The Phoenix Suns have gotten off to a rough start this season. Sitting 12th in the Western Conference with a 9-14 record during a condensed, shortened season, there is little hope for a playoff berth barring a dramatic change in the Suns' level of play. As this harsh reality became more and more evident with each passing game, many fans on this blog, in order to maintain their sanity, began to take part in a favorite past-time of fans of struggling professional sports teams everywhere: looking ahead to the future.
There has already been plenty of discussion regarding free agency as the Suns have positioned themselves to be major players on the market. Now it is time to take a look at another way to add talent to the roster: the 2012 NBA Draft.WHERE WILL WE DRAFT?
Projecting the Suns' position in the draft would be an exercise in futility. There are far too many games left to be played and the lottery system means we really won't know who will be drafting where until the lottery happens. Therefore, I'll just cover all my bases and take a brief look at the entire lottery with special emphasis on the middle picks as that is where Phoenix is most likely to end up if little changes.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
Everyone on this blog is likely pretty familiar with what the team's needs are at this point. "Talent" would be an appropriate way to sum it up. This roster is lacking in starting caliber talent outside of Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat, which forces quality reserves to play roles they are not suited for. The Suns need more talent. Talent talent talent. The position doesn't even really matter that much.
However, the most glaring hole on the roster lies on the wing, and fortunately there are a few stud shooting guards and small forwards in this draft.
The strength of this class is the big men, however, especially the power forwards. The Suns just used a late lottery pick on Markieff Morris last year and the former Jayhawk has done some nice things. But that shouldn't prevent the team from taking another power forward if that's the spot that offers the most value when the Suns are on the clock.
Phoenix has been searching for a successor for Nash ever since he signed with the team for the second time. Unfortunately, the team may have to wait another year for that as this year's point guard class is rather weak.
WHO IS AVAILABLE?
The prize of this draft is Anthony Davis, the sensational freshman forward at Kentucky. Davis is a 6-foot-10, 214 pound power forward with a freakish 7-foot-4 wingspan and incredible athleticism. Davis was a 6-foot-3 guard his junior year of high school before shooting up seven inches, and as such has good ball-handling and passing skills for a big man. His offense is still developing, but there is plenty of potential there and he could turn into a solid scorer. But Davis makes his money on the defensive end, where he is an absolute force. His athleticism and instincts make him an imposing figure in the paint as he leads the nation in blocked shots at 4.6 per game. Davis is also very fluid and mobile for his size and can step out on the perimeter to contest shots without any problems. He's also an excellent rebounder despite his thin frame. He's drawn comparisons to Marcus Camby, although I believe he has more potential to be an impact player on offense than Camby. If you haven't gotten the chance to watch him play, do so. His impact is enormous and he is lot of fun to watch.
Andre Drummond is Davis' main competitor for the top spot. Drummond is a 6-foot-11 251 pound freshman center at UConn who is supremely gifted. His mix of size and quickness is remarkable and he is a tremendous athlete. However, Drummond has struggled with consistency and is reportedly returning to school for his sophomore season. Drummond could always change his mind as the draft approaches, and if he does he'll be a high pick. He's drawn comparisons to Dwight Howard due to his physical gifts.
Next up on many big boards are a couple of small forwards that could look pretty good in purple and orange.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a 6-foot-7 228 pound swingman who plays alongside Davis at Kentucky. Like his teammate, MKG is an elite defender who is capable of guarding multiple positions. He's equally good on and off the ball defensively and always finds a way to make an impact, be it steals, blocks, rebounds or just solid lock-down defense. His offense still needs refinement, particularly his jump-shot, but he's very versatile on that end as well. He's a good ball-handler and passer who likes to set up his teammates, but is also capable of getting his own shot off when needed. He compares favorably to Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala. I'd personally love for the Suns to end up with this kid, and to do that they likely need a top five pick.
