Phoenix Suns NBA Draft Preview: The Elite Eight - from Noel to... Zeller?

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Every single draft since the advent of NBA Drafts has produced at least one All-Star within five years. Sometimes that All-Star wasn't picked until #10 overall (2010, Paul George). Sometimes, there's an All-Star as late as #21 overall (2006, Rondo). There have even been All-Star caliber players drafted as late as the second round.

The most unpredictable NBA Draft in many years will begin just hours from now. The 2013 NBA Draft offers no projected superstars, nor even any sure-fire All-Stars.

Yet there almost certainly will be an All-Star or two in this draft. Those players may not go #1 overall or #2 overall. Teams often outthink themselves, while other under-think it.

There will be mistakes in the top 10 this year. At least one top-ten player will be an NBA dud. Maybe even three or four of them.

Yet there will be gems too. And it's new GM Ryan McDonough's job to find those gems. He found Rondo in 2006 and Avery Bradley in 2010, both with nothing more than late draft picks.

In his first year running a draft as the head decision-maker, McDonough has reportedly narrowed his choices down to what I call the "Elite Eight".

Let's examine the draft board and try to identify them.

Definitely in the "Elite Eight"

McDonough said he could not rule out a single player from his draft board, so we have to include the top two talents in the Draft: Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.

Both fits needs on the Suns (meaning, they play basketball well) and would be solid building blocks on which to lay the foundation of the next generation of Phoenix Suns.

Both are young (Noel is 19, McLemore is 20) with a lot of projectable upside.

Noel could be the next Tyson Chandler - a great defensive force around whom to build a title contender. As young as he is, his offensive game may still develop into something dangerous as well. Noel's red flags are injury related - not only is he out until January while recovering from a terrible knee injury, his tooth-pick legs appear to get for more injuries in the future. Yet stick-figures have survived just fine in the NBA throughout history. In fact, the heavier 7-footers are the ones with more injury issues, historically speaking.

McLemore could be the next Ray Allen - a hugely valuable second option or third option on a winner who can always be counted on to make tough jumpers thanks to perfect form and consistency. McLemore's red flags are that he is not a natural leader, and he surrounds himself with questionable advisors. Refusing to work out against other top guards just fed the perception that he isn't competitive enough to carry a team.

We also have to include Victor Oladipo

Oladipo has enjoyed a meteoric rise since the end of his sophomore year. A year ago, he wasn't even a first-round pick, and maybe not a second rounder either.

But after a wildly successful junior season, there's been talk of Oladipo going #1 overall and being the target of just about every trade-up scenario in the rumor mill over the past month. GMs love this guy because of his heart, athleticism and skills. He is a true two-way player. Oladipo's down side is that he may have peaked already, and that his offensive skillset may never produce more than 12 points per game and certainly won't be a late-game option with the ball in his hands to shoot or drive. He is a complementary player that everyone loves to have on their team.

Definitely, Maybe

After those three, the next probable player in the Elite Eight is Alex Len.

The 7-footer hasn't worked out for anyone due to a stress fracture in his foot, but his stock is rising like Oladipo's. He is surpremely gifted athletically as a 7-footer who has all the game to become the best player from this draft. However, there's no telling if he's the next Darko Milicic or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Forgive me for only comparing him to foreign players, but that's all I got this morning.

That makes four pretty-sure inclusions in the Elite Eight.

Probably not, but you never know

Otto Porter is one of the most talented players available, but he refused to come to Phoenix for even an interview. McDonough said last week it would be tough to draft a guy if he refused to visit, but that he wouldn't rule it out. I personally think he's more likely to draft a guy who falls to a later pick than take someone at 5 who didn't even bother to hop on a plane.

However, if those top four (Noel, McLemore, Oladipo, Len) are off the board with the top 4 picks, can you really pass on Porter? He compares favorably to other successful small forwards in the NBA and will most likely be a very good pro who just isn't prolific enough to be an All-Star but won't be on the street in a few years either.

Let's put him on the list of the Elite Eight, with the caveat that someone else may trump him when the Suns have to make a pick. No way he's being excluded from consideration.

Maybe

We have three spots left in the Elite Eight and about 72 prospects who visited Phoenix in the past month to choose from.

Michael Carter-Williams was the only one who let slip that he was headed back to Phoenix this week for a second visit. That isn't to say MCW was alone, it just means that he was the only one who tweeted anything about it.

Still, you have to include the big PG in the conversation at 5, though I think (guess) the Suns are really looking at him for a second lotto pick in case he falls down the board in lieu of more exciting, younger prospects.

This leaves two spots for the Elite Eight.

My guess: C.J. McCollum and Cody Zeller.

Both have been linked to the Suns and both might be gone by the 10th pick in the draft. If the Suns want either of them, they can't expect either to be available unless they take the guy at 5 or acquire another pick in the 7-10 range.

Zeller, only 19, was a preseason #1 candidate as a mobile center who could transition to stretch-4 or play the center position in a wide open offense. Also, he can score near the basket, unlike most Suns players on the front line.

McCollum, 22, is the next best guard available after McLemore and Oladipo. He fills a multi-year need for scoring and playmaking at the guard position and could easily play next to Dragic and/or run the ship when Dragic rests. And, he's one of the few prospects who could average 20 points per game in the NBA.

If the top 4 are off the board, I can easily see the Suns taking McCollum over Porter, Zeller or MCW, or any other top 10 prospect.

My "Elite Eight" list

  1. Noel
  2. McLemore
  3. Oladipo
  4. Len
  5. McCollum
  6. Porter
  7. Carter-Williams
  8. Zeller

Comparing 2012 to 2013 - Shooting Guards

Our own Kris Habbas gave me his list of best shooting guards in the last two drafts. Remember that four of them went in the first twelve picks last year.

  1. Beal (3rd in 2012)
  2. McLemore
  3. Oladipo
  4. Waiters (4th in 2012)
  5. ...Drop-Off... Lamb (12th in 2012)
  6. McCollum (PG/SG)
  7. Franklin
  8. Muhammad
  9. Caldwell-Pope
  10. Ross (8th in 2012)
  11. Rivers (10th in 2012)

Extra points from Kris

Last years class had a few more scorers with the ball in their hands in Waiters and Rivers that can get their own buckets. It also featured two great athletes that can shoot, finish athletically, and struggle to put the ball on the floor.


This year there are more of the off ball scorers in McLemore, Oladipo, Caldwell-Pope, and Muhammad. Then there is McCollum (a point guard) who I consider to be the best scorer in the draft with the ball in his hands. Franklin (and to a lesser extent Oladipo) can score with the ball, but this group to take it even deeper with Bullock, Crabbe, Ledo, and Snell are more off-ball scorers.


Interesting thought:
Lamb = McLemore
Waiters = Oladipo

Both of those are in terms of offensive style. The scary thing with McLemore is that he could be equal to Lamb or Ross at the next level or a great scorer like Rudy Gay off the ball

There you go, folks...

What say you? Who's your Elite Eight, to be considered at 5?

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