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2021 NBA Draft What If’s

What if... the Phoenix Suns used their 29th pick on a prospect, instead of as a trade chip to acquire Landry Shamet?

Before we get into this, I have to make this clear: I don’t disagree with the short term process of Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones and his handling of the 29th overall pick. Landry Shamet, on the receiving end of that late-first round pick, is incredibly more likely to provide value to this team this year than anyone Phoenix could’ve picked at 29.

But it’s fun to use one’s imagination, so we’ll look at three of my favorite draftees taken 29 or later who may have offered solid value for Phoenix to add.

Jared Butler, 40th pick, rights traded to Utah Jazz

The 6-foot-3 maestro point guard that helped lead Baylor to a national title was primed to be the type of player that could learn well and eventually excel after spending time under a guy like Chris Paul. Butler already performed well playing the pick-and-roll (P&R), which Chris Paul is arguably the best at in the history of the sport. Butler’s P&R playmaking numbers are quite impressive. Per Synergy, Baylor scored 1.1 points per possession (PPP) on Butler’s staggering 5.3 possessions per game, good for 91st percentile in the country.

Ahead of the draft, I thought should Butler arrive to Phoenix, he would have a good chance of seeing the floor early as what would’ve been the fourth or fifth guard in the rotation. He could’ve provided some relief for point guards Paul and Cam Payne, or played off the ball, as his solid shooting numbers indicate. During his junior year at Baylor, Butler scored 1.347 PPP on 4.03 possessions per game out of spot-up opportunities, which ranked 98th percentile in the country.

There was an injury concern for Butler when he was going through the draft process, but it was not a health issue that had ever presented itself during his on-court action during his time at Baylor. Though much is still unknown about the situation, we know he was declared unfit for play by a committee run by the NBA due to a heart condition, and was cleared shortly before the draft. This likely kept him from participating in as many workouts as he would’ve liked to, and that may extend to Phoenix, before they traded their pick away.

Joe Wieskamp, 41st pick, San Antonio Spurs

When it comes to Wieskamp, the fit in Phoenix is a lot more straight-forward. There simply is not an abundance of 6-foot-6, 215-pound wings with a near 7-foot wingspan who shoot above 40% on a near 450-attempt sample size. It doesn’t hurt that Wieskamp registered a 40-inch vertical leap, and he has a reputation for working hard on the defensive end.

Putting all the tools together, you get a player with a very similar group of skills to important Suns such as Mikal Bridges or Cam Johnson both had coming out of the draft. Wieskamp would’ve had a good chance to shine early in spot minutes. Purely by nature of his size, odds are Wieskamp could’ve offered more versatility than Shamet, who’s essentially serving as Phoenix’s 29th pick.

Sharife Cooper, 48th pick, Atlanta Hawks

The possibly-not-even-6-foot Cooper witnessed one of the more surprising draft night falls after being projected by almost all analysts to be at least a first-round selection, some of whom even had Cooper in the lottery. As far as the eye can see, the only contributors to his fall to pick no. 48 were due to his lack of size as well as a questionable jump shot.

Bringing Cooper to Phoenix would’ve been the upside swing of all upside swings. He proved himself to be one of the best P&R players in the country as well, especially on lobs to the big, a sequence that Deandre Ayton makes often and efficiently thanks to his size, athleticism, and hands. Per Synergy, Cooper averaged 0.928 PPP out of P&R, ranking 70th percentile in the country, even more impressive when considering the astoundingly high volume of 17.4 possessions per game.

Being a significant risk of a pick, it’s easy to see why James Jones wasn’t interested. He’s just not one to take risks during the draft. But maybe he should’ve considered this one, though obviously it could’ve been hard to know he would still be on the board at 29.

Cooper ended up in Atlanta under Trae Young, who’s very similar in stature and playmaking style, and that may unlock who Cooper can be in this league. He likely wouldn’t have played anytime soon on Phoenix unless injuries forced him to, but a lineup of prime Cooper with prime Devin Booker, prime Bridges, prime Johnson, and prime Ayton has me salivating just imagining it.

Keep an eye on these and other early second round rookies this season and beyond. Could any or all of them have a bigger impact in the near term for the Suns than Landry Shamet or Jevon Carter would? Probably not. But it’s still fun to watch young players and imagine their best selves in purple and orange.

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