As Thursday’s draft quickly approaches, there is one dynamic to every team’s first-round selection that is often overlooked: Is it better to draft to fill a need or to take the best available player at the time?
Looking at the Suns depth-wise with a roster that currently features Amar’e, Shaq, and Nash, they appear to be set at point guard and the bigs, leaving the swing positions as their biggest “need.” That would leave out Jonny Flynn, B.J. Mullens, and even DeJuan Blair as possible picks.
Of course in this league, you can never be too deep with point guards or big men, and with Flynn’s rising draft status, if he’s there at 14 on Thursday he’d probably be the “best available.” Blair is likely to go somewhere near the Suns’ spot, and if he’s there he could also be the “best available.”
The case for filling a need
The Suns will be looking to add a SF-capable player next year to play behind Jason Richardson, especially if Grant Hill and Matt Barnes leave Phoenix, and it definitely wouldn’t hurt for that player to be able to slide over to the two to back up Barbosa.
That player is likely Austin Daye in this draft. His status is a little up in the air, with some mocks showing him nearly falling out of the first round and others having him as a lottery pick. But the Suns have a player workout scheduled Saturday, and Daye will be there for his second visit to Phoenix. This could be a sign that he’s their target.
He’s a good shooter and has the length at 6-11 to capably play the three. He’s got post skills as well, but his strength holds him back from being even better. This is a guy who would fit well in Alvin Gentry’s fast-paced offense, and he could definitely fill the shooting void left by Barnes’ nearly certain departure.
Also at Saturday’s workout will be Louisville forward Earl Clark. He’s got the size (6-10) Daye does and is stronger. NBA comparisons put him somewhere near a Boris Diaw-type, and we all know how handy Boris would have been last year. Clark is much more of a power forward-capable player and much less of a shooter. This would be like an Amar’e insurance policy and would be a great pick if Barnes does leave and Hill does stay.
Filling a need allows the Suns to take someone they think is NBA ready and use them this year without having to sign someone else. If that guy ends up impressing, that is how teams come from nowhere to make noise in the playoffs. It’s a risk, but probably one the Suns should take, especially if they aren’t able to unload payroll by trading Shaq. It’s a cheap option that can take teams to the next level if they do indeed strike gold.
The case for taking the best player available
Jonny Flynn seemed to be a possibility until the NBA combine, where he wowed scouts and probably threw himself into the top 10 with his combine-best vertical of 40 inches.
DeJuan Blair seemed to be an early favorite for the Suns’ pick, but his stock too seems to have risen, despite worries about his height (6-6). His range in mocks stretches anywhere from just inside the top 10 to right about the Suns’ spot.
These are two good examples of players who could be the best available at the time the Suns’ pick comes up, barring some sort of odd scenario in which a top-10 player falls this far (see Matt Leinart or Brady Quinn for an NFL equivalent of that).
While the Suns may not have an immediate use for either of these guys, it could allow them to make other roster moves and work them in. Blair has a lot of question marks, so if they draft him and then trade Shaq, the Suns’ frontcourt would be very suspect with Lou Amundson, Robin Lopez, and Blair holding things down with Amar’e.
That’s the risk you take. If they were to pass on someone like this because he didn’t fill an immediate need, they could end up getting burned down the road.
With Steve Kerr reportedly in New York Thursday talking to Nash and his agent, one would have to assume an extension is coming soon, especially after all Kerr has said about wanting to re-sign Nash this summer. That makes a Flynn pick a little sketchy as well.
Still, Flynn is highly touted and really has no business hanging around the bottom of the lottery anyway, and even if Nash gets re-signed, it’s tough to imagine them passing on such a good talent in such a sought-after position.