Last year Lance Blanks’ NBA Draft duties were simple: select the best available power forward.
With Steve Nash at point, Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez anchoring the five spot, and more wing options than a menu at Zipps Sports Grill, it wasn’t difficult to pinpoint Phoenix’s biggest area of need.
Blanks, Lon Babby, Alvin Gentry and the rest of the Suns staff went with the proven commodity in Markieff Morris, who turned out to be a solid pick considering the flashes he showed during his rookie season – although there’s no question Phoenix has to be kicking itself for passing on Kenneth Faried and even Kawhi Leonard.
This year leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, however, Blanks and his staff don’t have it so easy.
With Steve Nash’s fate still undetermined and the rest of the roster in question, the Suns don’t have that one obvious void that needs to be filled.
Simply put, Phoenix’s roster has more holes than a slice of Swiss, meaning the Suns could go several directions when the 13th pick rolls around on Thursday, June 28.
Luckily for Phoenix, this year’s class is oozing with talent, giving the Suns a multitude of options — at virtually every position — when choosing that prospect they hope them turn around their bleak future.
With that said, here’s a breakdown of three players at each position that the Suns could have a shot at with the 13th pick:
The Reach: Damian Lillard
School: Weber State:
Height/Weight: 6-2, 185
Kendall Marshall may be the best passer in the draft, Tony Wroten Jr. may have the most upside, but Lillard is the total package at the point guard spot. He’s explosive driving to the rack and deadly from distance, not to mention he’s a solid assist man (4.0 per game) and rebounder (5.1 per contest).
Lillard can flat-out fill it up as he went for 30 or more seven times last season while eclipsing the 40-point mark twice. He’s nearly impossible to keep out of the lane with an explosive first step, he’ll dunk over you at the cup, yet he’ll splash a three in your face from the parking lot.
Yes, he didn’t face top-notch competition at Weber State but ranking second in the nation in scoring on only 15.5 shots per game is tough to do. According to Weber State head coach Randy Rahe he can improve as a passer as well as on the defensive end, but he’s a high-character kid with a relentless work ethic and a bright future in the NBA.
Lillard is expected to be a top-10 pick, but considering the Nash situation it would be hard for the Suns to pass on the Oakland product if he falls to 13.
The More Realistic Choice: Kendall Marshall
Height/Weight: 6-4, 188
Marshall is more likely to be available than Lillard, and if that’s the case the Suns couldn’t be disappointed with the former Tar Heel. His court vision is second-to-none (see 9.7 assists per game) and he plays with the pace and poise of an NBA veteran.
The transition from UNC to Phoenix wouldn’t be a tough one considering the Tar Heels played at the same breakneck pace. Marshall has a little Jason Kidd in him given his size, below the rim game, and vision.
Marshall does, however, lack athletic upside, lateral quickness and shooting range or touch. He’s not going to break defenders down off the dribble, and there are questions about how high his ceiling is. Regardless of his lack of upside, Marshall is as much of a sure thing as there is at the point guard spot and he’ll most likely be an NBA starter for years to come.
The Risk: Tony Wroten
Height/Weight: 6-5, 205
If Wroten reaches his sky-high potential he could eventually be the best point guard to come out of the 2012 class. He’s strong, quick and impossible to keep out of the lane. He has tremendous vision and big-time potential as a defender. Wroten showed flashes of greatness in the Pac-12 last year and took home the conference Freshman of the Year award while making First Team All-Pac-12 as well.
However (Stephen A. Smith voice), he is a turnover waiting to happen — 3.9 per game last season — and has zero range on his jump shot. He’s also been criticized for not always giving maximum effort and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be successful as a point guard or shooting guard at the NBA level. If the Suns want to take a point guard they can gamble on in hopes of catching lighting in a bottle, Wroten is their guy.
The Reach: Jeremy Lamb
Height/Weight: 6-5, 185
It’s hard to call any shooting guards a reach, likely candidate, or risk at No. 13 because after Bradley Beal they’re mostly all in the same tier. But for the sake of this post, we’ll call Lamb the reach, as he’s one of the most proven and accomplished shooting guards of the bunch.
Although he had a down year last year shooting the ball, in terms of pure mechanics he’s arguably the best shooter in the draft save maybe John Jenkins. His stroke is effortless and he’s had NBA range since he stepped foot on UConn’s campus.
