PHOENIX — Owning four draft picks has given the Suns an unsurprising scheduling advantage. With so little time to work out players, general manager Ryan McDonough and staff have done good work in putting together strong workout groups, high-lottery picks understandably aside.
It’s helped that they are at the front of the waiver wire, so to speak.
“Most of the agents don’t start sending their guys to work out until after the Chicago combine, which is in mid-May,” McDonough said. “So really, you only have about a month to get the guys in. There are 30 teams trying to do the same thing. Luckily, I guess it’s not a coincidence with the pick situations, I think we’re probably at the front of the line or close to the front of the line of places agents want to send their players. That’s good. Other than the high lottery guys, we can get pretty much everybody.”
Though Thursday’s workout didn’t include any true big men, Middle Tennessee State’s Shawn Jones and UNLV forward Roscoe Smith gave Phoenix two athletic forwards to run with one another. Small forward Melvin Ejim gave the ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren an experienced defender opposite of him, and the athletic and strong point guard duo of Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Louisiana Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton was a unique matchup in the backcourt.
Johnson returns ‘home’
Like college rival Jahii Carson earlier in the Suns’ workout process, Johnson already had some memories of U.S. Airways Center.
“I actually practiced in this gym when I was 8 or 9, with Rex Chapman,” said Johnson, who attended Highland High School for two years before going to Findlay Prep near Las Vegas. “It’s good to be back.
“Really when I got to the hotel last night it started to kick in. I started remembering these practices, all the practices we had here. Jahii was actually on my team. I think we were 8, 9, 10 years old.”
Despite Johnson going through his seventh workout on Thursday, he won the conditioning portion among his peers. McDonough said it was more of a compliment that Johnson could play either point guard and shooting guard, while Hornacek liked how Johnson’s long-range shooting didn’t fall off as Johnson got tired — if he got tired.
So how much Suns basketball did Johnson watch growing up in Phoenix as the son of former ASU leaper Jumping Joey Johnson?
“I was here when we had the squad, you know, Steve Nash, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Amare. It was definitely one of the most exciting arenas in the NBA. This year they got it back, I think.”
Second round sighting
Alex Oriakhi, the Suns’ 57th overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been hanging around U.S. Airways Center in recent days and on Thursday watched the team work out its six draftees. Oriakhi never signed a contract with Phoenix and was waived by a French and then an Israeli squad before finishing the year in the D-League. Splitting time with the Erie Bayhawks and the Sioux Falls Skyforce, he averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds through 43 combined games.
Current Suns forward P.J. Tucker also wandering about U.S. Airways, and Archie Goodwin once again acted as the bunny for the Suns’ conditioning drill at the end of the workout.
“Good for the Iowa State guys. He’s a great kid, talking with him for a bit.” — Jeff Hornacek on fellow Iowa State product Melvin Ejim