Despite having no pick higher than 14, the Phoenix Suns spent time with projected Top-5 pick PG Dante Exum today.

No one in the states has seen much of Dante Exum, at least recently. The young 6'6" point guard has sat out the past year from organized basketball while he waits to be eligible for the NBA Draft.

Exum will turn 19 this year, and just might be the most intriguing player in the draft. He has been projected to go anywhere from #1 overall to #8, depending on how much you want to project his skillset into NBA production.

Each NBA team only gets to meet with up to 18 of the 60 players invited to the Combine, and the Phoenix Suns made Exum one of their 18.

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While the Pistons and Sixers definitely have the high pick needed to get Exum, the Phoenix Suns don't have a pick any higher than #14 overall.

With the 14th, 18th and 27th picks, many Suns fans have predicted they could parlay the lower picks into a top-5 position, but that kind of move is quite unlikely.

The Suns do have a 1.8% chance of snaring a Top-3 pick in the Draft Lottery on May 20, but no one has ever made that big a leap since the lottery began in the late 80s.

So why would Exum waste his time meeting with the Suns? And why would the Suns waste one of their 18 interviews on a guy most certainly out of reach, and who triples down on their best position?

Why Exum would meet with the Suns

Players don't have limits on how many teams they can interview with, but Exum's representatives might think that the Suns have a better than 1.8% chance to get into the top of the Draft. This probably speaks to McDonough and Babby's larceny in trades last summer.

Either way, the "unknown" Exum already knows all about the Phoenix Suns now. Why wouldn't he want to join a 48-win team if he can?

Why the Suns would meet with Exum

On the surface, there is a bit of mystery as to why the Suns picked Exum as one of their 18 interviews at the combine, considering they should be focused on the 20-25 guys in their range on Draft night (14-27, plus #50 overall) and considering the Suns already have two of the league's best point guards on their roster.

It's not like 2011 when the Suns wanted to avoid 19-year old Kawhi Leonard because they already had 38-year old Grant Hill entrenched at the SF position (insert sarcasm font). These Suns have 28-year old Goran Dragic, who almost made the All-Star team, and 24-year old Eric Bledsoe who might make one in the future. But Dragic and Bledsoe have only one signed contract year between them, and if the Suns stand pat their starting back court could cost $24-28 per year alone beginning in 2015.

Exum is an 18 year old insurance policy against Dragic and/or Bledsoe leaving for greener pastures. In fact, don't be surprised to hear the Suns bringing in every point guard in the Draft between now and late June.

So, meeting with Exum at the Combine is a good move.

Unless the Suns win the lottery on May 20, there's little chance Exum will want to make a trip across country to meet with the Suns for an individual workout and interview in the Valley. He will want to focus on the top 10 teams at the most, and give them all the looks they want. There are only 6 weeks until the Draft, so you've only got some much time to meet with team after team.

Yet, the Suns like guys who are willing to work out, to compete against their best competition.

"I like competitors," Suns GM Ryan McDonough said to Craig Grialou of Arizonasports.com. "Guys who show up and compete and work. I've been in the league 10 or 11 years now and seen enough guys make mistakes where they assume that they're in a certain range because of the mock drafts or because they get information from a certain group of people, they assume they're going in one range of the draft and then on draft night it changes."

Last year, flat-top Nerlens Noel declined a visit to the valley entirely, while Ben McLemore visited Phoenix but refused to compete with other shooting guards. Instead, McLemore insisted on doing his drills by himself.

Both were projected as the top 2 talents in the Draft. Both dropped unexpectedly to the Suns at #5, and both were bypassed by the Suns for Alex Len (who was injured but did everything he could for the Suns). Think about that.

"It's always valuable to go and work and show teams what you can do so there's no doubt," McDonough continued. "I think that's what the best guys do."

You've got to figure that the Suns were trying to determine Exum's competitiveness in the Combine interview today.

But with Exum taking the last year off of basketball, and now rumored to decline to do the drills at the Combine, you have to start to wonder if he has the competitiveness that McDonough is looking for in a prospect.

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The big key is whether he visits Phoenix in the next few weeks, and if he competes against other point guard prospects when/if he does.

