This has been the antithesis of a positive season, but for Phoenix Suns fans, it is a season they have been expecting and frankly wanting for a few years now. In the end the light at the end of the tunnel has always been the idea of bringing in a quality young piece to fast track the rebuilding process.
It is down to a Final Four in college basketball and the Suns are entrenched in their own version of the Final Four at the bottom of the NBA standings, which makes this years games relevant for Suns fans everywhere.
Over the past few years the Final Four has been a breading ground for potential top picks. In 2012 there were three lottery picks and nine total drafted players that came out of this same weekend. Taking it a step further over the past five years there has been a total of 14 lottery picks (2.8 per year) and 36 overall players drafted (7.2) that played in the Final Four. By no means is it an exact science, but this is somewhat of a barometer for NBA decision-makers to separate a group of prospects.
A years worth of scouting should not be thrown out the window for a handful of quality performances, that is basic logic, but we have seen in the past an NCAA Tournament run catapult a prospects stock to the moon. Case in point, Dwyane Wade, Kemba Walker, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams. Some mixed results there at the NBA level.
For the Suns (and every other lottery bound team) this is a final chapter before bringing in prospects for workouts. To set the table the Suns are right now in the third slot in the NBA Draft Lottery with good odds to draft in the Top 5 this summer. They will be gifted either the Los Angeles Lakers pick (if in the bottom 14) or the Miami Heat pick (if the Lakers make the playoffs). Also, they have three second round picks to play with and use to find a diamond in the rough.
This means they need to scout the Top 10 prospects, the late lottery, the late first round, and the second round with where they could be positioned. Overall this year they have to know the entire crop of prospects. Here is a look at the nine potential prospects in the 2013 NBA Draft:
Potential Lottery Picks
Michael Carter-Williams (No. 6) -- Sophomore Guard, Syracuse
The most talented athlete in the class this year (remaining in the Final Four) has all the tools to be a stand out NBA point guard. MCW has the size and length to be effective at the next level. If you are not familiar with the Syracuse point guard is a hybrid built in the form of Shaun Livingston or Penny Hardaway. A combination of play-making and scoring that is unique to the position.
Trey Burke (No. 7) -- Sophomore Point Guard, Michigan
His leap from freshman to sophomore year has been on a level that one looks for when evaluating potential NBA talent. The small guard with a big heart has proven to be a great play-maker all throughout the game and also that he can step-up late making big, clutch shots. Burke's play as of late has shown promise of him being somewhere between Kemba Walker and Ty Lawson at the NBA level.
Glenn Robinson III (No. 13) -- Freshman Small Forward, Michigan
As a freshman GR3 came in with a ton of hype and had not quite lived up to the hype early in the season, but over the course of the tournament he has played well scoring in double digits in three of the four games. He plays well off the ball doing a lot of good things staying active on both ends of the floor. He could easily be the Moe Harkless of this years draft.
First Round Picks
Gorgui Dieng (No. 22) -- Junior Center, Louisville
Do true centers exist anymore in basketball? Dieng might be one of the last with the way he plays tough inside, defends the rim, and has a throwback feel to the way he approaches the game. He is not quite the athlete that Serge Ibaka is, but with his developing mid-range jump-shot and defensive abilities he could be a poor man's Ibaka at the next level.
Second Round Picks
Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 46) -- Junior Wing, Michigan
He has all the tools. Great size, good shooter, pedigree, and experience playing for a quality program for years, but his inconsistency has kept him out of a first round slot in the NBA Draft. Hardaway Jr. has great value as a second round prospect that can play the two and the three effectively.
Russ Smith (No. 49) -- Junior Guard, Louisville
This is exactly what the Suns do not have; a polarizing scorer that can either win or lose a game for you with his decision-making. When Smith is on, playing well, and not turning the ball over -- Smith can be an elite Sixth Man in the mold of Bobby Jackson.
Chane Behanan (No. 59) -- Sophomore Power Forward, Louisville
Last year Behanan was considered a potential first round pick in this years draft, but instead of dominating the ball and raising his stock, Behanan meshed with the team and evolved them into a National Title contender.
