due to his strength, he’s an above average rebounder. He finishes well around the rim. He also shows good strength and athleticism. Thus, he meets a the “Jones guy” metrics of high intensity, winning programs, good shooting, several good attributes, and one elite one. He also fits a need for a SG who has some experience as a primary ball handler.

Why Jaden doesn’t fit:

Unfortunately, he’s a poor ball handler and passer for a combo guard, with a poor assist to turnover ratio. Plays a little out of control and makes wild passes, and wild shots. He’s also only had one season in college, and probably isn’t *quite* ready to contribute yet, though he ticks a lot of the James Jones boxes. It also begs the question: what does he bring that Jevon Carter doesn’t, when Jevon rode the bench for most of the back half of the season?

NBA Comparison: Reggie Jackson (best case)


Final Verdict

Who should the Suns draft? I suspect that James Jones would look at the best choice to back up Devin Booker is a guy who looks amazingly like a young Devin Booker, namely Tre Mann. However, Mann is likely to be off the board at 29. If he falls, I think the Suns should take him. His biggest liability (defense) can be addressed in-part with culture and some tough love by the Point God.

Who are we most likely to pick? I think it’s Ayo Dosunmu. He has so many of the intangibles that Jones likes: he’s good at a lot of things, maturity, unselfishness, team pedigree, coachability, professional mind-set, and consciously works hard on developing his game. The stuff that are considered minuses by scouts (athleticism, age, mid-range game, upside) are things that Jones cares less about than most GMs. As for developing an elite skill, there’s reason to believe that Dosunmu can and will work on his and mechanics and timing if he sees it as crucial to his success, and the team’s.

Of course, given Jones history, it seems just as likely that he’ll draft someone none of us saw coming who was projected to be picked in the mid-to-late second round.