It’s draft season again, and the Phoenix Suns have a draft pick they might actually use. I know it feels weird, given that the last time the franchise selected a player and kept them was in 2019, when they took Jalen Smith. Smith lasted only a year and a half with the club. They have had no first or second round picks in three years. The team’s *ahem* “unorthodox” scouting and drafting philosophy has led to a roster absolutely denuded of any depth or internally grown talent, particularly after the Kevin Durant trade.
Perhaps new Suns’ owner Matt Ishbia will change that philosophy a bit, with only the 52nd pick available this year. It’s also possible the Suns could pay cash to move up a little bit in the second round, given that there’s a couple of players available in the 35-45 range who could be sleepers.
What you’re looking for in the second round is players with one or two high level skills that translate very well to the NBA, particularly three-point shooting, rebounding, and defense. You’re not going to find a 19-year old athletic freak and instant all-star, but if you draft right, you could find the next Paul Millsap, Draymond Green, or Manu Ginobili.
Here are five players (rated from least to most desirable) that might be available to the Suns with the 52nd pick, or if they pay to move up a few slots.
5. Jalen Wilson (6’8”, 208 lbs, F, 22.6 Kansas Senior, 22.6 Years Old)
Another player who falls down the board due to age is Jalen Wilson. He’s a combo-forward that does a lot of things well, but perhaps none of them exceptionally. First and foremost, he can score and rebound well, averaging 20.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg his senior year. He’s shown a variety of ways he can score, both inside and out, while generating free throws that he hits at a high rate (79.9%). He’s also a better than average passer for a big. The problem is his efficiency. His overall field goal percentage and three-point percentage are “meh”. He projects well as a defender with good footwork and length, and is able to both rebound, and step out on shooters. His decision-making also leaves a lot to be desired at times.
Best NBA comparison might be Cameron Johnson if he needed to improve his three-point percentage, which is a pretty big knock. But his aggression and scoring versatility might flourish in a system where there’s 4 other guys on the court attracting way more defensive attention, given that he was the number one player defenses zeroed in on at Kansas. He’s also shown the ability to continuously improve in college. Perhaps the highest upside on this list, but his efficiency is a concern.
4. Julian Strawther (6’7”, 208 lbs, G-F, Gonzaga Junior, 21.1 Years Old)
Strawther has the size and shooting to find a role in the NBA. He can hit the three from anywhere and does so at high volume (5.3 per game) and percentage (40.5%). He also has the size to play SF, and rebounds well for the position (6.2 rpg). He’s also got the ability to drive the ball and hit floaters and runners at a high percentage, shooting 46.9% overall from the field. He lacks burst speed, so has developed an array of mid-range shots to compensate.
The reason he’s going to be drafted in the second round has little to do with his offense, and everything to do with his performance at the other end of the court. While a willing defender, his defense is sub-par in great part due to lack of lateral quickness, ball watching, and below average upper body strength. Watching him on offense, I’m reminded of Mikal Bridges at times. On defense? It’s like Terrance Ross without the speed or athleticism. Still, if you’re not in a playoff game, he could be a serviceable 10th or 11th man based on his three-point shooting alone. Against better teams, though, they will pick-and-roll him to death.
Keyontae might be the highest risk/reward player on this list. Johnson has a lot of tools that translate well in the NBA. His basketball pedigree is impeccable as a 4-star recruit from Oak Hill Academy and playing for winning programs. He’s a very good shooter (40.5% from three), well above average rebounder for his position (G-F), strong, gets to the free throw line, is unafraid to drive to the basket, and makes his shots (51.6% FG%, 71.5% from the line). His 6-11 wingspan allows him to play a bit taller than his height would suggest, and he has the sort of high motor that the Suns need (see: Josh Okogie).
The downside is his age and medical history, which are the only reasons why he might be in the Suns’ range. In 2020 he collapsed during a game due to myocarditis and spent three days in a coma. As a result, his draft age is also high. After years of fighting his way back he recovered and was cleared again to play after surgery: the guy wants to play, and that counts a lot in Jones’ book. He also is turnover prone, and doesn’t have guard skills, projecting more as an off-ball SF. Closest NBA comparison might be Josh Okogie if he hit 40% of his threes from the corner. Still, there’s skills here that could make him a sleeper pick, and land him on a roster as a starter or sixth man.
2. Oscar Tshiebwe (6’9”, 260 lbs, Kentucky Senior, 23.6 Years Old)
There’s a lot to love about Oscar. He led the NCAA in rebounding two years in a row, posting an eye-popping 15.1 per game in 2021-22. He can score around the rim (16.5 ppg on 56% shooting) and gets to the foul line a lot (5.9 FT per game). When he gets there, he converted at a 72.9% rate this year, and has improved throughout his college career. Physically, he has a 7-4 wingspan and enormous strength and quick hands. Defensively Tshiebwe is an immovable object on the block. His long arms allow him step a out on the perimeter more than you would expect and plays with a high motor.
But: he has limitations. First, his age will scare off a lot of teams, and what you see is what you get. He’s not the shot blocker you would hope and doesn’t project to be the sort of modern big who stretches defenses all the way out to the three-point line. He also sometimes tries to do too much, resulting in turnovers.
The closest comparison to an NBA player would be Bismack Biyombo. Tshiebwe is a better rebounder and free throw shooter, but less blocks. Of all the players on the list, he’s perhaps the “lowest risk” in terms of having an elite skill and is almost sure to land on a roster somewhere. He’s also perhaps the most likely to be available at 52 of all the players on this list because of the high floor / low ceiling effect. He could be a serviceable starter in the NBA, or a top-back up big.
1. Kobe Brown (6’8”, 250 lbs, PF/C, Missouri Senior, 23.5 Years Old)
Brown is a weird case: there’s a bunch of ways he’s NEARLY elite, but not quite. He’s insanely strong, even for his size. He shot 45.5% from three-point range his senior year on 3.3 attempts-per-game, and shows little hesitation there when left alone. His passing skills are well-above average for a big man, having played guard in high school: he managed to average 2.5 apg versus only 1.6 turnovers. His field goal percentage (55.6%) and free throw percentage (79.2%) are both very good for a college big. He also shows a very nice touch around the basket with decent post moves that usually go in. Surprisingly, he does well on the break too, where he can spot up from three or Eurostep his way to the rim. He plays defense with his hands, clogging passing lanes, stripping the ball down low, and generating steals at a rate that’s excellent for a big.
His effort, motor, and basketball-IQ are all very high. His 7-3 wingspan allows him to play taller in the post, and helps him jump out on the ball a bit more despite his lack of lateral quickness. His team-defense is excellent, as is his overall feel for the game. He’s clearly a player who has put a lot of work into his game and will continue to do so, which is a very James Jones trait.
So why is he this low? First, he’s an older player. Second, his three-point percentage shot up during his senior year, so there’s a question if this is a mirage. He’s an average rebounder despite his size and strength and doesn’t generate free throws the way you would hope for a guy who does so much of his work in the post. He’s not all that athletic, with average (for college) vertical leap and lateral quickness. And yet…
A lot of the same traits that make Draymond Green (who was also a second-round pick) and Bobby Portis key pieces on a championship team are here. The IQ. The passing. The team-defense concept. The shooting. Indeed, Kobe Brown is almost a mash up of the two. He’d need the right team and the right situation to thrive, but Phoenix could be it. A big who passes, sets bone crushing screens, works the post, and can hit open threes would seem to be a great fit alongside Booker and KD. Still, enough teams see this potential, and the Suns would likely have to move up 5-10 picks to scoop him up.
I believe it would be well worth it.