2020 NBA Draft: Phoenix Suns’ Draft Needs And Potential Picks
Current Record: 26W-39L
Expiring Contracts: Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Jevon Carter
1stNeed: Immediate contributor in the backcourt
Under newly-installed head coach Monty Williams, started the season with a 5-2 record, beating powerhouse teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers. They may have spiralled downward as the season went along, but it is without a doubt that the Suns are better than they have been in the last five years. Despite the fact that the season has been suspended, their total of 26 wins is already their best performance since the 2014-15 season.
But unless they miraculously win all their remaining games, the Suns will again come up short in terms of their playoff aspirations. Yet, there is a growing optimism within the organization and it will be vital for them to make good decisions in the offseason. As per Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic, Suns general manager James Jones emphasized how they need to get really creative as they go through the process of scouting prospects without the luxury of personally interviewing or watching them perform on the court in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's been unique. It's been interesting, but we haven't been able to adhere to a typical scouting process and timeline, but the evaluation, the thought that goes into our roster constructions happens year round.
So we've continued over the past few months to dig in and do our homework, doing our deep dives, be it video of course, on a lot of these prospects to get a better understanding of what they can provide and what they can bring and add, the skill and talent they can add to our locker room."
With the 10th-worst record in the standings, the Suns have an outside chance of 3% in possibly nabbing the top pick, and a 13.9% chance to get into the Top 5. Of course, the Suns front office will not negate the golden possibility to barge into the Top 5, but they will set their priorities on the darkhorse lottery prospects in this year’s draft. Even though this is not a top-heavy draft, there are tons of young players who project to be quality glue guys that can contribute right away.
Having said that, the Suns should first look into tapping an immediate contributor on their backcourt. They already have a star in shooting guard Devin Booker, and veteran point guard Ricky Rubio has proven that his playmaking is still among the best in the league. However, the Suns have one of the worst supporting cast in the backcourt right now. Aside from their two starters, the team has Jevon Carter, Elie Okobo, and Ty Jerome.
It’s not a promising cast of reinforcement, and the Suns have to work out this kink in their armor. Rubio and Booker have a combined total of 15.5 assists per game, more than half of the team’s total dimes every contest. This brings us to the Suns’ first and most important current need: a guard who can create shots for himself or has the vision and patience to let plays materialize and create excellent scoring opportunities for his teammates.
So, how will the Suns make the most of their lottery selection? In a separate column for the Arizona Republic, Rankin recently reported that Williams is already planning to give Booker more time in playing the primary point guard position. Booker has always shown that he has the willingness to pass the ball, and it might indeed be better for the Suns to take advantage of that skill.
Williams also emphasized that the Suns’ very effective small-ball line-up of Rubio, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr and Deandre Ayton has been their most efficient line-up so far.
"If there is anything I'd like to explore would probably be putting Devin at the point guard position a bit more than I did last year. I think he's at a point in his career where he makes the right plays consistently. And so my thought is put the ball in his hands for about 10 to 12 minutes, maybe more, a game and see how that impacts our team.
When they're on the floor, we outscored opponents by 92 points. Now that was in 226 minutes, but that's something that we're learning about our team, that we have the ability to play a bit smaller than some other teams."
Now in his fifth season in the NBA, Booker notched his first All-Star selection by rounding out his all-around skill set. While his usage rate and field goal attempts are increasing, his shooting efficiency is still on an outstanding rate. Moreover, he has averaged at least six assists in these past couple of seasons, an indication that he is improving as a playmaker every year.
If Williams and the rest of the Suns’ coaching staff are really serious in their plan to place primary playmaking duties to Booker, then they have to pursue a scoring guard or a shooter in the draft. Of course, Anthony Edwards of Georgia is the first name that comes to mind but the 6-foot-4 scorer’s name could be already taken in the Top 3. The 6-foot-5 Killian Hayes is also an intriguing name, but his stock has gotten so high in the past couple of weeks that he may even find his name taken first in the draft.
LaMelo Ball’s length as a 6-foot-8 point guard allows him to play multiple positions, but he is not what Phoenix needs right now. Ball needs the ball on his hands to be effective, and he is yet to develop a consistent long-range jumper and the knack to score on off-ball situations. Devin Vassell of Florida State is arguably the best shooter in the draft, but his ball-handling skill is lacking. The Suns don’t need another off-ball limited scorer right now, especially with swingmen Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson growing into quality role players.
