With fifth pick, can Suns find their next star?

Despite Suns' slip to fifth in draft order via lottery, new GM McDonough sees plentiful upgrade options.

PHOENIX – Now that the Phoenix Suns have converted 57 losses into the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, let’s jump ahead to the next crucial question.

Will the player they select at No. 5 provide sufficient help to prevent them from landing in this predicament next season?

Well, based on the anticipated bounty that could be available in 2014, many Suns fans wouldn't mind the team having another early lottery pick next year. But while many draft watchdogs expect little from the 2013 yield, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough seems to have no interest in doomsday prophecy.

“I think that in every draft, there are a few star players,” McDonough said Tuesday shortly after the fourth-seeded Suns officially dropped to fifth in the draft pecking order via the lottery. “At the end of the day, I’m confident we’ll get somebody good.”

Although McDonough’s observations hold up pretty well when scrutiny is applied to draft history, identifying those few star players may be trickier this year.

Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel and Kansas redshirt freshman two guard Ben McLemore have been projected 1-2 thus far, but the next five weeks should provide considerable misinformation regarding who will be selected in the top tier.

“We’ll prepare for everybody,” McDonough said.

The short list includes the aforementioned prospects along with electric Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, slick Michigan point guard Trey Burke and versatile Georgetown swingman Otto Porter. There are also several other players capable of provoking rumors of rising into the Suns’ orbit.

Although position-pegging can be extremely subjective, candidates to catch McDonough’s eye may occupy every spot on the floor.

“We won 25 games,” he said, “so we need help in a lot of places.”

In terms of specifics, McDonough allowed that “we need to get more athletic, we need more shooting.”

McDonough mentioned variables beyond the physical realm as holding considerable weight in these deliberations, as well. Fortunately, all five players listed above reportedly are high-character prospects. Of course, the Suns’ new GM may be thinking and rating outside the tidy boxes that corral conventional wisdom regarding the 2013 class.

And Suns fans also may need to embrace the notion that Phoenix’s prevailing roster assets could have little to no impact on which player is chosen.

“Generally, my draft philosophy is to take the best player available, regardless of position,” McDonough said. “We’re not going into it looking for a specific position or type.”

Reading between the lines suggests that if McDonough thinks Burke, for example, is the best asset for the Suns to add (as long as owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby agree), Goran Dragic could have company at point guard -- or start looking for a new address.

Or Burke could be taken and moved, although the list of NBA teams in search of a long-term answer at that position is pretty small.

McDonough said the post-lottery process will include inquiries to determine “whether it’s worth trying to move up.”

And with subjectivity creating the potential for differing draft boards all over the NBA, the top remaining player on the Suns’ priority list could be someone still available after trading down.

Even though he wasn’t officially pulling the trigger while working for the Boston Celtics, the then-26-year-old McDonough did have Rajon Rondo at No. 1 on his 2006 board. Rondo ended up going at No. 21 with a pick the Suns traded to the C's, while Andrea Bargnani went first to the Toronto Raptors. The list of other players selected ahead of Rondo is a who’s who of busts.

Anyway, in addition to attempting to identify the Suns’ next coaching star, McDonough will spend the coming days digging even more deeply into the backgrounds of players with the potential to still be on the board at No. 5. With so much uncertainty at all levels of this class, the list could be fairly broad.

“There will be eight to 10 guys we’ll really focus in on,” he said.

McDonough and his staff will attempt to watch video from every game these prospects have played, scrutinize numbers and off-court variables even further and bring players in for private workouts.

Based on testimonials from those he worked with previously and early returns from his days here, McDonough probably already has a handle on which players are among his top five.

“It’s just a matter of figuring out who’s going to be available,” he said. “We’re going to get a good player. There are more than five good players in this draft.”

But when you're as bad as the Suns were this past season, just being good may not be good enough to make much of a difference in the short term.

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