Last year, the Suns tested players' readiness by giving them running drills that made players begin to prepare for the visit. Now, McDonough has dropped the gauntlet of competition. He wants guys willing to compete against other players.

I think despite the interview today, even if the Suns acquire a top pick on Draft night they'd be hard-pressed to pick Exum unless he goes the next step to visit Phoenix.

Before the 2014 NBA Draft Combine ramps up into the heavy workout portions of the event on Thursday, the Phoenix Suns met with top-5 projected draft pick Dante Exum, according to Basketball...

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The Phoenix Suns, members of a league ruled by stars, thrived this past season as teamwork helped them to 48 wins. Even with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe quickly turning in a dynamic backcourt...

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The NBA Combine officially kicks off today, May 14th, with player interviews, but the real action starts tomorrow and goes through the 16th. Here is how you can watch, what you can expect to see, and who you should pay attention to.

What: NBA Draft Combine

Where: Chicago, Illinois

When: May 14th - May 16th

Watch: Interviews (May 14th on NBATV), Drills/Testing (May 15th-16th ESPNU & ESPN2)

Schedule of Events:
Date Time (Arizona) Channel Online
5/14 10am -12pm (Player Interview Special) NBATV N/A
5/15 7am - 9am ESPNU WatchESPN
5/15 10am - 12pm ESPN2 WatchESPN
5/16 7am - 9am ESPNU WatchESPN
5/16 10am - 12pm ESPN2 WatchESPN

The NBA Combine is the yearly event where 60 of the top NBA prospects get to interview with teams, compete in drills, and submit to physicals and athletic testing.

This year is no different, however, it will be without at least three of the top prospects:  Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid who have chosen to forgo the combine in favor of meeting with individual teams.

This probably won't affect the Suns though, as it's extremely unlikely that Phoenix, who is currently slotted 14th in the lottery, could end up with a top three pick in order to consider any of them.  However, two other potential Suns' draftees also announced they will miss the combine due to ailments:  Adreian Payne (sickness/mono) and Mitch McGary (back problems).

Although the international presence at the NBA Draft Combine is sparse, you will have a chance to see many of them in action as well at the Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy on June 7-9.

Still, the vast majority of the players who will be considered by the Suns will be in attendance.  Here's a look at the schedule and the full list of players, along with indications of which players could be in the Suns range in the first round of the coming draft.

Participants:
Player Name
College

Jordan Adams

UCLA

*Kyle Anderson (Draft Preview)

UCLA

Thanasis Antetokounmpo

D-League

Isaiah Austin

Baylor

Jordan Bachynski

Arizona State

Cameron Bairstow

New Mexico

Khem Birch

UNLV

Alec Brown

Green Bay

Jabari Brown

Missouri

Markel Brown

Oklahoma St.

Deonte Burton

Nevada

Jahii Carson

Arizona State

Semaj Christon

Xavier

Jordan Clarkson

Missouri

Aaron Craft

Ohio State

DeAndre Daniels

Connecticut

Spencer Dinwiddie

Colorado

*Cleanthony Early (Draft Preview)

Wichita State

Melvin Ejim

Iowa State

*Tyler Ennis (Draft Preview)

Syracuse

Dante Exum

Australia

C.J. Fair

Syracuse

*Aaron Gordon (Draft Preview)

Arizona

*Jerami Grant (Draft Preview)

Syracuse

*P.J. Hairston (Draft Preview)

D-League/UNC

*Gary Harris (Draft Preview)

Michigan State

Joe Harris

Virginia

*Rodney Hood (Draft Preview)

Duke

Cory Jefferson

Baylor

Nick Johnson

Arizona

DeAndre Kane

Iowa State

Sean Kilpatrick

Cincinnati

Alex Kirk

New Mexico

*Zach LaVine (Draft Preview)

UCLA

Devyn Marble

Iowa

*James Michael McAdoo (Draft Preview)

North Carolina

*K.J. McDaniels (Draft Preview)

Clemson

*Doug McDermott (Draft Preview)

Creighton

Jordan McRae

Tennessee

*Shabazz Napier (Draft Preview)

