Here's a look at some of the shooting guard and small forward prospects prior to the NBA Draft Combine later this month, whom the Suns may be able to choose from with their 18th or 27th picks in the coming draft.

This is part two of the wings' Pre-NBA Combine preview...to see part one, click here

These are some of the wings that the Suns could be keeping a close eye on in the coming draft combine that could be potential candidates for their 18th or 27th pick.

18th Pick

Jerami Grant, SF

6'8", 220lbs, 20 years old, Syracuse

Jerami_grant_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Extremely Athletic, Very Good Finisher, Long, Attacks the Basket, High Motor, Upside

Weaknesses: Raw Offensively, Lacking Three-Point Shot, Lacks Fundamentals on Defense

Jerami Grant is in no way a finished product.  His game revolves mostly around his physical talents and athleticism at this point.  However, he has improved his shot somewhat this season, giving scouts hope that he can continue to develop his game at the next level.

What Grant does very well is attack the basket, grab rebounds and score put-backs, and catch alley-oops.  He is definitely one of the most athletic prospects in the draft with great length and an aggressive style of play.  What he lacks in long range shooting he made up for with quality play at the rim...at least at the college level.

Grant is definitely a gamble, but could be a big pay off for a team willing to take the chance on him.  He possesses elite athleticism and uses his strengths to the best of his ability.  He knows what he is and doesn't try to force shots he isn't capable of making.  He is a project, but has certain attributes that can help a team off the bench almost immediately while he works on refining his game.


P.J. Hairston, SG

6'5", 220lbs, 21 years old, North Carolina/Texas Legends

P.j._hairston_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Great Shooter, Great Size, Long, Strong & Physical Player, NBA Ready, Good Defender

Weaknesses: Not a Good Passer, Limited Ball-Handling, Character Concerns, Limited Upside

P.J. Hairston may be one of the most underrated wing prospects in this year's draft.  After a great season at UNC last year, Hairston was suspended by the team after being arrested for speeding and possession of marijuana.  Hairston was eventually released and signed with the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League this past season. where he once again impressed, averaging 21 points per game.

Hairston plays well in an up-tempo system like the Suns run, where he can attack quick off the dribble and create shots all over the floor.  He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and can take over a game when he gets in the zone.  He has very good defensive tools and instincts, though sometimes seemed to play with a lack of effort in his D-League stint.

P.J. is ready to contribute in some way to whichever NBA team drafts him.  Although he made a few bad choices in the past, by all accounts he is an excellent teammate and a very coachable player.  He could end up being one of the biggest steals of the draft depending where he's selected.



K.J. McDaniels, SF

6'6", 200lbs, 21 years old, Clemson

Kj_mcdaniels_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Super Athletic, Explosive, Excellent Defender & Rim Protector, Attacks the Basket, Long Wingspan, Strong Finisher

Weaknesses: Not a Great Shooter, Undersized, Tweener, Streaky

K.J. McDaniels was a game changer for Clemson this season.  He has been one of the fastest risers up the mock drafts based on his excellent all-around play and his ability to play efficiently on both ends of the floor.  He is arguably the best athlete in the entire draft...even more so than Grant and LaVine, and also has nearly as much upside.

While McDaniels isn't a great shooter and can be inconsistent at times, he does have a decent jump shot with range out beyond the arc...and shoots free throws at an extremely efficent 87%, leading many to believe he can continue to improve on his jump shooting as well.

McDaniels most glaring weakness is his lack of size.  Although he has a 6'10" wingspan, he is only 6'6" which is small for a three.  But with all of his defensive tools, his athleticism, and his style of play, he certainly makes for a promising young prospect.  Plus, his name is K.J...how could the Suns go wrong with this pick?




27th Pick


Cleanthony Early, SF

6'8", 215lbs, 23 years old, Wichita St.

Cleanthony_early_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Natural Scorer, High Motor, Attacks the Basket, Crashes the Boards Offensively

Weaknesses: Not a Great Jump-Shooter, Poor Ball-Handling, Lateral Quickness, Age, Limited Upside

Early is a natural scorer who can impact the game with his skills inside the paint and at the rim.  He was one of the driving engines of the Wichita St. Shock this season leading them to an undefeated record until their loss in the NCAA tournament.

While Early is an adept scorer, he has a flat-looking jump shot and is not a great shooter from long-range. He is an above average athlete overall, but struggles with lateral quickness while defending...which is especially concerning at the NBA level.

Still, he has been absolutely dominant at times, and against some top competition, such as his 31 point game against Kentucky.  Early is an interesting pick as a potential role player who can heat up and score in bunches.


Zach Lavine, SG

6'5", 180lbs, 19 years old, UCLA

Zach_lavine_medium

(Click to Enlarge - Stats courtesy of ESPN)

Strengths: Elite Athleticism, Explosive, High Motor, Good Shooter, Great Form

Weaknesses: Tendency to Disappear, Lacks Strength, Inconsistent

Zach LaVine may be one of the most polarizing young prospects in this years draft class.  On the one hand, he is an elite athlete with a nice stroke and three-point range.  On the other, he still seems raw and unpolished, and sometimes takes bad shots and makes poor decisions.

