I had lunch with Phoenix Suns general manager Lance Blanks on Monday. We sat down, broke some bread, drank some tea, and chatted about the up-coming 2012 NBA Draft. He seemed to be in a good mood. He was well prepared. He talked in long and full sentences, disproving some rumors that he's actually a ghost. Folks, one thing I can testify to with 100 percent certainty is this: Lance Blanks is not a ghost.
As for what Lance shared with me (and about 20 other people from the local media including Kris Habbas from SB Nation Arizona who you should get to know since he'll be doing a lot of Suns coverage after I leave Arizona this summer), here are the highlights:
-- Lance sees this draft as solid all the way through the first half. He described last year's draft as "spotty" with some hit and miss type players (except for Markieff Morris who Lance feels will prove to be worth more than a 13th pick and exceeded expectations as a rookie). This year he thinks there will be good players available all the way through the lottery but they may take a year or two or three to prove themselves in the league.
-- On the Best Available vs. Need question, he said: "All things being equal you go with a need for the team. You owe that to the fans, the organization, the ownership, and the coach to fill that need. Whenever there is an opportunity to fill a need you want to take advantage of it."
-- He left the door open, of course, if someone ranked much higher unexpectedly fell, but since Anthony Davis isn't likely to make it past the opening five minutes of the draft, I would think we will see the Suns draft a perimeter player.
-- "You look at our roster, this year we feel that our perimeter is an area that we'd like to add a little bit of youth to, whether it be one (point guard) the two (shooting guard) or the three (small forward)."
-- When looking at possible draft picks for the Suns, without getting specific, he generally sees more offensive-oriented type players. Habbas at SBN AZ speculated that means, "Duke's Austin Rivers, Syracuse's Dion Waiters, and Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb".
-- It's possible the Suns could look to acquire another pick but it doesn't sound like a top priority. Blanks emphasized the strong likelihood of keeping this (13th) pick.
-- Lance and the entire scouting staff are meeting in Chicago this week. They will have a meeting of the minds and then start looking at players at the Chicago Combine.
-- The Suns haven't had any players in for workouts yet. Other teams have.
-- Lance mentioned several times how generous Robert Sarver has been in spending money on improving the player development staff and resources. Along those lines, Lindsey Hunter (former NBA defensive pest) was promoted from the scouting staff to the player development staff. Mark West will have a bigger role with player development as well.
-- It's not totally clear, but it sounds like the Suns won't let media in for draft prospect workouts as had been the case in past years. We used to be able to interview players and get some quick feedback from the coaching staff or front office. This helped us help you get to know the possible players before the draft, but now the Suns will instead (I think) only hold a formal press conference at some point before the draft.
So, that's what Blanks said. Are you excited yet?
Oh, and I did find a picture of Lance. He still looks just like this:
I'm not sure I even need to explain this pick at this point. Davis is the consensus number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He is a defensive dynamo whose impact will be felt in the Big Easy from day one.
Make the jump to see how the rest of my lottery shakes out.
The poor Charlotte Bobcats, who finished the 2011-12 season with the worst record in NBA history, have to be disappointed after missing out on the prize of the draft. However, Davis' college teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one heck of a consolation prize. The Bobcats need help across the board, but the small forward position is especially weak. Kidd-Gilchrist isn't the go-to scorer the 'Cats need, but he can be pretty much anything else they ask him to. He's an excellent defender who was asked to take on point guards through power forwards in college. He's a very good rebounder, a tremendous finisher in transition and a solid passer. Kidd-Gilchrist will bring a competitive spirit and a winning attitude to a team that could really use both. MKG still has a lot of polishing to do (his jumpshot in particular needs a lot of work), but Charlotte won't be competing any time soon and can afford to be patient with him.
Washington has a lot of work to do, and the first step in my opinion is getting rid of Andray Blatche, by any means necessary. The Wizards need a new starting power forward, and Thomas Robinson can fill that role. He is the anti-Blatche. Robinson is a great athlete with an excellent work ethic and a non-stop motor. He's one of the best rebounders in this draft class and he should be able to contribute on the glass right away. He relies more on his athleticism on offense at this point, but he's made some major strides in his skills over the last two years and should only continue to get better. John Wall and Robinson are a great pair for Washington to build around going forward.
The Cavaliers would be thrilled for the draft to play out this way as Bradley Beal is the perfect complement to Kyrie Irving in the backcourt. Beal is a complete two guard who can shoot, attack the basket, pass, rebound and even play a little defense. His shooting ability and knack for rebounding means he can play off the ball with Irving, and his court vision and basketball IQ make him a great secondary playmaker and ball-handler. Beal is mature beyond his 19 years. In short, the kid plays winning basketball.
The Kings have a handful of bodies at the three, but none of them are really all that appealing. Barnes is an excellent spot-up shooter who would play very well alongside DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans. With those two, along with last year's Mr. Irrelevant turned starting point guard Isaiah Thomas, Barnes wouldn't be asked to carry the load offensively and instead can focus on his strengths.
