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