His 7-foot wingspan also gives him great potential on the defensive end and as soon as he adds some muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame he could be a lockdown defender who could guard multiple positions. Lamb has a ton of upside given his measurables and he’s a very good athlete who can get to the rim off the dribble, come off screens and shoot it a little off the bounce.
Although he’s a quiet kid Jim Calhoun said he’s a tireless worker who will undoubtedly put in the effort. If he falls to 13, the Suns could have their new starting shooting guard in Jeremy Lamb.
The Likely Candidate: Terrence Ross
Height/Weight: 6-6, 195
In a world of combo guards and smaller twos, Terrence Ross is the most traditional shooting guard in the draft. He has great size and is a phenomenal athlete who can create his own shot and fill it up from deep. He should have been Pac-12 Player of the Year after a 16.4-point, 6.4-rebound season while playing on the regular season conference champions and his game translates perfectly to the NBA.
Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar likened him to a J.R. Smith or Nick Young-type minus the ego. If the Suns decide to go shooting guard, Ross is the guy who will most likely be around as he didn’t have the national exposure of an Austin Rivers or Jeremy Lamb while up in Seattle. But Ross could end up being the best pro in the crop of shooting guards, and even only after two college seasons he’s as NBA ready as any two guard in the class.
The Risk: Austin Rivers
Height/Weight: 6-4, 199
Rivers has been in around the 13th pick on mock drafts since the NCAA season ended, making him the likely candidate here. He’s a combo guard in the truest sense of the word and can flat-out shoot it from deep. Rivers can also create his own shot with a patented killer crossover.
He obviously has great pedigree as the son of Doc Rivers and has the makeup of a potential superstar. He plays with intensity and confidence — borderline cockiness — and is fairly NBA ready despite playing only one season at Duke.
The questions are: is he a point guard or a shooting guard, can he co-exist without reaching his shot quota and can he defend, especially bigger shooting guards. But the Suns have been missing a playmaker at the shooting guard spot since Joe Johnson left, and with Rivers’ ability to play a little point guard as well, he could very well be Phoenix’s choice if he falls to them.
The Reach: Terrrence Jones
Height/Weight: 6-8, 244
Jones is more of a four than a three, but with the lack of middle of the road small forwards along with scouts’ uncertainty of his position, we’ll call him a three. Jones is undoubtedly a top-five talent in the draft. He’s powerful, athletic, and long with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and can shoot the three ball, handle the ball, rebound, and block shots.
Needless to say, he can do it all on the floor and proved that in two seasons at Kentucky. But where Jones lacks is the mental side of the game. He’s struggled with his motor, body language, and willingness to be a spectator on the floor. Even with that said, Jones is expected to be a mid-to-high lottery pick, but if those questions carry too much weight, the Suns could steal him at No. 13 and land a multi-talented big man with a world of upside.
The Likely Candidate: Moe Harkless
School: St. John’s
Height/Weight: 6-8, 190
Harkless had a monster freshman season with the Red Storm, averaging 15.3 points and 8.6 boards while playing with a boatload of freshmen through Steve Lavin’s health issues. He’s everything you’d want in a small forward: long, athletic, and explosive with great potential on the defensive end — 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks — and the ability to get out and run and finish at the rim.
Harkless is a difference-maker on the floor and an athletic specimen. He’s pegged to go in the late teens or early 20s of the draft, and is the next highest-rated true small forward after Harrison Barnes. Harkless does need to add strength to his frame and become a better shooter, but he has great upside and proved his worth in only one year at the college level.
The Risk: Quincy Miller
Height/Weight: 6-9, 210
Before tearing his ACL heading into his senior year of high school, Miller was one of the higher rated recruits in the country. The injury stripped him of some athleticism during his freshman season at Baylor, which is why he fits the risk category.
His measurables and skill set, however, have nothing risky about them. Miller’s 6-foot-9 frame is perfect for an NBA small forward although he will have to add some muscle. His 7-foot-4 wingspan is flat out scary and will allow him to guard small forwards and power forwards while potentially wreaking havoc in the passing lanes.
Miller is phenomenal operating from 15 feet and in and can handle the ball extremely well for a player his size. He has range out to three-point land and a decent mid-range game. If Miller regains his athleticism, he’s a lottery talent. If not, whoever drafts him could be regretting it.