6) Portland Trailblazers
Selection: Andre Drummond, C, UConn
The Blazers tanked this season hard and ended up with two lottery picks as a result (great trade New Jersey). Here they use the first of those two picks to address their massive, gaping hole at center. Drummond has elite physical skills. He's huge and athletic and has a ton of potential. But he also didn't show a whole lot of skill in his one year at UConn and there are some serious questions about him. After watching their last franchise center break, the Blazers are willing to swing for the fences again in the hopes that it turns out better this time.
Perry Jones III has a unique mix on athleticism, size and skill, and his position in the NBA isn't clear at this point. Some see him as a small forward, others a power forward (which he played in Waco). The Warriors are pretty thin in the frontcourt and could really use some depth. Dorell Wright isn't exactly an All-Star on the wing either. That means they can take Jones and test him out at both spots. He won't be asked to start immediately in Golden State so the Warriors can take their time developing him.
The Raptors are pretty set in the frontcourt for the moment, with multiple lottery picks at the four and five. However, they need a lot of help in the backcourt. They could go for a point guard here, but Jose Calderon is more than serviceable, so instead they add some talent to the wings. Jeremy Lamb is a smooth scorer with plenty of tricks in his arsenal. Taking Lamb allows the Raptors to slide DeMar Derozan over to the small forward spot and Lambs ability to put the ball in the bucket lightens Derozan's load offensively.
The Pistons found a real gem with Greg Monroe, their lottery pick in 2010. Now they need to find someone to play alongside him (neither Charlie Villanueva nor Jason Maxiell are the answer). John Henson would be an excellent complement for Monroe. He's an excellent defensive prospect whose length and mobility would fit nicely next to Monroe. His offensive game is still a work in progress, and he still needs to put on a lot of weight, but the former Tar Hell has a lot of upside.
New Orleans got their power forward with the first pick. Now they get their point guard. The Hornets have their pick of the top two point guards in the draft, and I could see the Hornets taking both. But Eric Gordon is a restricted free agent at shooting guard, and all signs point to the Bugs matching any contract offers. If that happens, he'll have the ball in his hands a lot and the point guard will have to be able to play off the ball. Lillard is a better athlete and shooter than Kendall Marshall, and thus I see him being a better fit here. He isn't going to make Hornets fans forget Chris Paul, but the team is in a great position moving forward with a core of Gordon, Davis and Lillard.
11) Portland Trailblazers
Selection: Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina
Portland's decision was made for them when New Orleans took Lillard. Kendall Marshall is the top point guard prospect on the board, and the Blazers need a point guard as bad as they needed a center. Marshall is a true point guard who thrives as a passer and knows how to lead a team. He'll fit in well as a distributor getting the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and Nicolas Batum on the wing (assuming they retain his services).
There's a good chance Jared Sullinger is gone long before this, but in this scenario Milwaukee is thrilled to add one of the best post players in the draft. The Bucks need help at center and power forward after trading away Andrew Bogut, and Sullinger could possibly play both spots. He's a polished post player and great rebounder who understands leverage and positioning.
The Suns can go a number of ways here. There are a couple talented big man prospects on the board in Kentucky's Terrence Jones and North Carolina's Tyler Zeller. Jones has some upside and was thought to be a sure-fire lottery pick during his freshman campaign, but little improvement as a sophomore has hurt his stock and he is falling in some mock drafts. Zeller is a solid center prospect who could replace Robin Lopez if he leaves in free agency. But ultimately, I think Blanks and Babby like the frontcourt as it is and any changes will be made via the free agent market or trades.
GM Lance Blanks spoke today about the draft, and one quote in particular stood out to me (via the Phoenix Suns Twitter account):
Blanks on what position this year's draft is strongest: "Looking at the wings, potential game changers."
If he truly believes that, and with the way my mock has turned out, three players come to mind: Duke's Austin Rivers, Syracuse's Dion Waiters and Washington's Terrence Ross, all three projected shooting guards.
Rivers has become the hot prospect for Phoenix in recent mock drafts. His ability to shoot the 3-ball and break down defenses with his dribble would be welcome additions in Phoenix. However, I'm not a fan of the way he plays at all. He's a streaky shooter who struggles at the free-throw line, and his decision-making is questionable.
I like Waiters, but I'm not sure he's what we need, or if he's the best prospect of the three. Waiters is a combo-guard with the ability to run the pick-and-roll and penetrate with the dribble, but his jumper needs work and he doesn't do much off the ball at all.
That leaves Ross. He's an interesting prospect, standing at 6-foot-6 with great athleticism and an excellent shooting stroke. Ross is an effortless leaper who can make some highlight plays as a cutter off the ball who can really shoot the ball both off the dribble and spotting up. He still needs to work on his ball-handling and ability to get all the way to the basket, but he would fit well on the Suns and could play with either the first or second unit. He's being compared to Jason Richardson, and I agree with that except that Ross has the potential to be a plus defender.
The Rockets have depth at power forward and on the wing, but are shallow at center with only Samuel Dalembert on the payroll for next season (and his contract isn't even fully guaranteed). Zeller was a four-year player at North Carolina and his experience could allow for a quick transition to the NBA game. He's a true 7-footer who can run the floor, rebound and score in the post.