That leaves the Suns three names to choose from: North Carolina’s Cole Anthony, Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton and Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey. You may be wondering why Haliburton fits the bill of a natural point guard who can also thrive in an off-ball role, but it is worth noting that the 6-foot-5 stalwart also shot a stellar 42% clip from the three-point line this season. His shot may be a bit unorthodox, and his release point is a little slow. That may prove to be a weakness, especially when lengthier and more mobile NBA defenders close out on him.
But among those three names, it is Haliburton who packs the best passing ability. He is also adept in moving without the ball and being a secondary playmaker. Moreover, he is a smart defender and his long reach makes it easy for him to play the passing lanes or just make it very difficult for opposing players to get off a shot with his long arms blocking their view of the rim.
And then there’s Maxey, Kentucky’s 6-foot-2 combo guard. He is a good passer but he is a better scorer. In fact, Maxey’s trump card is his scoring although his three-point shot needs more honing. Cole Anthony may be the better scorer than Maxey, but the former does not possess the defensive energy and instincts of the latter.
Sam Vecenzie of The Athletic wrote that Maxey’s competitive spirit as a scorer and as a defender should be a solid boost to an otherwise very young Suns squad.
“There are some real positives, though, if you buy the shooting turning around (most teams do think he’ll be a shooter at some point). His in-between game is terrific, as he possesses a killer floater package and repertoire. Defensively, he’s a monster on-ball due to the fact that he’s tenacious and built like a free safety. Plus, he’s also known to be a terrific kid who is hyper intelligent, a hard worker and a great locker room presence. The Suns could use an interesting third option at the guard position who could play with both Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio. Maxey fits that billing perfectly.”
Again, Anthony would be solid pick-up but his slight built and lack of defensive repertoire could be difficult for coaches to give him big minutes right away. Booker exerts effort on defense, but the team cannot ask him to shoulder a big workload on the offense while also requiring him to spend a lot of energy on the defensive end. The Suns should hope that Haliburton or Maxey is still available when they make their pick.
2nd Need: Combo big who can score and defend
Another role that will be vacant for the Suns next season is at the combo big man position. Saric and Baynes, two frontcourt players who had important roles for the team this season, will be entering free agency. With the fact that they did not make a qualifying offer for Saric, it seems like Phoenix is not bent on committing tons of money on their sweet-shooting power forward. The Croatian’s ability to shoot the three ball could net him a big payday in the offseason, but the Suns may want more value to their money.
Baynes, on the other hand, has the better chance to come back to Phoenix. He has been an excellent back-up at the center position, and has proved to be a tremendous insurance when Ayton is not playing. But if the Suns also decide that they won’t bring him back, they could try to find a suitable replacement in this year’s draft.
So far. Dayton’s Obi Toppin is the best power forward in his class. It’s difficult to imagine the Suns selecting the 7-foot-1 James Wiseman because they already have a budding star center in Ayton. Toppin has the athletic ability to play both forward positions, and he could be a perfect piece alongside Ayton on the frontcourt. He also has the range to go with his inside game, and his knack for always taking advantage in transition will make him a solid target for Rubio’s passes.
If the 6-foot-9 Dayton product develops better instincts on the defensive end, the Suns can roll out a lengthy line-up of Booker, Bridges, Oubre, Toppin and Ayton that can prove to be disruptive as defenders. Onyeka Okongwu possess a better defensive ability than Toppin, but his offense is only limited to the paint.
As per Kellan Olson of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Jones believe that they need to add more talent to their point guard and power forward position. Jones emphasized that this draft class has the players that they need to be more competitive next season.
“We’ll be a very good execution team and that requires us to add guys with a level of maturity and grit to be able to perform in this competitive environment. That’s the one thing that we’ve been consistent with since day one is that in order for a guy to be on this roster he has to have an elite NBA skill and he has to be able to compete consistently and demonstrate that skill.
We have our power forward position, and our point guard position has always been a position that we’ve looked to augment but there are a bunch of really good players in this draft from point guard to power forwards, centers as well. We’ll find a player that can fit with this group and embody what we’re about.”
If they will be pursuing a point guard in the draft, then what Jones is saying might be true. However, I’m not sure if the Suns find the right power forward to really help turn things around for them. With Booker and Ayton already in place as the focal points of their offense, they need a quality role player who can also serve as the glue guy of the team. Toppin has glaring liabilities on the defensive end, and Okongwu is still a one-dimensional operator on offense.
Instead of relying on the draft to fill in their need for a two-way presence on the frontcourt, the Suns could be better off gauging the free agency market. Or better yet, they can bring back Baynes, a proven veteran who has become a solid three-point shooter and an above average anchor on the defensive end.