The Reach: Perry Jones
Height/Weight: 6-11, 235
Jones has the talent to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He’s a jack of all trades and has the handle and fluidity of a shooting guard in the body of a power forward.
He can shoot it from three, take it to the rack, operate on the post, and finish around the rim. But the problem is he’s not exactly great at one thing and lacks the motor to become a big-time player. Because of those question marks he could fall into the late lottery where the Suns could take a chance on a kid with a world of potential.
The Likely Candidate: Arnett Moultrie
School: Mississippi State
Height/Weight: 6-11, 225
Like Jones, Moultrie has the skills of a guard yet the size of a big man. He’s one of the most unique players in the draft in that he’s a freak athlete with good skills and has yet to scratch the surface of his potential even after transferring from UTEP and making the rounds in the collegiate circuit.
The difference between Moultrie and Jones is that he has a good motor and crashes the glass hard. He can also stretch it to three-point range where he’s steadily improving. He’s been slotted in the mid-teens and the Suns could get a steal if Moultrie’s skills translate as planned to the NBA.
The Risk: Royce White
School: Iowa State
Height/Weight: 6-8, 240
Speaking of unique skill sets, White is the biggest question mark in the draft. He led Iowa State in all five major categories in his only season with the program after transferring from Minnesota.
He’s a true point forward with uncanny vision who can also finish inside and rebound the rock. White is one of the more special talents the college game has seen in a while, yet his anxiety disorder is keeping teams from taking a risk on him.
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg said White was a model citizen and worked with kids of the same disorder to help them deal with what he’s dealt with.
From his perspective the character is certainly there, but will the success in the NBA and longevity in the league follow? If the risk paid off, the Suns could nab a lottery talent.
The Reach: Jared Sullinger
School: Ohio State
Height/Weight: 6-9, 280
Sullinger showcased his skills on the grandest of stages at Ohio State and it’s no secret he’s a traditional big man who is a load on the block, crashes the glass, and can even stretch the floor a little bit.
He’ll most likely play the four in the NBA and is expected to be a top-10 pick. Sullinger understands the game, has an array of post moves and if he stays in shape could be an All-Star sooner rather than later.
But he’s not a great athlete, plays below the rim, and could end up being Glen Davis 2.0. Overall however he’s one of the most sought after power forwards/centers even in the realm of Phoenix’s possibilities and they’d have to think long and hard if he fell to them.
The Likely Candidate: Tyler Zeller
Height/Weight: 7-0, 250
The ACC Player of the Year is the most proven commodity at center, outside of Anthony Davis, in the draft. He’s smart, agile, a load on the block, a great rebounder and a high-character kid. Zeller runs the floor as well as any big man in the game and gets after it on the defensive end.
He’s not a great athlete but he can stretch it to nearly 20 feet and will most likely be a more than serviceable center in the league for years to come. If the Suns want to beef up their front line and he’s around, Zeller could be the man to do it.
The Risk: Meyers Leonard
Height/Weight: 7-0, 240
Leonard is an interesting prospect as he has all the makings to be a really good center in the NBA. He’s extremely athletic for his size, can run the floor, is a great shot blocker and defensive presence, can finish with both hands around the basket and is a really solid rebounder.
But Leonard is extremely raw in terms of his post moves and shooting stroke and could be more of a long-term project given his limited college experience and undeveloped game. If the Suns want someone they can work with and possibly develop into an athletic presence in the middle, Leonard is the guy to go with.
For those of you who made it through all of that, here’s my recommendation:
While the Suns have a handful of needs they could address with this deep draft, it’s clear they need an heir to Nash’s throne. Sebastian Telfair clearly isn’t the answer and If Lillard or Marshall is around, pull the trigger. If they’re off the board, take Jeremy Lamb or Terrence Ross as they project the best in terms of becoming starting NBA shooting guards, which is one of the Suns’ many needs.
If all of those options are gone, which they most likely won’t be, it’s a crapshoot. In a nutshell the Suns need a replacement for Nash and if that’s gone try and grab high upside guards like Lamb or Ross. Then if they’re gone it’s on to the best available approach.
While the Suns didn’t have much to work with last season at No. 13, this draft is indeed loaded and if the Phoenix front office can’t make a solid choice this year then its members should probably reconsider their career choice.