Last summer, Phoenix Suns fans spent a lot of pre-draft time focused on the shooting guard prospects that might go to the Suns with their #13 overall pick.
This year it's more about getting the best overall talent at ANY position. The Suns still have a gaping hole at the shooting guard position going into the offseason, but they have gaping long-term holes at just about every position.
Still, a young and dynamic shooting guard would be a boon to any franchise and the 2013 draft offers a number of quality prospects in the lottery.
A season ago, the Suns were hoping at least one or two of Austin Rivers, Terrence Ross, Dion Waiters and Jeremy Lamb would be on the board at #13 overall. In fact, many Suns fans (including me) thought the Suns would have their choice of at least two of those guys.
Bradley Beal, who was always out of reach, went #3 overall. Beal, by the way, started slow this season but has come on recently to show clearly that, yes, he was the best shooting guard prospect in that draft. On the small side in terms of measurables (6'3" and 207), Beal has shown real talent this season - averaging better than 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33 minutes per game since January 1. That's a good start.
Then Dion Waiters - projected as low as the 20s in April 2012 - went #4 overall to Cleveland. Waiters was known for his ability to create his own shot at the rim or on the 3-point line and had the physical tools to play defense (though not the evidence at Syracuse). Waiters' rookie reason has been up and down, but he's gotten a lot of minutes on a young team: better than 14 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes per game since January 1.
Terrence Ross went next at #8 overall. Ross promised a good 3-point shot and tight defense, but little ability to create his own shot off the dribble and was allergic to contact in college. As a rookie, he's been a regular rotation player for Toronto but started only 1 game. On the season, he has put up 6 points and 2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game (drawing a two-shot foul every third game or so).
Austin Rivers was popped next at #10 overall by New Orleans. The combo guard with ice in his veins had what's been reported as a disaster rookie season on a team that needed him, yet he put up virtually the same numbers as Ross in a few more minutes per game - 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 23 minutes a game - before going down with a bad hand injury.
So, far not one of these guys' new NBA teams have won more games than the Suns this season (23).
The Suns' final chance at landing a shooting guard was Jeremy Lamb. We all know what happened with Lamb - he was taken at #12 overall, one spot ahead of the Suns, and later included in the famous James Harden trade. I won't belabor this any further than to say Lamb's rookie season has been non-existent on the bench of good teams. Lamb came out with a rep of being a sweet shooter who could defend, but was as allergic to contact as Terrence Ross.
Results for rookie guards in the NBA (including Damian Lillard who went #6 overall, after Waiters and Beal):
Where am I going with all of this?
Let me tell you: this year's crop of shooting guards may be BETTER than last year's, according to draft experts like our own Kris Habbas who runs the site nbadraftinsider.com and talks to scouts every day of every week and twice on Sundays.
Asked where he would rank the last two years' worth guard prospects at draft time (if they'd come out together):
Kris' rankings would be:
- Beal (Best SG prospect since Harden)
- Ben McLemore (Wait until he has an NBA PG passing him the ball)
- Marcus Smart (a little Baron Davis/Harden/Foye in his game; BIG strong combo guard)
- Otto Porter (Five tool talent, can do everything well)
- Shabazz Muhammad (Poor offensive body language, selfish scorer, limited)
- Victor Oladipo (Great energy, good athlete, Barbosa type, with vice grip D)
Different talents of course. Last years group were primarily scorers, this years group has more complete players with versatile games. Example, Porter may not score 20 points a night, but he defenders, passes, and plays off the ball well.
Kris offered more on the drop-off between Bradley Beal and Ben McLemore.
Beal has better ball skills, play-making and overall offensive talent.
McLemore has the frame, athletic, and size advantage on Beal, but is limited outside of shooting/transition offense. Don't get me wrong, McLemore is going to be a very good pro, but Beal has a higher ceiling in my opinion.
If the Suns win the Lottery, McLemore would be their guy, but he would also be Charlotte, New Orleans, Sacramento, Minnesota, and Cleveland's guy too.
Well, I'm not sure about Cleveland taking either Smart, McLemore or any of the shooting guards this season after taking Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in the last two drafts. Unless they see Waiters as a super-sub 6th-man long term, that is.
But certainly, those other teams will be fighting the Suns for the best prospects, with the Suns being new to the crowd while the others are wily lotto veterans.
Kris has some final comments on last year's shooting guard prospects:
I was not enamored with Waiters, Rivers, Ross, or Lamb last year as Top 10 picks. Thought there was value in Waiters in the teens, value for Ross in the 20's, and that Lamb/Rivers were lottery type talents. By the way, Rivers career is not over. He is not playing well know, but could come back and be a very good player. My take on him was always Antonio Daniels, so I am not shocked he is playing average-to-below-average this year.
Here is Kris' Final Big Board before the 2012 draft. He says Waiters was only listed that high because so many scouts had him going up at the top like he ended up going.
If you're a fan of shooting guards, then you can look forward to this year's draft. If the Suns want to a guard, they will get a better prospect this year than they could have had last year.
But I don't expect the Suns to hone in on one position. They need the best talent regardless of position.
Here's the top 20, sorted by scoring average in their rookie season (what the Suns need no matter what the position):
Finally, here's Kris' 2013 Big Board. He has our top guards currently ranked as such:
Of Oladipo, he says: People love the story and the energy of a guy like Oladipo, but he is undersized and will hit an athletic wall in the NBA with equal talent.
Ranked #1 overall: Nerlens Noel
Chew on that, Suns fans!