The Suns will forever be haunted for what they did in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Taking Jalen Smith with the 10th pick will always be a blemish on the Suns’ front office, seeing as how it never found out how he fit with Deandre Ayton and the way Smith was utilized overall by the Suns.
Given Smith’s three-point shooting ability, there was an opportunity for him to add more big-man depth to a team full of proven wings and guards.
However, as his rookie season progressed, Smith never saw a regular role with the Suns, averaging only six minutes per game followed by 13 minutes per game this past season.
Smith didn’t enter the regular rotation in 2021-22 and was eventually traded to the Indiana Pacers at the deadline for Torrey Craig, who the Suns reacquired after letting him walk in free agency.
The 2020 NBA Draft featured a plethora of serviceable and talented players the Suns could have molded. More specifically, the Suns have put the future of their franchise in jeopardy by not providing a clear-cut feature guard to play alongside Devin Booker and to learn from Chris Paul before he retires.
With Paul turning 37 in early May, fans and the front office have to assume a decline in Paul’s game or even a sudden retirement could plague the Suns’ long-term plans with no future point guard on the roster.
It’s fair to assume the Suns felt they had the guard position locked down for the 2021-22 NBA season and beyond with Cam Payne and Landry Shamet set to see an uptick in minutes.
Payne got extended by Phoenix in the offseason to a three-year, $19 million contract. In the third year of his deal, Payne is only guaranteed $2 million.
Shamet was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets last August for Jevon Carter and a draft pick that became Day’Ron Sharpe. The Suns extended Shamet before the season on a four-year, $42 million contract deal.
In essence, the Suns will be paying over $30 million in guaranteed money for Payne and Shamet combined over the next few years, a hefty price to pay for two players who struggled in the regular season and the playoffs.
Here are three players from the 2020 NBA draft that the Suns passed on who could have provided a boost now and potentially down the road:
Tyrese Haliburton (12th overall)
With the guidance of Paul, it’s safe to assume Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton would have been a force to be reckoned with for the Suns.
Haliburton plays with a unique style. His overall pace is unmatched, as well as his ability to create his own shot and get his teammates involved.
Un peu de soleil dans votre TL grâce à Tyrese Haliburton pic.twitter.com/ESjB4QABya
— Pacers Nation France (@FrPacers) June 7, 2022
This would have boded well for the Suns considering the fact that Haliburton would have the ability to play with either of the Suns’ All-Stars or run the offense with Booker and Paul off the floor.
Since entering the league, Haliburton is already regarded as an elite NBA playmaker with his crafty ball-handling as well as displaying high basketball IQ.
Through two seasons with the Sacramento Kings and Pacers, Haliburton is averaging 14 points to go along with 7 assists per game.
Tyrese Maxey (21st overall)
While the Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey didn’t quite get his feet under him as a rookie, he took a major step forward this year, averaging 17.5 points per game on 48% shooting and 42% from beyond the arc.
While playing with ball-dominant players such as James Harden and Joel Embiid, Maxey didn’t shy away from the spotlight. At times when Embiid wouldn’t play, Maxey would sometimes serve as the 76ers’ go-to option to get the offense rolling.
Maxey is a quick and explosive guard known for his scoring ability, and while he may not be known for his playmaking, he became a willing passer this season, setting up his teammates in great positions to score.
Don’t sleep on Tyrese Maxey’s playmaking pic.twitter.com/VIeDpl92iL
— Brock Landes (@LandesBrock) June 8, 2022
Like Haliburton, Maxey would have easily played a key role alongside Booker while also learning the ropes from Paul and providing the Suns with instant offense and above-average playmaking.
Maxey finished sixth in the Most Improved Player award voting this past season.
Desmond Bane (30th overall)
The Memphis Grizzlies wing was arguably the second option on the team that finished second in the Western Conference last season. Bane averaged a very solid 18 points while also becoming one of the league’s premier three-point shooters. He hit 43% from deep on seven attempts per game.
When Grizzlies star point guard Ja Morant was unavailable due to injury, Bane stepped up in a big way to become the Grizzlies’ leading scorer. He helped them maintain a high seeding in a highly competitive Western Conference.
Bane has a similar skillset to Maxey. However, in Bane’s case, he is a more typical catch-and-shoot player. Bane was exceptional off the ball for Memphis this past season.
The wing is also a very underappreciated slasher and finisher. Time and time again, Bane catches defenses falling asleep, leading to easy baskets.
Top assist combos for the Grizzlies this season:
1. Steven Adams Desmond Bane (85)
2. Ja Morant Desmond Bane (80)
3. Tyus Jones Jaren Jackson Jr (63)
Adams to Bane backdoor is one of the prettiest plays in basketball… pic.twitter.com/68Tdunpr8T
— Steven Adams Stats (@funakistats) June 12, 2022
The Suns could have easily used Bane in an extended Cameron Johnson-type role due to his exceptional three-point shooting and ability to read defenses on and off the ball.
Bane also finished fifth in the Most Improved Player award voting.
Booker and Haliburton, Booker and Maxey, or even Booker and Bane are all formidable backcourts that would have given the Suns prominent success after Paul retires.
Suns and general manager James Jones will now be tasked to find Paul’s successor either in the offseason, via trade or try again in an upcoming draft.