Savvy trumps sizzle with Suns’ 3 draft picks

PHOENIX — Now we know that "upside" — as interpreted by Suns general manager Ryan McDonough — doesn’t require the capacity to rise extremely high or run really fast.

It did seem to be skewing that way, however.

McDonough’s first-year salvo of acquisitions included fast-twitch characters Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, rookie Archie Goodwin and Ish Smith.

But Thursday’s NBA Draft reminded us the Suns also can identify long-range potential in players with more savvy than explosive athleticism.

T.J. Warren, chosen by Phoenix with the 14th overall pick, relied more on craftiness than bounce or flair while finishing third in the nation in scoring at North Carolina State.

"He has terrific instincts and a fantastic touch around the basket," McDonough said.


Tyler Ennis, who became a Suns selection at 18, is known for explosive bursts of intelligent, on-court decisions. When running down the checklist of reasons why Ennis was considered a good get, McDonough went the "instincts" route again.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, a draft-and-stash candidate snagged at 27, eventually will arrive riding a reputation based more on ball skills than vertical chutzpah.

"We see them as very efficient, effective basketball players," McDonough said when asked about the Suns’ first-round haul. "We got a blend of a little bit of everything. We feel like it was a great night.

"My philosophy has always been to draft who we think is going to be the best player at the end of the day."

According to McDonough, the Suns were able to put these evaluation tactics in motion by grabbing Warren and Ennis later in the first-round proceedings than they had those players ranked.

While their had been much pre-draft discussion that the Suns would try to package-deal their way out of three first-round picks, nothing materialized that they liked better than the future potential of the three newcomers.

When asked about Warren in particular, the level of enthusiasm from Suns coach Jeff Hornacek seemed considerable.

"We think he’s a guy who gets tough buckets," Hornacek said after explaining how the 20-year-old can provide the Suns with a quick-strike scoring option from mid-range in. "We think he has the chance to be a special offensive player."

Although the Suns don’t exactly shun the analytics-based theory of generating layups and 3-pointers, they used their first pick on Warren, a throwback master of the mid-range game. With a repertoire that features shot fakes, spins, bank shots and floaters, Warren averaged 24.9 points per game.

As a candidate to help Phoenix space the floor, however, Warren’s not exactly that guy … yet.

During the last of his two seasons at N.C. State, Warren made 27 percent of his 116 attempts from behind the arc.

"He’s such a great scorer, he’s not going to have to rely on a 3-point shot," said Hornacek, after pointing out that anyone who puts in the time and effort to improve can increase that range.

Warren believes he has the chops to thrive in the high-tempo Phoenix system that generated the most fast-break points in the NBA.

"I think it fits the way I play," he said in a teleconference with Phoenix-area reporters. "I just run the floor hard and pick my spots in transition."

Having recorded a no-step vertical of 27 inches (not terrible; his one-step was 35.5) and little previous evidence of lock-down caliber on-ball defense, Warren said every aspect of basketball will be addressed on his improvement curve.

Through two pre-draft workouts for the Suns on the U.S. Airways Center practice floor, the 20-year-old had a major objective.

"I wanted to show that I can defend at a high level," Warren said, "as well as provide offense the way I do."

McDonough and Hornacek said Warren looked much better defensively in their workout environment than he did on in-season video.

As a product of the traditional Syracuse 2-3 zone, defensive translation at the NBA level will be an automatic question for Ennis.

And lacking the seemingly Sun-centric burst of point guards Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Ish Smith doesn’t make Ennis feel incapable of contributing here.

"I think I really fit in with the style in Phoenix," said Ennis, citing passing and other methods of court sense among his greatest attributes. "I think I’m going to come in and compete for minutes."

With the Suns now entering a free-agent derby with starters Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye involved, adding Warren and Ennis may provide a tick of roster insurance.

"It’s all factored in," McDonough said.

He also said it’s the team’s preference to rehire all three of the aforementioned free agents.

"We didn’t draft anybody to be replacements for those guys," he said.

They were drafted for their long-range potential as skilled basketball players, not decathlon potential.

"We’ll have to see how they do in summer league, pre-season workouts, training camp and all that," McDonough said when asked how quickly they might contribute. "I can see them sooner rather than later, but none of that’s predetermined."

The Suns also had one pick in the second round, which they used on sharp-shooting center Alec Brown of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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