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Last summer, Phoenix Suns fans spent a lot of pre-draft time focused on the shooting guard prospects that might go to the Suns with their #13 overall pick.

This year it's more about getting the best overall talent at ANY position. The Suns still have a gaping hole at the shooting guard position going into the offseason, but they have gaping long-term holes at just about every position.

Still, a young and dynamic shooting guard would be a boon to any franchise and the 2013 draft offers a number of quality prospects in the lottery.

A season ago, the Suns were hoping at least one or two of Austin Rivers, Terrence Ross, Dion Waiters and Jeremy Lamb would be on the board at #13 overall. In fact, many Suns fans (including me) thought the Suns would have their choice of at least two of those guys.

Bradley Beal, who was always out of reach, went #3 overall. Beal, by the way, started slow this season but has come on recently to show clearly that, yes, he was the best shooting guard prospect in that draft. On the small side in terms of measurables (6'3" and 207), Beal has shown real talent this season - averaging better than 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33 minutes per game since January 1. That's a good start.

Then Dion Waiters - projected as low as the 20s in April 2012 - went #4 overall to Cleveland. Waiters was known for his ability to create his own shot at the rim or on the 3-point line and had the physical tools to play defense (though not the evidence at Syracuse). Waiters' rookie reason has been up and down, but he's gotten a lot of minutes on a young team: better than 14 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes per game since January 1.

Terrence Ross went next at #8 overall. Ross promised a good 3-point shot and tight defense, but little ability to create his own shot off the dribble and was allergic to contact in college. As a rookie, he's been a regular rotation player for Toronto but started only 1 game. On the season, he has put up 6 points and 2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game (drawing a two-shot foul every third game or so).

Austin Rivers was popped next at #10 overall by New Orleans. The combo guard with ice in his veins had what's been reported as a disaster rookie season on a team that needed him, yet he put up virtually the same numbers as Ross in a few more minutes per game - 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 23 minutes a game - before going down with a bad hand injury.

So, far not one of these guys' new NBA teams have won more games than the Suns this season (23).

The Suns' final chance at landing a shooting guard was Jeremy Lamb. We all know what happened with Lamb - he was taken at #12 overall, one spot ahead of the Suns, and later included in the famous James Harden trade. I won't belabor this any further than to say Lamb's rookie season has been non-existent on the bench of good teams. Lamb came out with a rep of being a sweet shooter who could defend, but was as allergic to contact as Terrence Ross.

Results for rookie guards in the NBA (including Damian Lillard who went #6 overall, after Waiters and Beal):

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Where am I going with all of this?

Let me tell you: this year's crop of shooting guards may be BETTER than last year's, according to draft experts like our own Kris Habbas who runs the site nbadraftinsider.com and talks to scouts every day of every week and twice on Sundays.

Asked where he would rank the last two years' worth guard prospects at draft time (if they'd come out together):

Kris' rankings would be:

  1. Beal (Best SG prospect since Harden)
  2. Ben McLemore (Wait until he has an NBA PG passing him the ball)
  3. Marcus Smart (a little Baron Davis/Harden/Foye in his game; BIG strong combo guard)
  4. Otto Porter (Five tool talent, can do everything well)
  5. Shabazz Muhammad (Poor offensive body language, selfish scorer, limited)
  6. Victor Oladipo (Great energy, good athlete, Barbosa type, with vice grip D)
  7. Waiters
  8. Lamb
  9. Rivers
  10. Ross

Different talents of course. Last years group were primarily scorers, this years group has more complete players with versatile games. Example, Porter may not score 20 points a night, but he defenders, passes, and plays off the ball well.

Kris offered more on the drop-off between Bradley Beal and Ben McLemore.

Beal has better ball skills, play-making and overall offensive talent.

McLemore has the frame, athletic, and size advantage on Beal, but is limited outside of shooting/transition offense. Don't get me wrong, McLemore is going to be a very good pro, but Beal has a higher ceiling in my opinion.

If the Suns win the Lottery, McLemore would be their guy, but he would also be Charlotte, New Orleans, Sacramento, Minnesota, and Cleveland's guy too.