Connecticut

Johnny O'Bryant III

LSU

Lamar Patterson

Pittsburgh

*Elfrid Payton (Draft Preview)

Louisiana-Lafayette

Dwight Powell

Stanford

Julius Randle

Kentucky

Glenn Robinson III

Michigan

LaQuinton Ross

Ohio State

Marcus Smart

Oklahoma State

Russ Smith

Louisville

*Nik Stauskas (Draft Preview)

Michigan

Jarnell Stokes

Tennessee

Xavier Thames

San Diego State

Noah Vonleh

Indiana

*T.J. Warren (Draft Preview)

North Carolina State

Kendall Williams

New Mexico

C.J. Wilcox

Washington

*James Young (Draft Preview)

Kentucky

*Patric Young (Draft Preview)

Florida

What to Watch:

Besides watching the players identified above, who fit needs for the Suns and could also fall in their range, the combine will give lesser known players, and those from smaller schools, a chance to compete with the big boys, and possibly make a name for themselves and help boost their stock.

The players compete in drills individually, along with other players in their position group.  They also go through physical testing and measurements which help teams identify players with special attributes, and also those with potential red flags.

As such, some players listed will not participate in all the activities and physical testing.  But for those who do, we will get a better understanding of what they can contribute to the team, and how they stack up against their peers.

After entering into a one-to-one affiliation with the Bakersfield Jam, the Phoenix Suns have much more opportunity to deepen their team with prospects like Zoran Dragic.

The Phoenix Suns breathe fire with a Dragon who is affectionately called 'Gogi'. Is it time to bring his lookalike brother, affectionalely called 'Zoki the Lionheart' onto the team as well?

Zoran Dragic, the 25-year old younger brother of Goran, is ready to join the NBA this next year. He will not participate in Summer League, but he does not want to join an NBA team for next season.

We don't expect the situation to resolve easily, as [Zoran] Dragic doesn't want just to travel overseas, but to be a significant member in team which will sign him. At this point he's concentrated in the playoffs of the Spanish league and after the end of the season he ‘ll go undergo a hernia surgery. He'll be out of action for about one month and then ‘ll take part in the preparation of Slovenia for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. So he'll not risk playing in the summer league like he did in the past.

-- Eurohoops.net

Zoran is an exciting player whose moves are reminiscent of brother Goran, but he is a bit of a tweener. At 6'5" he is a swingman, but cannot drain the 3-pointer with regularity (28% shooting in Spanish League) and does not rack up assists (only 1.1 per game there).

He shot the ball much better in 22 Euroleague games - 35.4% on three-pointers - and even passed it better (1.6 assists per game), but made a lower FG% overall (45% vs. 52% in the Spanish league).

In both leagues, Zoran is a part-time player (18.1 min/game in Spanish League vs. 22 min/game in Euroleague).

Reasons why Zoran would be a good addition to the team:

  • He is brothers with the Suns' most important re-signing after this summer is over
  • After bringing in Dionte Christmas (25) and Ish Smith (25) to round out the bench, GM Ryan McDonough shows a propensity for guys who fit Zoran's profile.
  • Dragic would not cost much - he makes only $300K per year in Europe, with a team option to extend for two more seasons unless he's bought out ($500K) for an NBA contract
  • He has not been a full-time player, so likely would not demand minutes (a key trait for the bench players)
  • He is brothers with the Suns' most important re-signing after this summer is over
  • His signing would be a public relations dream - 'Gogi and Zoki', the 'Dragon and the Lionheart', 'four guys, two faces' (with the Morris twins)

Zoran does not have a clean, projectable rotation role with the Suns. But because the Suns now have their affiliation with Bakersfield you can expect a lot more movement between teams (NBA to D-League) from the bottom of the Suns roster to keep guys fresh.

Also, as the season wears on, we've seen that coach Hornacek prefers veterans to rookies for the all-important 10-minute cameos in a playoff race. Zoran has several years of important experience in Europe, and could provide more punch from the bench than Dionte Christmas last year.

It appears to be a win-win for the Suns. Very little risk, but a high reward.

I'd like to invite our Slovenian friends to weigh in on where Zoran would fit on the Suns.

Here's a video made by our own Rude Corona:

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