Other potential lottery picks: Terrence Jones (PF, Kentucky), Austin Rivers (SG, Duke), Meyers Leonard (C, Illinois), Dion Waiters (SG, Syracuse)
With the NBA Draft fast approaching on June 28th, we at Bright Side of the Sun want to cover all the bases regarding the possible players who the Suns could draft with the #13th pick.
With a roster consisting of more questions than answers and nobody who qualifies as untouchable, the Suns may be in a position where they choose to draft the best player on the board regardless of position. The subject of the following review may just be that player if he is available when the Suns are on the clock.
Our own 7footer already gave a scintillating review of point guard Kendall Marshall, but there is another floor general in this year's draft slated as a lottery selection. Is he the heir apparent to the throne?
NBA draft coverage continues with a look at Damian Lillardfrom the Weber State Wildcats.
Damian Lillard is a 6'2" 185 lb. point guard who has been rising up mock drafts as the big day on June 28th approaches. He is a score first point guard (finished second in the nation in scoring) that can attack the basket and score with either hand or bomb from long distance (40.9% 2011-12 3 pt FG%). He even shot 89% from the line on 8 attempts per game last season.
Lillard has a solid frame, good wingspan, and impressive quickness and athleticism - all things that should put him in a position to compete with NBA point guards and succeed at the next level.
Although his overall resume is dazzling, it is not without holes. In the case of Lillard, the list of questions isn't very long, but they are questions of serious magnitude.
Bounce with me to learn more about the other Wildcat (give yourself a hand if you knew a) their nickname and b) that Weber St. University is located in Ogden, Utah) and decide whether he's the best point guard in this year's draft.
Here are Lillard's per game and advanced college statistics:
Lillard's PER was second in the nation to some guy from Kentucky named Anthony Davis. More advanced statistics are available for your perusal here.
As always is the case for players from mid major schools, there are concerns stemming from the daunting level of competition Lillard has faced in the fearsome Big Sky Conference. While this skepticism may be well founded, there have been plenty of players who have come from small schools and went on to do big things.
Steve Nash (Santa Clara), John Stockton (Gonzaga), Tiny Archibald (UTEP), and Bob Cousy (Holy Cross) are point guards that still managed to go on to moderately successful NBA careers despite lack of pedigree.
Bill Russell (San Francisco), Larry Bird (Indiana St.), Julius Erving (UMass), David Robinson (Navy), Karl Malone (Louisiana Tech), and George Gervin (Eastern Michigan) highlight a star-studded cast of players that came from humble beginnings (honorable mention to two former Suns - Dan Majerle (Central Michigan) and Danny Ainge (BYU)).
Scrutinizing the list of NBA players from mid major schools, two names resonated with me - Tim Hardaway (UTEP) and Stephen Curry (Davidson). Neither is a perfect comparison. Hardaway went on to become a prolific scorer AND distributor at the NBA level. Curry faced much more adversity at the college level, as his numbers were sometimes achieved against double and triple teams and by opponents using ball denial strategies. Lillard is more athletic than Curry, but the sharpshooting, score first point guard dynamic follows an approximate parallel.
Let's look at their final years in school next to one another for comparison:
In advanced statistics, Lillard compares favorably in eFG% .562 (Curry .549, Hardaway .548) and turnover% 10.5 (Curry 13.5, Hardaway - info not available). In fact, Lillard's .12 turnovers per possession is best among all NCAA point guards.
The area where Lillard lags behind in this comparison is in the assists column. That is the second area of uncertainty with Lillard - playmaking/distributing. Lillard propitiates this doubt to a certain extent through his demonstrated ability to effectively run the pick and roll (an NBA staple) as the ball handler.
There are plenty of examples of score first point guards in the NBA (listed with career apg) such as Russell Westbrook (6.8), Tony Parker (5.9), Monta Ellis (4.5), and Stephen Curry (5.8). It actually appears that the pass first point guard (e.g. Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo) who can average 10 assists per game is more exotic. Although each of these players has his own unique attributes (e.g. Westbrook's freakish athleticism), I can see Lillard's ceiling being in the general vicinity of these players, which would be an absolute windfall for a 13th pick.
There's a good possibility that Lillard won't be available when the Suns select at 13. The teams drafting 8-11 don't have franchise point guards in place. The Hornets and Blazers have two picks each, and point guard is an area of need for both teams. Here's a melange of where the pundits have Lillard projected (links included):
I think that's enough of a sample size to suggest that Lillard very well may not be available when the Suns draft at 13. Several outlets seem to be of the opinion that the Blazers may take Lillard at #6 because they are concerned he won't be available by the time they make their second selection at #11. It's possible that he could fall, though, or maybe the Suns will wheel and deal their way up a few spots...
Ball Handling/Ball Control (low turnovers)
Ability to Execute the Pick and Roll
Here's a highlight reel that reinforces the above lists - spoiler alert: don't expect to witness many mesmerizing passes...
So what do you think Brightsiders? Is Lillard destined to be a star, a bust, or somewhere in between? Should he be the first point guard taken or do you prefer Kendall Marshall? Vote in the poll and leave your comments below.