One positive is that he already has the athleticism and shooting form of an NBA player, he just needs to work on refining his skills and continuing his development.  I think his role as a point guard in UCLA's system worked exacerbated some of his weaknesses, and I think he can be much more adept off the ball.

At the moment, his draft position is all over the place because of the various scouts' opinions of him.  That could change more after the combine which could be a make or break performance for Zach.  Still, LaVine has blue-chip talent, and could be a steal in the late draft if he can develop a more all-around game.



But Wait...There's More!

This concludes the wings preview in the coming NBA Draft Combine. I'll be posting another position group soon full of other players that the Suns will be looking at soon to follow.

With as many as three first round picks available, the Suns have a lot of choices to make.  Who do you like out of this group, if anyone, and what pick do you think the Suns will use on them?  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Poll
Which of these players are you most interested in with either the 18th, or 27th pick in the coming draft?

  304 votes | Results

Poor Pau Gasol. The Spaniard always seems to be linked to trade rumors every year and this one was no different. Reports indicated that he could end up with the Phoenix Suns at the February trade...

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The Phoenix Suns used the D-League Bakersfield Jam to stretch out their young players’ legs in the past few seasons, but now they’ll be able to utilize the minor league teams to an...

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PHOENIX — Winning teams need a perimeter defensive stopper. The position is essential to any team with NBA championship aspirations. Just look at a few of the swingman from the eight teams...

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Over the course of the last few years, the NBA and the NBA Development League have grown closer and closer together as the D-League has shifted towards more of a true minor league model.

In the past, a handful of NBA teams shared affiliation with a single D-League club. For example, the Suns - along with a couple other NBA teams - have been affiliated with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds (now the Canton Charge), Iowa Energy, Bakersfield Jam over the last few years.

However, more and more teams have begun buying into the D-League - literally - as several teams have entered into one-to-one affiliations, whether it be through a total takeover of ownership or through hybrid affiliations.

According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, the Suns will be following suit.

The Suns are building a farm.

Much like how Reno serves as the Diamondbacks' Triple-A minor-league affiliate, the Suns will start a hybrid affiliation with the D-League's Bakersfield franchise this year.

In an agreement that is expected to be finalized next week, the Suns will finance and run the basketball operations of the D-League franchise while Bakersfield's ownership will continue handling business operations, community relations and other non-basketball functions.

The Suns will become either the 15th or the 16th team (depending on when the Orlando Magic and Erie Bayhawks finalize their deal) to enter into a single affiliation with a D-League team. The Suns and Magic will join the Memphis Grizzlies (Iowa Energy), Boston Celtics (Maine Red Claws), Detroit Pistons (Grand Rapids NBA D-League Team), Houston Rockets (Rio Grande Valley Vipers), Miami Heat (Sioux Falls Skyforce) and Sacramento Kings (Reno Bighorns) in hybrid affiliation. Eight other teams - the Cleveland Cavaliers (Canton Charge), Golden State Warriors (Santa Cruz Warriors), Los Angeles Lakers (L.A. D-Fenders), New York Knicks (Westchester NBA D-League Team), Oklahoma City Thunder (Tulsa 66ers), Philadelphia 76ers (Delaware 87ers), San Antonio Spurs (Austin Toros) and Dallas Mavericks (Texas Legends) - will own and operate their own affiliates.

That leaves only the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards and New Orleans Pelicans without single affiliations. The Maine Red Claws Fort Wayne Mad Ants (the reigning D-League champions) and Idaho Stampede are the only remaining unaffiliated D-League teams.

In the past, the Suns have used the D-League sparingly, sending down under-played rookies for a couple stints to get some game action. However, with a single affiliation, they can - and should - do so much more. Control of a D-League team gives the Suns the ability to put their people into place at the GM and coach positions and make sure the team is run how they see fit. It can serve as a testing ground for ideas and concepts Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough cook up. It allows the team to better develop young players they see potential in.

The poster child for this kind of partnership is the Houston Rockets' affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Rockets have turned the Vipers into a super version of themselves as they've installed a system that encourages a ton of 3-pointers as well as shots around the rim, and almost entirely removes mid-range shots. Check out their shot chart from a February article on Grantland:

Vipers_shotchart_medium

There are plenty of players who have come from the D-League to make an impact at the NBA level, and control over a team can only help the Suns to find and develop more of those late bloomers and hidden gems. The most recent example of this again comes from the Houston Rockets and Rio Grande Valley Vipers, as Troy Daniels spent most of the season in the D-League before joining the Rockets for the playoffs and making some big time shots in the first round.

The D-League can be a valuable tool for developing their own draft picks as well. With two raw rookies heading into their second year as well as up to four picks in the 2014 Draft, this could be a valuable partnership for the Suns.

The league is shifting towards a 30-team, single-affiliation minor league, and once that happens it will create more opportunities for both the NBA teams and the young players trying to make it in the league. Could we eventually see an expanded draft and other rule changes to go along with it? Only time will tell.

This is a smart move by Phoenix, and there really is no downside. It shows the organization is willing to take advantage of any of the assets at their disposal to create a winning team.

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