Harrison Barnes is the other top five small forward prospect. The 6-foot-8 223 pound sophomore at North Carolina has a knack for putting the ball in the basket. Barnes is a very good jump-shooter and a crafty offensive player who has come up big in clutch situations many times. He is a good but not great athlete who relies on his jumper a bit more than I would like. He's also a good defender who has sound fundamentals. Barnes continues to receive franchise player hype, but I just don't see it. I think he will be an excellent secondary player on a good team, but I don't see him ever being "the guy" on a winning team. He's been compared to Luol Deng, which I agree with regarding both his game and the role for which he is best suited.
As I said above, the depth of this lottery lies in the power forward position. In the middle of the lottery there should be quite a few talented power forwards available, and each of them brings something different to the table.
Jared Sullinger, the sophomore center at Ohio State, put up a double-double as a freshman and has continued his excellent play this year. He will have to move to the four most likely in the NBA due to only being 6'9", but his wide body and strength should give him an advantage in the post. Sullinger is a very polished post scorer who excels at using his body to get deep post position and can finish with a variety of moves. He is also capable of stepping out and knocking down a jump shot when he needs to. Sullinger is just an average athlete and as such is not a very imposing defensive presence in the paint, but he is an excellent rebounder who, similar to Kevin Love, knows how to use his body to establish inside position and secure the rebound.
Thomas Robinson is a junior at Kansas and is one of the leading candidates for national player of the year in the NCAA. Robinson is averaging nearly 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Jayhawks this year after being buried on the bench behind the Morris twins last season. He is a chiseled 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and is a terrific athlete to boot. Robinson has also shown improved skills during his break-out season as his ball-handling, passing and jump-shot have all looked good this year. Robinson's physical tools and intensity are major pluses for him on the defensive end, and as his 11.8 average attests to he is a very good rebounder. If Phoenix is drafting around five or six, they should give some serious consideration to picking Robinson, even with Kieff already on the team. He would be an excellent complement to Gortat and would fit well into a pick-and-roll offense.
Perry Jones III of Baylor is one of the if not the most physically talented players in this draft. The Baylor sophomore is 6-foot-11 and 220 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and all the athleticism you could want in a power forward. He has shown great potential in the post and with his jumpshot and should be a mismatch for most forwards when he faces up from the high post. However, Jones has been inconsistent during his time with the Bears and has been passive at times. He's not particularly tough and is not a factor on the defensive end despite his gifts. He's certainly a talented prospect, but with the way comparable players like Anthony Randolph and Earl Clark have turned out in the NBA, I'd be wary of drafting Jones.
Terrence Jones, another lottery prospect at Kentucky, is 6-foot-9 and 249 pounds. Some believe he could play at small forward in the pros, but I believe he'd be best served as a face-up, stretch four. Jones is a good ball-handler and has range on his jump-shot out to the 3-point line, which should make him a match-up problem for more traditional power forwards. He is a bit short as far as NBA fours go but has a long wingspan and uses his length to his advantage on the defensive end. He's a solid defensive rebounder as well. Like the other Jones, though, he's been inconsistent. His jump-shot has come and gone in his time at Kentucky and it has hurt his confidence. He's been compared to Al Harrington and Michael Beasley, and I'm not sure that is the kind of player we are looking for.
The final power forward prospect predicted to go in the lottery is John Henson, the freakishly long 6-foot-10 forward at North Carolina. He is an excellent athlete with a massive wingspan, which makes him a terror in the paint on defense and a monster on the boards. Henson's offensive game is still raw, but he has put in some work and has improved somewhat. At the very least he is a very capable pick-and-roll finisher. Henson's biggest obstacle to transitioning to the NBA is his slight frame. He has spent plenty of time in the weight room and has bulked up a little, but but he's still only 220 pounds, which is far too light to hold his ground against NBA post players. Henson could be a good fit in Phoenix, but I'd pass for a player who can make more of an impact on the offensive end.
There are also a few intriguing wing prospects in this year's draft.
