For fans of the Phoenix Suns, most of the offseason dominoes have fallen. They may not all have fallen in the preferred way, but they have fallen.
Ryan McDonough was hired to replace Lance Blanks as general manager. Seeded fourth for the lottery, the Suns dropped to fifth in the NBA Draft. And, in a move that seemed to provoke the most positive karma around town, Jeff Hornacek was hired as head coach.
Now, in addition to filling out the coaching staff and perhaps adding more sharpies to the personnel department, the next big decision will be just what to do with that fifth pick.
Although the names of six players usually are written or spoken when experts are asked to cover the first five picks, their potential order of selection has draft watchers speculating all over the place.
It begins with the first overall selection, which belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to the latest mock lineup from draftexpress.com, the Cavaliers will choose Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel. NBADraft.net thinks it will be Kansas redshirt freshman shooting guard Ben McLemore. So do the guys performing the official mocking at Hoopshype.com. But Hoopsworld.com has Georgetown sophomore forward Otto Porter at No. 1.
For the record, the forecasting doesn’t become any more consistent when the Orlando Magic pick at 2, or when the Washington Wizards select at No. 3 or when the Charlotte Bobcats are up at No. 4.
Where does this leave the Suns, who have prospect workouts scheduled for four days next week? Well, it could make the selection by McDonough and crew a bit easier; four really nice choices already will be gone by the time the fifth pick rolls around.
Before the league-wide campaign of misinformation erupts on a grand scale, however, let’s take a look at what some of the relevant prospects could do for Phoenix. For clarity, we’ve consulted a scout currently employed by a team that had a much better record than the Suns last season.
Nerlens Noel, freshman center, Kentucky
Reportedly out until December after that gruesome knee injury, Noel is an elite-level shot-blocker with crazy defense range for a big.
If he’s around at No. 5, it probably will be traced to some negative medical intel. With Marcin Gortat riding into the final year of his current contract, a Noel selection would seem to keep Phoenix in the lottery hunt next season and make Gortat a relatively valuable trade commodity.
Scout’s view: “What he did on defense is pretty impressive, but he has decent potential on offense if the right guys are teaching him. Not sure who that will be, but at least Hornacek might be able to help him make free throws.”
Ben McLemore, freshman shooting guard, Kansas
The levitating jump shooter spent part of this week professing a keen fondness for the Orlando Magic. Although the Magic currently employ Arron Afflalo at shooting guard, McLemore could end up there.
If he’s still around at No. 5, it would mean his agent allowed McLemore to participate in a workout with a prospect (currently) ranked below him, a workout that didn’t go well for the KU guard. Or it would suggest that NBA teams are really good at misdirection.
Scout’s view: “I keep reading and hearing that McLemore deferred to upperclassmen at Kansas because he doesn’t have a go-to-guy mentality. To me, he’s doesn’t have the go-to-guy ability to put the ball on the floor and create a shot. That’s a really difficult aspect of your game to improve by this stage of development, but there are more skill guys who teach it now. With his touch and lift, if he can just be decent, it would be a good rebuilding start for the Suns.”
Otto Porter, sophomore small forward, Georgetown
Based on need (and that’s a tricky variable for bad teams to fold into their draft strategy), Porter would be a good fit in Cleveland.
If he’s around at No. 5 (and assuming the Suns like him as much as most draft followers), Phoenix would get a hard-working kid who’s improved his shooting range, works hard on defense, passes well and actually makes basket cuts (there are so few of those in the NBA, by design, it seems) as a side benefit of playing in a Princeton-based offense. He’s not much of an off-the-bounce guy and doesn’t have great shooting range, but Harrison Barnes, a similar player, has improved a bit off the dribble already.
Scout’s view: “He’s gotten better and does the little things. Porter would be a solid get for Phoenix but wouldn’t give them a really big boost right away, I don’t think. He’s also pretty consistent … his name is spelled the same forwards and backwards.” That’s not bad for a basketball guy.
Anthony Bennett, freshman forward, UNLV
He stands 6-foot-7 but has the length of a 6-9 player with the width (240 pounds) of a long-haul truck. Despite his strength and explosiveness, Bennett is not very accomplished on the low post. He’s pretty salty on putback dunks and lobs, but a seeming belief in his future as a small forward could be a problem. At No. 5, he’d give the Suns another mid-sized forward with just enough perimeter skill to think he can handle experienced wing players out there.
Scout’s view: “Having the injured shoulder could be a blessing; there’s a difference between exposure and exposed. GMs — and some coaches — always have it flip-flopped. A skilled four man or center should stay at those positions and use their agility to beat bigger players outside-in. Instead, big players with some mobility are moved outside and get lost trying to stay in front of players who grew up playing out there.”
Victor Oladipo, junior shooting guard, Indiana
Ding ding ding! Here’s the player attached to the Suns in more mock drafts than any other prospect. For what it’s worth, Oladipo also is pretty popular with media sharpies who follow college basketball.
Over the last couple of seasons at Indiana, the ultra-athletic (and competitive) Oladipo has improved as a deep shooter and has become capable of making some slick moves off the dribble. He still could improve in those areas, but he reportedly loves to work on getting better. It also should be noted that some players who aren’t natural gunslingers are more effective than some who are by simply understanding the difference between good shots and percentage-killers.
Scout’s view: “He’s a competitor, man. He’s not huge for the position, but he’ll battle bigger guys who try to post him and absolutely dig in to guard anyone off the bounce. He may not ever have the offense to be a so-called elite player, but he can be at the top of the next level.”
Trey Burke, sophomore point guard, Michigan
The hero of Michigan’s run to the NCAA tournament final checked in a little bigger than expected at the combine and has the pick-and-roll chops to make NBA teams happy. But even though he’s really good at changing speeds to beat quicker players, concerns about his lack of top-tier jets may keep him around past the first couple of picks. He has deep shooting range but was pretty inconsistent from the perimeter in the tournament.
According to recent scuttlebutt, the big thinkers in Orlando (where a rising point guard is needed) allegedly doubt that Burke has the long-range potential to make him worth taking at No. 2.
The Suns already have Goran Dragic at point guard, but McDonough’s reported history of unconventional evaluation makes anything seem possible at this point.
Scout’s view: “He’s a difficult call. At times this year, I thought he could have gotten his teammates – and he had some pretty good ones – even more involved. When he did, it made me think he had the ability to do it even more. But he’s tough and has enough shiftiness to get where he needs to go on the floor.”