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NBA Draft: Dwight Powell brings unique skills with concerns

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PHOENIX — Many Suns fans familiar with Dwight Powell believe he’s the perfect fit in Phoenix.

An athletic power forward who can step out of the paint to hit jumpers, Stanford Cardinal stretch 4 could be around when Phoenix picks 50th overall. If the Suns don’t come away with a more sure-fire but similar choice such as Michigan State big man Adreian Payne in the first round, Powell becomes a potential prize.

“(I want to) definitely try to take advantage of the opportunity I have,” Powell said of his Friday workout in Phoenix, “whether that’s back to the basket opportunities, facing the basket opportunities, shot blocks, whatever it is just trying to show my full tool set.”

It’s what Powell didn’t do that has him dropping so far in mock drafts. At 6-foot-11 in shoes, he’s a true power forward. His inconsistency playing in Stanford lends reasons for concern about his development.

In his junior season, Powell shot 46 percent from three-point range but only took an attempt per game. Suddenly, his name was on the draft map, but he did little his senior year to build his resume. The three-point percentage plummeted to 29 percent, his 14.9 points per game dropped to 14 even and he grabbed a rebound-and-a-half fewer as a senior.

So the team workouts Powell runs through over the next month will be more important for him than others.

“A lot of the guys we had in today, most of them were major college players, so they played at a high level,” said Suns general manager Ryan McDonough on Friday. “Some of them maybe get a chance to expand their roles out here and get a chance to see a few things they didn’t necessarily get to do on their college teams. I think that … can be one of the revealing points of the process. Sometimes they surprise you.”

Powell hopes he surprised.

The Suns’ workouts include a lot of simulated game action, and coach Jeff Hornacek insinuated their drilling does enough to uncover some skill sets they might not have seen watching game tape.

“We do, throughout the workout, different drills that give us an idea,” he said. “Can they handle the ball at all? Can they pass? (Powell is) a guy that’s working on things.”

Powell admitted that even his label as a stretch 4 leaves him some cleaning up to do. His shot, he says, is only out to the college three-point line, and despite his 35-inch max vertical and 234-pound frame, there is room for physical growth. When working out against a group where he had the most size — Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks was the second-biggest at 6-foot-7 and 217 pounds — Powell did show that he can go in the post against smaller players.

Hitting the low post isn’t foreign to Powell, who with added weight could post NBA power forwards and finish over them with a consistent right hook shot. He took 36 percent of his total shot attempts at the rim and hit 65 percent there, according to Hoop-Math.com.

Against larger players, he likewise presents matchup problems.

Perhaps the one thing he’s leaning on is his playmaking ability. Stanford ran the offense through Powell on the elbows with their triangle offense under coach Johnny Dawkins, and his ability to put the ball on the deck and face up could be an intriguing possibility for a Suns team that could use an inside-out power forward.

Powell averaged 3.1 assists per game his senior year to lead the Cardinal.

“I think there’s obviously value being able to spot up, space the floor and knock down shots,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said of Powell. “But if your bigs can also catch it – you’d be, I don’t think, running pick-and-rolls with him – make a dribble or two and hit a guy on the next pass, I think there is value to that. I think his versatility stands out.”

Don’t expect the Suns to reach for a stretch power forward. Expect them to take the best player available. They don’t like limiting themselves by position, but they do like drafting on positionless basketball.

On Thursday, Hornacek was asked about the appeal of stretch 4s, and what came out as a joke might have been quite telling about last year’s biggest weakest — and another promise that versatility goes a long way.

“You know, I’d still like a guy who can post up inside,” he cracked. “If they can show that and play outside … if they’re multi-dimensial, that’s good.”

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