Well, I'm not sure about Cleveland taking either Smart, McLemore or any of the shooting guards this season after taking Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in the last two drafts. Unless they see Waiters as a super-sub 6th-man long term, that is.

But certainly, those other teams will be fighting the Suns for the best prospects, with the Suns being new to the crowd while the others are wily lotto veterans.

Kris has some final comments on last year's shooting guard prospects:

I was not enamored with Waiters, Rivers, Ross, or Lamb last year as Top 10 picks. Thought there was value in Waiters in the teens, value for Ross in the 20's, and that Lamb/Rivers were lottery type talents. By the way, Rivers career is not over. He is not playing well know, but could come back and be a very good player. My take on him was always Antonio Daniels, so I am not shocked he is playing average-to-below-average this year.

Here is Kris' Final Big Board before the 2012 draft. He says Waiters was only listed that high because so many scouts had him going up at the top like he ended up going.

If you're a fan of shooting guards, then you can look forward to this year's draft. If the Suns want to a guard, they will get a better prospect this year than they could have had last year.

But I don't expect the Suns to hone in on one position. They need the best talent regardless of position.

The best player this year from the 2012 draft was PG Damian Lillard. The players with the highest upside might be Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond.

Here's the top 20, sorted by scoring average in their rookie season (what the Suns need no matter what the position):

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Finally, here's Kris' 2013 Big Board. He has our top guards currently ranked as such:

2. McLemore

3. Smart

4. Porter

9. Muhammad

17. Oladipo

Of Oladipo, he says: People love the story and the energy of a guy like Oladipo, but he is undersized and will hit an athletic wall in the NBA with equal talent.

Ranked #1 overall: Nerlens Noel

Chew on that, Suns fans!

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There is no doubting Wesley Johnson's physical talent as a basketball player. The 25 year old 6'7" shooting guard with long arms, athleticism, and a sweet stroke, along with one of the most photogenic smiles you'll ever see, has all of the physical tools to be a great NBA player.

These attributes, combined with a solid three-season college career at Iowa St. and Syracuse are what helped him skyrocket to the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, ahead of players like Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, and Gordon Hayward to name a few.

However, after only two sub-standard seasons with Minnesota, the Timberwolves decided to cut bait with the talented but so-far unproductive Johnson, and the Phoenix Suns were able to make a three-team trade that dealt Robin Lopez to the New Orleans Hornets while acquiring Smilin' Wes and a first round pick.

At first, the Suns and then head coach Alvin Gentry gave Wes a short leash, and Johnson was quickly relegated to spot minutes after failing to impress in the sporadic, small amount of time he had been given. In fact, prior to the All-Star break, Wes had played over 10 minutes in only four games.

And while there is no doubt that Johnson is also at fault for his lack of playing time based on his performance when given those minutes (Shooting just 31% from the field while averaging approximately 2 points and 1 rebound per game), one could certainly make the case that Wes was never really given a fair opportunity to find his niche.

However, all of that changed when Alvin Gentry was shown the door, and interim head coach Lindsey Hunter made the decision to start playing the young guys more. Since the All-Star break, Johnson's playing time has increased from 7 to 25 minutes per game, and his productivity has responded as well.

Post All-Star break, Johnson's overall field goal percentage has increased from 31%-42%, and he's averaging 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Not only that, but when you look at his production as a starter his shooting numbers further increase. In the starting line-up, Wes is shooting 43% from the field and averaging 12.1 points a game.

So what will happen to Wes at the end of the season?

Well. if you recall, Phoenix declined Johnson's team option for 2013-14 prior to the start of the season; which was smart being that he was a gamble, and picking up the option would have guaranteed Wes a $5.4 million salary for next season.

Still, the Suns reportedly told Johnson at the time that they were interested in re-signing him at the end of the season, and Wes also reciprocated his desire to stay as well.

However, that was before receiving very little chance to play during the first-half of the season. So has anything changed since then?

Apparently not.

As Johnson told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic a few days ago, "I think this is a longtime place for me," Johnson said. "I told them from the jump that I wanted to be here. We’ll see how it plays out in July."

If Johnson can continue to produce the way he has with his increased playing time, I'm sure the Suns will make good on their original plan to re-sign Johnson at the end of the season, and it looks like Wes is very open to remaining in Phoenix as well.


