Arizona State star looks good in hometown audition.
Arizona State guard Jahii Carson is generally projected as a mid to late second-round pick in June's draft.
Rick Scuteri / USA Today Sports
By Randy Hill
PHOENIX -- Jahii Carson learned to quit sweatin' the small stuff years ago.
While tearing up the club-ball circuit as an East Valley grade-school phenom, it was posited he'd never be big enough.
He wouldn't be big enough to dominate at the high-school level. By the time he finished at Mesa High, Jahii was best player in Arizona, hitting opponents for 32 points per game.
Next, it was Carson's collegiate prospects that were doomed by his limited physical stature.
Two All-Pac-12 seasons at Arizona State later, all that's left to critique, for now, is whether Jahii has the chops to play in the NBA. A year ago evaluation watchdogs considered him a late first-round draft candidate, but Jahii returned to school and now sits somewhere behind that in the forecasted selection hierarchy. A recent survey of mock drafts predict Carson most likely as a mid to late second-round selection.
"First they said I couldn't shoot," said Carson, who made a respectable 39 percent of his 3-point-attempts as an ASU sophomore.
He also reminded reporters that under his on-court direction, the Sun Devils reached the NCAA Tournament last spring.
The omniscient "they" who seem to have fueled Carson's motivation through the years don't include the Suns, who had the 5-foot-10 point guard in for a six-player Wednesday morning workout at the US Airways Center practice court.
"We don't cross guys off because of size," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said when that subject, vis-a-vis Carson, was broached after the workout.
McDonough, whose evaluation list probably would fetch a princely sum on the open market, said Carson didn't do anything to diminish his standing in the Suns' eyes.
"He looked good in our workout here today," McDonough said. "He had a good showing."
Carson, who put up a tick over 18 points per game in both of his seasons as a Sun Devil, certainly fits the reestablished, accelerated Phoenix mold.
"I think he fits well with the pace and tempo we play at," McDonough said. "I like his aggressiveness. He can get a shot off against anybody."
But even though his ability to get into the lane and create scoring/dishing havoc kept the Sun Devils far more competitive than anticipated, Carson still has his detractors.
He'll be too small to defend grown-up NBA point guards, it is postulated. Of course, the same sharpies fail to point out that few point guards are schooled in the art of posting up, making this potential liability less noticeable than having to stay in front of a quick player on the other end of the hardwood.
Carson, who said he's sought advice from diminutive predecessors such as Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas and NBA vet Nate Robinson, already is tricky when accompanied by a ball screen. And they run a few of those in the world's foremost league.
He also has an advanced ability to change pace and direction, creating sufficient separation to use his vision for the greater, dime-dropping good.
But listening to McDonough, it seems the Suns see him more as a Robinson type. He definitely has the quickness and bounce (his combine vert was registered at 43 inches).
"He can come in and score," McDonough said. "I think that'll be Jahii's role, but I can't speak for the other 29 teams. He can put points on the board."
If Carson, a kid who grew up in the Phoenix area watching the Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire Suns, lands in Phoenix -- something he referenced as a "dream come true" -- his deployment would be in the hands of Coach Jeff Hornacek.
Hornacek, whose son played summer ball with Carson a couple of months before Jahii started his high school career, was typically reserved when asked for an assessment.
"He did a nice job," Hornacek said of Carson. "He shot the ball well."
Right, for little guys to capitalize on their break-down skills, it helps to keep those lanky defenders honest. But there are other things required for the down-sized.
"You just have to play harder than anybody," Hornacek said, "and be faster than everybody else."
Carson is pretty familiar with those marching orders.
"I think my speed and quickness translate to the NBA," he said. "I've got to be able to defend bigger guards without fouling."
He also concurred with the Suns' brass on his Wednesday performance.
"I actually shot the ball pretty good," Carson said. "I've been working on that pretty hard. And I just showed my leadership qualities . . . chatting, uplifting guys and doing what I do in transition."
If the next transition keeps him home, in front of the same spotlight he's grown up in, that shouldn't be a problem.
"I'm a Phoenix guy," Jahii Carson said. "I enjoy the heat."