The Phoenix Suns have had most every draft hopeful on their practice court in the last two weeks, but conspicuously missing are the draft's consensus top 8, from Andrew Wiggins to Aaron Gordon.
The Phoenix Suns have hosted 60 players in the past two weeks, all in the 10-to-infinitum range of the upcoming NBA Draft on June 26.
Bringing in Nick Stauskas later this week or next week won't tip the scales either.
Holding the 14th, 18th and 27th picks in the first round and just a year removed from a 25-57 season, many thought the Suns would try to parlay those picks into a Top 10 selection by draft night.
General Manager Ryan McDonough said as much early in the Pre-Draft Workout process, indicating that the Suns could move anywhere they wanted to go in the Draft "except the top, top end." Presumably, that meant the top 3-5, which is pretty impossible to do while holding no pick guaranteed better than 14.
Today, he said it again with Bright Side's Sean Sullivan in attendance.
"We're trying to get all of the top guys," he said. "Like we've talked about before, what we'd consider doing for the right player is packaging picks to moving up in the draft."
But the players' agents in the consensus Top 10 don't hold the same trust in McDonough's ability, and have not scheduled their prized prospect for a group workout in Phoenix.
"We've had some issues getting the top 7 or 8 guys in, at least," McDonough said to me after Monday's workout. "Their agents do the math, and think if they're solidly in the top 10 why go to a team with the 14, 18 and 27th picks. because time is limited."
It's not like the Suns rolled over on this. They've worked the phones, but the highest rated prospect to visit the valley has been Gary Harris, whose been mocked as high as #9 overall but usually falls in the 11-14 range on Big Boards. Adreian Payne, who visited last Friday, has been mocked as high as 10. Zach LaVine is still in NBADraft.net's Top 10 pick, but has mostly settled into the mid first round in recent mocks. Rumor has it Nick Stauskas will visit in the coming days. Stauskas is mocked in the 9-14 range on various sites.
"We've tried," McDonough said. "We've gotten a few guys that might go in the top 10. The mock drafts don't always go according to plan, as you know. So, I guess we've done the best we can. We'd like to see them all but we get who their agents are willing to send us."
But wouldn't the agents, knowing the Suns have multiple picks, want to get their player in front of McDonough and Babby to entice them to trade into the Top 10 to take their guy? As an agent, you'd think you'd like to increase your chances of a sure Top 10 pick by not only visiting the teams who currently have those picks but also those who might get them.
But no such luck.
"I think with the agents," he explained to me, "I don't know if they say it or they think it, but it's ‘get that pick in the top 10 and then come talk to me'. Time is limited. They look at the board. Instead of sending a guy to a team who MIGHT get in the top 10, let's send him to a team that HAS a top 10."
So who cares?
You would think that with all the film available these days, as well as the scouting trips made all season and in prior seasons, a team doesn't need that private workout time right before the draft to know if they want to draft a player.
But it's actually the opposite.
"We want to get them in here," McDonough said early in the process. "To see how they've developed and what they've been working on since their season's ended. Also see what kind of condition they're in and have them get a lot of shots up. Put them in some different situations that they may not have been put in with their college or international teams.
"It's a bit of all that, but most importantly for us to get to know them a little more and spend some time with them and get to see where they are as players."
Rarely does an NBA team draft a player that wouldn't visit them before the draft. Sure, it's happened. San Antonio drafted Kawhi Leonard without ever having had him visit because they didn't have a pick in his range.
But more often, those blind picks are too much of a crapshoot. The interview process is all-important. You need to know what makes a guy tick, how they react to pressure, how they fit into your environment. Success in the NBA is very dependent on "fit". A player can be talented but if he doesn't interact well with the coaches or fit into the team's scheme, it's tough to find true success.
"At the end of the day," McDonough said last week. "The most important thing is talent usually wins out if it's combined with work ethic and character."
You don't learn about work ethic and character from film.
"To see them on tape it's sometimes hard to tell," coach Hornacek said last week after a workout. "There's a difference when you watch it on tape then you get to see them live. Quickness is one thing...sometimes they may look slow on tape and you get them out here and you say oh, that guy's got pretty good quickness. So I like the workouts."
McDonough and Hornacek have said in many different ways over the past two pre-draft seasons that seeing a guy compete on their floor, doing their drills is highly important to the process. And they've both said that the interview process - be it a sit-down panel or a lunch with the coaches - can sometimes tell you more than the film ever did.
Impact on the draft
Just to get into the Top 10 would probably take the #14 and either next year's Laker's pick (protected only Top 5) or multiple lower first-round picks. It might even take a player the Suns don't want to trade, like a Goran Dragic or Markieff Morris or Alex Len. Or all of the above.
I have a hard time imagining the Suns trading all those assets to get into the Top 10 to draft, say, Aaron Gordon or Doug McDermott or Julius Randle when those guys didn't even take the time to visit the valley.
All those guys are slightly in danger of dropping on draft night due to questions or holes in their games, but they refused to make the trek to Phoenix so far. Why would the Suns draft them?
Sure, the Suns may have "fallen in love" with someone from watching tape or a scouting visit and may have decided to mortgage whatever it takes to get into position to draft them. But does Ryan McDonough strike you as that type of maverick? Does he strike you as a guy willing to ignore his principles on a whim?
Not to me. That is, unless they can magically get into the Top 5 or 7 and Dante Exum or Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid is sitting on the board.
I think if the Suns move up it's to draft either Gary Harris or Zach LaVine, guys who have visited the Valley, or someone they sat down to interview at the NBA Draft Combine in late May. The players the Suns got sit-down time with has not been released, but we do know it included purported top 10 picks Dante Exum and Marcus Smart.
Maybe there's private workouts on the horizon that tips the scales, but why would Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid secretly visit Phoenix? What's the value in that?