Suns looking at ‘best’ case as draft nears
PHOENIX — If a recent salvo of trade gossip continues to be little more than reckless conjecture, the Suns will make the 13th selection in Thursday’s 2015 NBA Draft.
And, based on the often-recited philosophy of general manager Ryan McDonough, they’ll select the "best player" still available when their turn arrives. But how is best player defined?
Could it be the available player with the potential to provide the most immediate in-game contribution? Or is the Suns’ interpretation of best player aimed at targeting the prospect they expect to have the most potential to be highly productive in a few years?
In his first two drafts, McDonough remained steadfast in adhering to the latter premise. Presiding over a roster in need of long-range progress, he and the Suns focused on players with the highest ceiling.
Although we’re expecting that strategy to prevail again this time around, the variables could be changing.
For example, McDonough said the Suns’ next measure of progress is to secure a playoff ticket in the brutally competitive Western Conference. That solemn declaration was part of his message during media day last October.
Since then, the Suns shuffled the roster, missed the playoffs and landed another late-lottery pick.
According to the aforementioned rumors, much of this loose talk regarding Phoenix suggests the Suns could be interested in packagint their pick with another asset or two in an effort to climb higher on Thursday’s selection chain. The asset receiving the most attention is point guard Eric Bledsoe.
It has been posited that Phoenix is — reckless word alert — "dangling" Bledsoe in an effort to land a player capable of growing into a star.
But even if the Suns were doing more than listening to interest in any of their current players, moving Bledsoe seems incapable of generating enough immediate on-court success to push Phoenix into the 2016 postseason.
Anyway, beyond the longshot notion of unloading their most productive player — who happens to have a nice, multi-year contract and has yet to hit his prime years — is the widespread belief that owner Robert Sarver really would like this team to make the playoffs … next year.
Moving Bledsoe in a transaction that targets a rookie easily can be perceived as a step backward in this particular quest.
So while it seems reasonable to be skeptical regarding any Bledsoe chatter, we wonder if Sarver’s presumed interest in winning more right away — blended with the McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek entering season three on their respective contracts — will alter that best-player concept.
With so many one-and-done prospects riding the lottery-projection lists, that sea change might be difficult to discern. According to the mock roll call on draftexpress.com, 10 of the 14 players this website expects to be chosen in the lottery are under 20 years old.
But there is a player who’s been shaving for years and might be equipped to give the Suns a noticeable boost — in specific areas — right away.
That player is Wisconsin 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, the oldest lottery-range suspect in this draft. We’re well aware the 22-year-old Badger ticks off a lot of boxes on the negative side on any of the many hyper-critical ledgers:
He has the (relative to his draft peers) wingspan of a sparrow. He can’t jump high enough to kiss the shot clock. He can’t bench press a locomotive. While playing against much younger players, he benefitted by playing in an offense built around him.
And so on.
But Kaminsky can shoot the ball really well from various spots and distances on the floor, put it on the floor a couple of times while performing a really crafty finishing move, has enough moxie to score in the post against longer, bouncier players and has sufficient smarts to anticipate dangerous situations on defense.
As the relative old man in lottery range, Kaminsky — so the theory goes — is close enough to maximizing his potential that he may be capable of doing many of those good things right now.
In case you weren’t sure, it’s pretty ridiculous to suggest a 22-yea- old basketball player has finished progressing.
By the way, we’re not claiming Kaminsky — if he’s on the board at 13 — represents the best direction the Suns can take.
To borrow a word McDonough uses quite often following pre-draft workouts, there will be several intriguing prospects still available at 13.
Based on this week’s possible misinformation chain, Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein (another old man at 21) could be sliding toward double digits due to questions about an off-kilter screw in his repaired ankle and alleged concerns over how much he actually loves to play.
It is presumed the Suns — even with young rim-protector Alex Len still registered after being taken fifth overall two years ago — would jump all over the ultra-athletic, defensive-oriented Cauley-Stein.
But Kentucky teammate Trey Lyles — a skilled and versatile 6-10 freshman — could last until 13 and might tempt the Suns. So, too, could Texas freshman post Myles Turner … or Kansas freshman wing Kelly Oubre … or even Murray State point guard Cameron Payne.
Arizona freshman swingman Stanley Johnson or Kentucky freshman shooter Devin Booker could slip and be there for Phoenix to grab, as well.
And there’s Bobby Portis, the aggressive 6-10 post who was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year during his sophomore season at Arkansas.
Like Kaminsky, Portis has skill, more experience than most, a nice feel for what a good decision is and works in an area of the floor the Suns could stand to upgrade.
That might even constitute drafting based on need.
But perhaps that would be little more than a coincidence.