The 2021 NBA draft will be held this week. The Phoenix Suns have the 29th pick but no 2nd round pick. How should the Suns approach the draft ?
The Suns were very close to winning games 5 and 6 in the NBA finals. The one glaring weakness was that the Suns had no one to back up Deandre Ayton when was he was resting on the bench. Ayton also seemed to be less effective in the later games of the series, possibly due to fatigue. Dario Saric was meant to be his backup but tore his ACL in the 1st game. Since it can take at least a year for a player to completely recover from a torn ACL he may not be available in the playoffs next year. Frank Kaminsky and Torrey Craig were ineffective backups.
There was one play that seemed to epitomize the problems with Sun’s defense and was painful to watch. A Bucks player took a 3 point shot which was an air ball. It bounced to the left of the basket and was headed out of bounds. No Suns player was near the ball but another Buck’s player batted the ball inbounds (before it went out) and straight underneath the net. There were 3 Suns defenders there but the one Buck’s player there grabbed it and dunked the ball for 2 points. The Suns need a backup center who can play 12 minutes a game to back up Deandre Ayton. A center who, during those 12 minutes, would block one extra shot, grab one more defensive rebound and one more offensive rebound. The Suns could have won game 5 or 6 and there would have been a game 7 at home.
The Suns could draft a free agent center as a backup. Unfortunately, they do not have the cap space. On this site, Dave King has documented that the Suns, if they resign none of their own free agents, would have $8.41 million in cap space before reaching the Luxury Tax. That is only enough to resign Cameron Payne. So free agency is unlikely.
The Suns have only the 29th pick but could obtain additional 2nd round picks via trade. With the 29th pick the Suns could pick the best available center. This would be either Day’Ron Sharpe or Charles Bassey. Neither player is noted for their offense. The Suns do not need offense from their backup center since they have plenty of good shooters such as Booker, Paul, Bridges and Cam Johnson. Sharpe and Bassey are both good rebounders and shot blockers and the Suns should choose one with the 29th pick.
While one backup center is theoretically all that is needed, the draft is unpredictable. Look at the 2014 draft and the centers selected in the late 1st and early-mid 2nd rounds. Clint Capela was taken at #25. Nikola Jokic was taken at #41 and Walter Tavares at #43. Nikola Jokic was the NBA MVP this year. Clint Capela has been an NBA starter and Walter Tavares was a bust. So, it is a good strategy to draft for quantity with centers since the draft is so unpredictable.
So how do the Suns obtain additional picks? Their only option is to trade for more picks. Obviously, the Suns do not want to trade any of their key players. The only realistic contract is that of Jalen Smith. Smith saw little playing time and even Frank Kaminsky was ahead of him on the depth chart. Those who analyze Suns players on this site seem to think that he has potential on the offensive end but not on defense and defense is what the Suns need in the playoffs. Jalen Smith was the 10th pick in the 2020 NBA draft. Some of those analysts who compile NBA mock drafts have done redrafts of the 2020 draft based on how players performed their rookie year. Jalen Smith is usually in the late 20s or early 30s in the redrafts so that is his value in a trade for more picks.
If the Suns want multiple 2nd round picks these are the most likely teams and their current picks:
Oklahoma- Picks 6,16,18,34,36,55
Oklahoma has 6 picks and it is unlikely they will keep all 6 since they do not have enough room for 6 rookies on their roster. They are also a team with many 1st round picks in the following years. Phoenix would trade Jalen Smith for picks 34 and 36.
New Orleans- Picks 10,35,40,43,53
New Orleans has 5 picks and it also unlikely they keep all 5 since they do not have enough room for 5 rookies on their roster. Phoenix would trade Jalen Smith for pick 35 and 40 or 43.
Detroit- Picks 1,37,42,52
Phoenix would trade for picks 37 and 42.
With 2 extra 2nd round picks along with their pick at 29 they could draft Day’Ron Sharpe, Charles Bassey and Neemias Queta.
As of this week the Suns only have 2 backup centers and power forwards- Dario Saric and Jalen Smith. Dario Saric is recovering from a torn ACL and may not play until the end of the season. The Suns need backup centers. Now no one knows how these 3 centers will work out. Hopefully, by next April there would be one who has starter quality and could be the backup for Deandre Ayton in the playoffs.