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The Suns may only have 23 wins on the season and are having one of the lesser years in franchise history, but can you put a value on beating the Los Angeles Lakers both time they visited the Valley? Can you?

What is a snake without its bite? Well, the Los Angeles Lakers (36-32) are still Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and a very dangerous team, especially to a team like the Phoenix Suns (22-45) at this point in the season.

With Kobe Bryant out, the Lakers were able to win their last game and they even won a tough one against Eastern Conference contender in the Indiana Pacers with only 12 minutes out of the Mamba. He is the best player on the Lakers roster, but when you start to create a pecking order of the best players in this match-up, the pendulum swings to L.A. and stays there for a while.

Universally, Bryant is the best player. It would be hard to argue that 2-4 are Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. The debate could even be made that Ron Artest is the fifth best player between the two teams.

Subtracting Bryant makes this a lesser team, of course, but against a bottom-three team in the league, it does not make them terrible.

The Suns have something to play for as every Lakers loss gives them a better shot at two lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. It is also the Lakers. So little needs to be said about knocking off the divisional rival and playing the role of spoiler for them.

(Recent) History Lesson

This will be the fourth and final installment of the Lakers-Suns this season. The Lakers won two of the first three, but they were all close affairs. In those three games, the teams have played tough, lower scoring games to a tune of the Lakers (97.0 PPG) being only a +4 on the Suns (93.0 PPG) in the series. The Suns look to even the season series tonight at home where they are 1-0 against their rivals.

Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)

Suns: 104.2 PPG (7 wins)

Lakers: 108.5 PPG (14 wins)

There has been a triple-overtime game, six battles in the Western Conference Finals, and animosity between these two teams over the past four seasons. It has not always been this way, with the Suns looking at the lottery and the Lakers looking at the playoffs. This was a fairly even battle over the past 12 years.

Head-to-Head (career)

Lakers Player vs. Suns: 15.5 PPG 4.8 RPG 2.4 APG 2.4 SPG 42.8 FG% (34 games)

Suns Player vs. Lakers: 9.2 PPG 2.4 RPG 1.0 APG 1.0 SPG 40.7 FG% (9 games)

More on Artest below, but the Suns need a big game from Johnson as he will be matched-up with Jodie Meeks rather than Bryant. That is a situation that a player has to take advantage of. In his career he is 0-9 against the Lakers, but has broken out for a pair of 20+ point games, including a career-high 29 while in Minnesota.

Smiling Wes has scored 20+ points five times in his career and 40% of those games are against the Lakers.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Steve Nash

SG - Wesley Johnson v. Jodie Meeks

SF - Marcus Morris v. Ron Artest

PF - Markieff Morris v. Earl Clark

C - Jermaine O'Neal v. Dwight Howard

Potential Suns Inactives: Marcin Gortat (Foot)

Potential Lakers Inactives: Kobe Bryant (Left Ankle) and Pau Gasol (Plantar Fascia)

Key Match-Up

Marcus Morris vs. Ron Artest

When you face the Lakers, you have to win the individual battle with Artest. Because if you do not, that typically means they are running away with the game. Or does it? He is a shell of his former self, meaning that Marcus cannot let him get into his head and throw his game off.

On the season, the Lakers are 4-4 when Artest scores 20+ points, 11-9 when he scores between 15-19 points, and 20-19 with 14 points or less.

Marcus has been in a funk the past few games and could use a breakthrough against what is now his biggest rival other than his brother wearing the same thing as him when they get ready to go out.

Interesting Stat: 14 Games

The Lakers only have 14 games, including tonight's tilt with the Suns, before the playoffs start. If they are a Top 8 team in the West at that time, then the Suns are drafting with their pick and Miami's pick. Getting this win to help the reeling Utah Jazz would give them .5 games back on the Lakers, who they have the tie-breaker with based on the in season match-ups.

Meaningless Stat: Lakers Offense

With Bryant: 102.3 PPG 22 APG 94.7 Pace 1.06 PPP (52.2% Winning Percentage)

Without Bryant: 113 PPG 28 APG 92.7 Pace 1.32 PPP (100% Winning Percentage)

That is a one game sample without Bryant this season by the way. You are welcome.


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