The NBA Draft has come and gone, and as always it was an exciting night featuring some shocks, some trades, and an interview process with each first round pick that went on far too long. Not that the Phoenix Suns were central to any of this. The 52nd pick that they possessed, and which they managed to keep out of the Bradley Beal deal, being met with little fanfare.
The Suns made the right call with this selection, electing to draft a defensive-minded forward in the form of Toumani Camara from Belgium. The 23-year-old having spent four years in college, split evenly between Georgia (where he was on the same team as Anthony Edwards), and Dayton.
Camara’s age and profile mean he is likely to contribute right away, but do the Suns see him as a low-risk, high-reward player who can be their next Mikal Bridges?
That is a lot of pressure to put on a late second round pick, but if you look at the make up of the Suns’ roster, it is set up for Camara to have a role similar to the one Bridges had before being part of the deal that netted the organization Kevin Durant. As discussed here already, the Suns were always going to have the chance to draft either a project player, or one who could help right away.
Camara is certainly the latter, and even better again he has the right body type and game to slot in next to Beal, Durant and Kevin Booker. In fact at this moment it is not even a stretch to say he could start on opening night, both because Cam Payne is about the only other option right now if he doesn’t, and because the Suns have yet to fill out the rest of their roster properly.
Bridges is rightly seen as a cult hero in Phoenix because he never missed games (played every game in four his first five regular seasons), played hard every night and was a menace a lot of the time defensively. He is also only three years older than Camara, and it was around age 23 when he really started to make a name for himself in the league.
If you look at the game Camara possesses right now, he is clearly the kind of player who links rotations and even plays together. He’s not going to hear his number called often with the Suns, but that doesn’t look like it is going to faze him one bit. Camara will relish shutting down flashier opponents on one end, before taking what scraps he can offensively throughout a game.
Easy as it is to forget as well, Bridges in his rookie year was 22-years-old and averaged 8.3 points and 3.2 rebounds, starting 56 of the 82 games he played. That version of the Suns were much worse than where the franchise finds itself now, and yet Bridges in years one didn’t exactly break down the doors to announce his arrival.
Camara can hit the ground professionally in much the same way. Nobody is asking him to put up even 10 points per night, and he is going to miss defensive rotations and get caught out of position as he learns the ropes. But as long as he is seen to be trying, particularly through the first half of the season before things get serious, he is going to find a Bridges like role on this roster.
About the only real issue for Camara in this moment comes in the form of his own new head coach, Frank Vogel. He has had major success in the past, winning a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, and leading the Indiana Pacers to a pair of Eastern Conference Finals appearances during the “Heatles” era in the league.
The only place he has struggled, was during his two seasons with a rebuilding Orlando Magic group. Vogel’s strength comes in getting star players with veterans backing them up to buy into his defensive philosophy, and then allowing his assistants (such as the offensively impressive Kevin Young) to have more input in how his teams are going to approach scoring.
It is not known yet how much run Vogel is going to give a rookie in Camara, and it may be that he gets less opportunities in favor of proven veterans (Jae Crowder anybody?) if he is unable to adapt to the league quickly. Looking at this much more optimistically however, and isn’t a young player who wants to defend at an elite level exactly what coach Vogel would love to have in his rotations?
It may be that the decision is taken out of Vogel’s hands, given how thin the rotation is going to be once next season begins and injuries begin to pop up. With all of that in mind then, Camara is surely going to be given the Bridges role of old, and it is going to be his to lose.
Looking back at his time in college, and Camara went from a 17.2 percent shooter from deep as a freshman to a much more respectable 36.3 percent as a senior. Worryingly, his made free-throws throughout those four years never went higher than 70 percent. An early indication then that the three part of the “3-and-D” role it is hoped he can fulfil needs some work.
But Camara is going to be a teammate that Beal, Booker, Durant and even Deandre Ayton enjoy playing with. He looks to be low maintenance, will cover up some of the defensive lapses of his superstar teammates, and in time hopefully learn how to knock down some of the open shots he will get. The next Mikal Bridges? Few players in this draft are better equipped to give it a go.