Bradley Beal is a 6-foot-4 freshman shooting guard playing his college ball at Florida. Beal makes his money with his jump-shot, as he is an excellent shooter whether he's spotting up, coming off screens or pulling up off the dribble. He relies mostly on his jumper at this point, though, as he hasn't developed into a strong driver or finisher and prefers to pull up rather than getting all the way to the rim. He is, however, a very good passer and an excellent rebounder for a guard. He brings it on the defensive end as well. I haven't seen a ton of Beal this season, but based on what I have seen and everything I've read, he sounds like an excellent choice if the Suns end up in the 8-10 range. We are lacking in scorers and shooters, and he would certainly help in both areas. He has been compared to Ray Allen, and unless Michael Redd enters his second prime we could certainly use one of those right now.
Jeremy Lamb is another possibility for the Suns in the mid-to-late lottery. He's a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who exploded onto the scene in last year's NCAA Tournament as he, along with Bobcats' rookie Kemba Walker, lead the UConn Huskies to the NCAA title. Lamb has stepped up in Walker's absence to become the Huskies' leading scorer. Lamb is a versatile scorer with a vast array of tools on the offensive end. His wingspan is also reportedly 7-foot-1 which allows him to get in the passing lanes on defense and disrupt offenses. I'm not in love with Walker, as he bails out defenses far too much by settling for bad shots and doesn't always move the ball when he needs to. Lamb is also very slight of build at just 185 pounds and that can hurt him when trying to finish around the basket or when defending stronger guards. That being said, Lamb would be a great fit on this Suns team who is in desperate need of someone who can create their own offense.
A few wing prospects that are getting some late lottery consideration that I'm not too familiar with yet are Baylor's Quincy Miller who has drawn Kevin Durant comparisons, Terrence Ross of Washington who has been compared to Dorrell Wright and Tony Wroten, also a Husky, who has been compared to Tyreke Evans as a 6-foot-5 combo-guard.
As for the point guard crop, there isn't a whole lot here in terms of lottery talent.
The top two prospects, Myck Kabongo of Texas and Kentucky's Marquis Teague, could both be returning to school for their sophomore years. Kabongo looks to be the best of the bunch as he is a true floor general, but he is a bit raw and could go very high in 2013 if he returns for another year of development. Teague, brother of Atlanta Hawks' point guard, is a tremendous athlete and gifted scorer but is not a proficient shooter nor does he have great court vision at this point. Another year of development would also serve him well.
North Carolina's Kendall Marshall will likely be the first point guard off the board if the two freshman return to school. Marshall is a true point guard, as he has an incredibly high basketball IQ and might be the best passer in college basketball. He excels at controlling tempo and setting up his teammates for good looks, and does a good job of taking care of the ball. He is the engine that makes the Tar Heels go and is one of the biggest reasons for them leading the NCAA in scoring. He's also incredibly fun to watch if you're a fan of unselfish basketball. However, Marshall's offensive game is virtually non-existent. He is not a consistent shooter from anywhere on the court as of yet, and his sub-par athleticism makes it tough for him to get to the basket and finish around the rim. Marshall is excellent at running a team and setting guys up to score, but the lack of talent on this roster make him a bad fit for the Suns. We need a capable scorer at the point, and Marshall will likely never be that.
The Suns might be best served waiting until the 2nd round to look for a new point guard where they could pick up someone like Xavier's Tu Holloway or Iona's Scott Machado. Both of these guys could turn out to be solid NBA players and should be available later on.
WHEN IS THE DRAFT?
Not for a long time. The opinions expressed in this post are subject to change over the next couple of months as circumstances change and I am able to see a bit more of these players. There are always risers and fallers in every draft. But as of right now, my favorite prospects for the Suns are Anthony Davis (yeah right), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal and Jeremy Lamb. I'll be watching these guys closely, especially in March as they are all capable of taking their teams on deep runs, and would encourage you to do the same.
Now it's your turn. Where do you think the Suns will be drafting? Who do you have your eye on? Which players would you love to be sporting the purple and orange next year?