While the Phoenix Suns are finally out of the muck, new talent must still be found
I know what you’re thinking. A majority of your Suns fan life — or at least the parts you remember most clearly these days — has revolved around events like the NBA Draft Lottery, Draft Day and Summer League.
You’ve spent an unhealthy number of hours pouring over YouTube videos and publicly available scouting reports of college and international prospects to spot and obsess over the exact perfect fit next to Devin Booker to revive a moribund franchise.
You’ve ingested prospect rankings like they’re a drug, developed an opinion on every guy on the list that looks like he could be drafted by the team, and even probably attached your heart to a fringe guy you’re absolutely sure will be a star in the pros even though he’s ranked in the 30s or later by the so-called smart people.
But this year…This year is different. This year, you’re obsessed over actual Suns games being played on the hardcourt, developed an opinion on every guy on the roster, and probably attached your heart to a fringe rotation guy who, if only he were given more minutes, would be a difference maker of the highest order.
So when the NBA came out yesterday with an announcement of important draft-related dates, like the early-entry deadline (May 30), draft lottery (June 22), draft combine (June 21-27), and the Draft itself on July 29, you probably gave it no more than a second thought.
But I’m here to remind you that the NBA Draft still matters to the Phoenix Suns, so it should matter to you. Just in a different way.
Skip the Draft Lottery. Don’t even think about it.
If by May the Suns have collapsed and missed the playoffs, which would likely require them losing 23 of 27 games here on out, you’ve got a lot more to worry about until then than a little game called the Draft Lottery. So, just go ahead and put it out of your mind.
The Draft Combine, however, is more important than usual to Suns fans. That’s because just about every player who could be taken in the last 10 picks of the first round will be at the Combine jockeying for position, and the Phoenix Suns own their draft pick in that range.
When it comes to the draft, every draft slot counts. Literally. So those guys are the ones who come to the Combine and do every drill, get every measurement.
Assuming Suns GM James Jones keeps the pick — he’s drafted 11th and 10th the last two years despite teeny tiny scouting department — you have to assume he’s going to want to watch these guys play in a congregate setting one more time before draft night.
For the month between the Combine and the Draft, the Suns will likely host a number of players at their state of the art practice facility on 44th Street to see who’s got the right mental makeup and skillset to fit with the team.
This season alone, late picks who are getting good minutes on their teams include Immanuel Quickley (Knicks), Payton Pritchard (Celtics), Jaden McDaniels (Wolves), Malachi Flynn (Toronto) and Desmond Bane (Memphis), all taken in the last six picks of the first round.
Last year, those bottom-five included Jordan Poole (Warriors), Keldon Johnson (Spurs) and Kevin Porter Jr. (Cavaliers) who all still have big roles this year too.
You can see that Jones is still building a team that can not only win today but also for the future. Today they have the league’s 3rd best record. Tomorrow, they still have a young nucleus with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson all 25 or younger and among the top six in minutes played this year. The latter three are some of the best bargains on the team, still on extremely team-friendly rookie-scale salaries that made it possible to afford Chris Paul’s $41 million plus Jae Crowder and the league’s best bench depth.
But eventually, those guys will get paid, and frankly the Suns are unlikely to retain them all at veteran free agent prices.
So you’ve got to have a pipeline of rotation-level young talent on rookie-scale salaries. Right now, Jalen Smith (20) and Ty-Shon Alexander (22) are luxuries who don’t play at all. Over the summer, the Suns will expect them to progress, and hope to see them play well in whatever comes of Summer League (err, Fall League?). Will they be ready to play when the Suns have to break the bank to stay in contention for a championship? Or will they have to be replaced by other young rookie-scale talent? The worst possible outcome is that the Suns run out of rotation-quality rookie-scale talent.
Either way, the Suns need to keep stocking the roster with cheap young talent. So, pay attention to the prospect lists.
Just scroll down the page a bit further, into the 20s and beyond, to find the guys who might be wearing purple and gold next year.