Nik Stauskas (No. 62) -- Freshman Wing, Michigan
Stauskas is more than just a "shooter." That has been his label, but this season he has flashed the ability to handle the ball, make plays for others, and has rounded into the all-around offensive player he is today. He is likely coming back to Michigan next year, but is still a very skilled prospect to keep an eye on.
C.J. Fair (No. 70) -- Junior Forward, Syracuse
He has the length, shooting ability, and athleticism to make it in the NBA, but he is position-less as an undersized four and an average athlete at the three.
Usually, I like to provide insights and color to player interviews. But let's just read the unvarnished transcript.
Reporter: "Mike, what's been the difference for you the last couple of games?"
Beasley: "Um, stop listening to people. Doing what I know how to do. That's really it. The more I listen to people, the more I got to think about. It messes me up trying to think about a thousand things. I stopped listening to people, started trusting my instincts again."
Reporter: "[stuttering]...uh... what did... err.. you mean media, or what people would you be referring to?"
Beasley: "Everybody. I don't really read articles. But you know, just everybody. My friends, my family, teammates, coaches. Just everybody. Everybody telling me 'you need to do that' or 'do that' or this gets you open. I'm the one playing. I'm the one controlling my fate. It's just trusting my instincts, being aggressive and doing what I know best."
Reporter: "You mentioned coaches in there. Aren't the coaches supposed to be trying to work with you, trying to help you and get in your comfort zone and so forth?"
Beasley: "Yeah, definitely, but at the same time I'm the one out there in the fire. You know what I'm saying? The coach can tell me what he sees from a third-party perspective, but I'm seeing it first hand. So once I set a screen and I roll and another guy steps up, if you don't step all the way up you get a jump shot or [unintelligible] you get JO a dunk. You know there's so many things that I can can do that only my instincts can tell me (finger snap) at a moments' notice."
Mind you, this was after interim head coach Lindsey Hunter praised Beasley's effort and attention over the past couple of weeks after regularly commenting on Beasley's lack thereof throughout the season.
Is it sustainable to stop listening to the coaches who have invested so much time and effort into him this season?
Probably not, if history is any indicator of the future.
But certainly, Hunter's style is to require players to pay attention. And Beasley's style is to appear he's not doing that. Whenever he has a good game (the handful this season) he's attributed his instincts and a clear mind to that success, rather than coaching or any influence outside himself.
Isaiah Austin could be another name you start hearing more about in the coming mock drafts. He's a 19 year old 7'1" freshman center who is a skilled big man with tremendous potential, and helped his Baylor Bears win the NIT championship against Iowa with a full stat sheet that included 14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
Although Austin has so far been slated as a mid to late first round pick by most, his play in the NIT championship could boost his stock, along with the fact that bigs always rise just before the draft anyway. So who is Austin and what could he bring to a team like the Suns?
Has decent moves to create shot and score
Isaiah Austin is an interesting prospect with loads of potential, but who so far has yet to show he can play at a high level on a consistent basis. Yes, he helped propel Baylor to a victory over Iowa in the NIT championship and filled up the stat sheet in doing so, but he has had his fair share of bad games lately as well. Against Providence in the second round of the tournament, Austin shot just 1-7 from the field and grabbed only two rebounds. He also has a terrible game against Oklahoma St. in the Big 12 championship where he went 0-6 from the field and scored only two points. As you can see, consistency is a very real issue.
Austin reminds me a lot of Perry Jones III, and not just because they both played for Baylor. They were both big men with games more suited for the small forward position, and were both very skilled offensively. The difference is, Perry Jones was much further along in his development when he was drafted after his sophomore year. Austin could really use another year of college to develop and prove that he belongs at the next level.
The problem is, if Austin decides to declare for the draft, and there's talk he might, NBA teams won't have the luxury of waiting and watching how he does next year, they'll have to gamble on his potential vs. his risks now. If he does enter the draft, he certainly won't be in the discussion with the Suns' first pick, but if they end up with the 14th pick from the Lakers, he may be considered.
Personally, I would pass on Austin with the 14th pick. There will still be plenty of other players with just as much potential (if not more) and who are already more proven as well. However, this changes if he slides to the end of the first round and the Suns end up with Miami's pick. In a draft short on quality big men I very much doubt this happens, but if it does, he suddenly becomes a much more attractive option.