PHOENIX — Just as it seemingly became somewhat clear what the Phoenix Suns would do in the 2014 NBA Draft, it all came undone. At least, that’s how it’ll appear for reporters and fans who expected to know, in some generalities, what general manager Ryan McDonough and crew were about to do.
The Suns did take a wing, as expected. And unless there’s a major shakeup on the current roster or a major surprise by one of four rookies drafted, Phoenix won’t be bringing three rookies onto the roster next season. As expected.
The selections of T.J. Warren (14th pick), Tyler Ennis (18), Bogdan Bogdanovic (27) and Alec Brown (50) were surprising for a number of reasons, but if we accept that we didn’t know anything about what the Phoenix big board looked like — because nobody apparently did — it makes a bit of sense.
“I feel like in the draft with our four picks we got a blend of everything,” McDonough said. “We got some scoring, we got some shooting, we got some playmaking, we got a proven winner and one of the top players in Europe, and we feel like it was a great night.”
There was no trade
Going into the draft, I wrote that the Suns would very likely make a trade. That didn’t happen, but it means that the night was possibly not so stressful for McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek. It was especially easy on president of basketball operations Lon Babby, who this year had no need to step up to the microphone to discuss any CBA minuatie.
“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot; give up future pick, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that,” McDonough said.
One of the few scenarios where a trade wouldn’t happen for Phoenix would include the Suns drafting and stashing two of their picks, and that is likely to happen. Bogdanovic is a year or two away from joining the Suns, McDonough said, while a brief discussion after the draft with Brown’s agent, Bill Duffy, leads the team to believe the Green Bay stretch center is likely headed overseas. McDonough said the Suns would like Brown to play for the Summer League squad, but nothing is set in stone as of draft night.
Another reason for the lack of movement was the Suns’ targets falling into their lap.
Phoenix quietly worked out Warren twice and promised him they would select him. It’s obvious McDonough would say so, but he added that both Warren and Ennis were rating higher on their boards than where they were selected. In fact, it’s possible the Suns had Ennis high enough where they would have selected him 14th if Warren — and potentially others — weren’t on the board.
“We talked some about packaging picks to move up, but as the draft was kind of unfolding – obviously those are tough calls and you don’t know how it’s going to go – but we were confident that at least one of those guys was going to be there at 14 and we felt good about it,” McDonough said. “When we took T.J. and Tyler was still there at 18, we were ecstatic about that.”
Tyler Ennis is a pure point guard on a roster generally considered to be positionless. McDonough is even slow to label Dragic and Bledsoe as point guards, but in keeping with the Suns’ philosophy of taking the player they think will have the best career, Ennis was the selection.
“I think that’s something that really caught the front office and the coaching staff’s eye is I’m a pure point guard, pass-first guy who is able to come in and make others better,” Ennis said on a phone call from New York.
McDonough, like in his post-workout media session after Ennis’ workout, went back to the tape.
“If you look at his numbers in close and late games, they were terrific, like, unbelievably good, what he did down the stretch of games with the game on the line,” the general manager said. “When he needed a shot to win or tie the game, or needed to make a play to bring the team back, he did it at a remarkable rate. That’s pretty rare for a 19-year-old freshman.
“I think at one time Syracuse was 25-0 and the number one ranked team in the country, and I thought he was clearly the best player on that team,” McDonough added. “For a young freshman point guard just to be able to step in that role and lead a group of older guys and win a lot of guys, I think that shows a lot of maturity and a lot of talent.”
Question the picks all you want; don’t question the process
Suns fans who didn’t like the first two picks by Phoenix have a right to be unhappy. If they didn’t like the talents, so be it — time will confirm the opinion or quell the worry.
But don’t question Phoenix’s process.
Warren’s case is interesting. He’s a talented scorer without a jumper, and that seemingly doesn’t fit into the plans right away. Ideally, a shooter fits best alongside a squad led by Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, and both Rodney Hood and James Young were available.
But the Suns ultimately believe they can’t teach Young and Hood how to attack the rim and score so naturally. They can, however, teach Warren how to shoot.
Another note: there’s a reason why it seemed odd that many had Adreian Payne going 14th to Phoenix. Simply put, certain talent evaluators don’t see him as a high-upside prospect. While he indeed fits into the system as a stretch 4, neither he nor college teammate Gary Harris have the upside of Warren or Ennis. Such is why Harris fell a pick below Ennis.
“What we’ll never do is take a guy who might just be a little more ready, potentially a little better in the short-term and then have the other guy zoom by him and … two, three, four years from now sit here and say, ‘Shoot, why did we do that?’” McDonough said.
It’s OK to question whether Warren and Ennis will be as good or better than either Michigan State Spartan, but it’s borderline denial to say it’s unclear where the Suns are coming from.
It all comes down to the big board.
Bogi and Gogi?
Guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has already made quite a name for himself overseas and could be added insurance to the guard depth in the next few years. McDonough, addressing Ennis’ situation in a deep backcourt, said the Suns want to make sure they always have a reserve of ball handlers. Down the line, the 6-foot-6, 22-year-old could be a necessity.
“We expect him to and anticipate he’ll return to Europe and play for Partizan in Serbia,” McDonough said. “He’ll continue there, we’ll retain his rights. We’ll be very interested in his development. We’ll send scouts over and maybe coaches over to work with him and make sure we’re tracking his progress. But we feel like he’s a guy who has a good chance to be an NBA rotation player at some point down the road.”
And if you want to get a feel for Bogdanovic’s game, here’s a nine-minute highlight reel of his scoring.
Bogdanovic had a successful summer with Serbia in the 2013 EuroBasket, dropping 14 points on a very good French squad and 11 on Dragic’s Slovenian national team.
More Brown puns
We miss the “Let Shannon Fly” chants from Suns fans. But we have a return of “Brown” puns with the selection of Alec Brown, who at No. 50 gives the Suns a project big man who can stroke the three-point shot. The Wisconsin-Green Bay center also has potential on the defensive end.
“He also blocked a few shots per game, as well, so a really unique combination for a guy who can step out and hit threes and also protect the rim some,” McDonough said.
ISO excited for T.J.
Jeff Hornacek doesn’t gush per se, but he got close when talking about Warren. When Warren was in Phoenix for an announced workout, the Suns coach said he surprised him defensively and finished through contact quite well.
The Suns see Warren playing well off their two guards, and think his natural ability to catch balls off screens or on the move is unique. The shooting deficiencies can be fixed.
“A lot of teams in the league … have a guy they can throw to,” Hornacek said. “Take one dribble, 15-foot range. I think he’s got that combination. Especially at the 3 spot, he’s got the good size that if we work a play and get him the ball and at that free-throw line, top-of-the-key area and let him go with it, we got a good chance of getting a bucket out of it. That’s a tough skill to have. A lot of guys, they can shoot open shots.
“Hopefully we’re in the playoffs – when it comes time for the playoffs and you need tough buckets, we think he’s a guy who can get tough buckets.”