PHOENIX — After years of missing on picks in the middle or latter portion of the first round, the Suns last June nabbed talented power forward Markieff Morris, who was able to contribute immediately as a roookie.
And they believe that with a deeper draft class this season, they’ll be able to duplicate that success or land an even better player with the 13th overall pick later this month.
Morris came to Phoenix a year ago — also via the 13th pick — in a draft that general manager Lance Blanks called “spotty,” meaning some players were picked higher than they should have been while others fell further than they should have. Things this year, Blanks said in a meeting with local media Monday, should be a little clearer.
“We felt that Markieff was better than his draft spot,” Blanks said. “I think the draft will be solid (this year) for certainly the first half of the first round all the way through in terms of the ability of players and what they’re able to do.”
Blanks was preparing Monday to depart for the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, where executives get up-close looks both on and off the court at players expected to be available in the June 28 draft. While the draft process technically began the day after last year’s draft, it begins in earnest now, Blanks said, with the front office starting to target individual players.
The Suns have yet to line up their draft board, but the executive team has determined what needs it would most like to address with its lone pick in this year’s draft.
Blanks said there is a balance that must be managed between taking the best player available and one that fits the team’s needs, but he specifically mentioned a desired to add a strong perimeter player who can generate offense or an interior presence to provide defensive support and create more flexibility on the perimeter.
“If I’m reading the internet right, there will be a lot of guys there available that can help us,” Blanks quipped. “I think, by the pool of players (available), we will get a very good player at that pick, ideally on the perimeter or the interior. I think there will be both there.”
Blanks also mentioned point guard as a position particularly difficult to fill, though the Suns appear to be making every effort to keep Steve Nash in Phoenix. Blanks did not address free agency Monday.
This year’s draft class is considered the deepest in any recent season, and the Suns accordingly feel that they will have options once they are on the clock. Finding the right player is of particular importance since the Suns have just the one selection.
Blanks stressed internal growth Monday, explaining that the organization has put an increased emphasis on player development. The team’s player development staff has grown recently and will play a key role in developing the likes of Morris and whomever the Suns land in this draft.
That development staff also will help evaluate the Suns’ options in the draft, particularly whether it makes more sense to take a player who can make an immediate impact or one who might have more upside but need a few years to develop.
“Hopefully (it) is a player who is not finished growing, but hopefully he can impact this roster next year,” Blanks said. “Part of that will be on him, and part of that will be on us.”
Blanks was not ready to discuss specific players yet. One of few things he could say with any degree of certainty was that the Suns would have their pick and use it. He did not rule out trading the pick, but it’s obvious that it would take something very specific.
Blanks also said the Suns could explore options for acquiring an additional draft pick.
“The goal is getting back to being successful and playing well into spring, and in order to do that, we’ve got to be willing to make changes, which we are,” Blanks said. “If that means adding a pick, then we’ll do that. If it means not adding one, we won’t.”