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As of this writing, the Phoenix Suns still hold the 52nd overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Whether they actually keep it and use it on a second-round prospect remains to be seen.
If the Kevin Durant blockbuster on Mat Ishbia’s first day as Suns owner didn’t make it clear this organization is going to be aggressive, landing Bradley Beal sure did. Despite new rules in the incoming CBA that will limit teams’ roster-building tools once they pass the second luxury tax apron, the Suns have decided that if they’re going to dip their toe in that pond, they might as well cannonball into it and make a real splash.
To that end, even if the Suns don’t really have any picks left to offer, Deandre Ayton represents their last possible avenue for making a significant move. Even with the hiring of a defensive-minded coach in Frank Vogel, his future still feels uncertain. Trade talks usually heat up around the draft, which is why we’ve already covered a plethora of DA trade scenarios. The Suns’ No. 52 pick is not included in the Beal deal, but they can still add another pick to their arsenal or move up into the late first round, as The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie reported they were looking to do.
However, in the event the Suns actually wind up using their lone selection in this year’s draft, they need to find a low-end rotation player on a cost-effective rookie salary. Recent examples at the No. 52 pick include Luke Garza, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jalen McDaniels, so it’s not impossible to find help this late in the second round.
To that end, we might as well be thorough and cover a few prospects that would make sense in Phoenix. And as an added bonus, we’ll also take a quick look at where the Suns might be able to buy their way into an additional pick, as well as a couple of late first-round prospects in the event they trade up.
DISCLAIMER: Nowhere in this article will I pretend to be an NBA Draft expert. It’d be an insult to the people who put in the meticulous work of watching hours and hours of game film year-round on these college and international players. However, I am nothing if not well-read and well-researched, thanks to the excellent work of draft analysts like Vecenie, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo, Ben Pfeifer, and too many others to name. We’ll be citing and giving credit to their work appropriately here.
Teams to target via trade
The Suns only hold the 52nd pick (or 57th, depending on what comes of the Bradley Beal trade), but if they want to maneuver their way into the draft to make another selection, there are a few avenues they can take.
The first is acquiring a first-rounder via trade, which would almost certainly have to involve Deandre Ayton. The Suns won’t dump him just to get a first-rounder, but if there’s a pick to be had in a deal that acquires a starting-caliber center and rotation-level wing, that could be an avenue worth exploring.
Teams with multiple first-rounders like the Indiana Pacers (Nos. 7 and 26), Charlotte Hornets (Nos. 2 and 27), Orlando Magic (Nos. 6 and 11), Portland Trail Blazers (Nos. 3 and 23), Utah Jazz (Nos. 9, 16 and 28) and Brooklyn Nets (Nos. 21 and 22) could be candidates. However, the Jazz and Nets would probably have to be part of a three-team trade since they’re already set at the 5-spot with young centers, and the Blazers will be looking to consolidate their picks into a deal for star-level talent to satisfy Damian Lillard.
The other option for the Suns is buying their way into the second round, and there are plenty of teams with multiple picks that may not want to use every selection they own. Again, the Hornets (Nos. 34, 39 and 41), Pacers (Nos. 40 and 55), Magic (No. 36), Blazers (No. 43) or Nets (No. 51) could come into play.
Consider the Denver Nuggets (Nos. 29, 32 and 37), Washington Wizards (Nos. 8, 30, 42 and 57), Oklahoma City Thunder (Nos. 12, 37 and 50), Sacramento Kings (Nos. 24, 38 and 54), Memphis Grizzlies (Nos. 45 and 56) and San Antonio Spurs (Nos. 33 and 44 after taking Victor Wembanyama first overall) as other options to target in the second round, given how many picks they have.
Late first-round Suns targets
Andre Jackson Jr. — Jackson, the No. 29 prospect on Vecenie’s superb draft guide, was mentioned as something of a best-case scenario for the Suns by Ben Pfeifer on Wednesday’s PHNX Suns podcast (above). There are serious questions about his ability to contribute in a half-court setting due to his poor shot mechanics, but his lack of offense shouldn’t scare off the Suns if they weasel their way into the first round.
Jackson is an unbelievable athlete who makes great decisions, despite those decisions coming in the blink of an eye because of his unrelenting motor. This 6-foot-6 wing out of UCONN is a great on- and off-ball defender, and his nonstop motion on offense could help compensate for his complete lack of shooting range. Phoenix has enough offense, but adding a high-end athlete with insane leaping ability, lightning lateral quickness and endless energy who can also think the game, make smart passes or cuts, and defend multiple positions would be a huge plus.
Ben Sheppard — As the No. 28 prospect on Vecenie’s list who was also mentioned by Pfeifer on the pod, Sheppard is a prototypical 3-and-D wing, only he’s a bit higher-end than what the Suns will find if they stay at No. 52.
Sheppard’s on- and off-ball shooting intrigues. He improved as a shooter in each of his four years at Belmont, going from 37.1 percent as a junior to 41.5 percent as a senior. As Vecenie points out, he made 40.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and an absurd 48.7 percent of his 3s off screens. He’s the type of four-year player the Suns have preferred under James Jones, and like Andre Jackson, he’s 21 years old already. He’s also a decent playmaker and smart defender with a good feel for the game.
However, at 195 pounds, the 6-foot-6 wing needs to get stronger. He struggles with contact on both ends of the floor, limiting his finishing around the basket and raising concerns over how he’ll defend quicker, stronger, more explosive wings.
Brice Sensabaugh — Sensabaugh seems to be a consensus top-20 talent, but he didn’t receive a green room invite, most likely due to medical concerns over a knee injury. If the Suns trade into the first round and he somehow slips into the 20s or early 30s, the talent here might be too good to pass up.
As Pfeifer noted on the pod, the 6-foot-6 Sensabaugh is a “ridiculous” scorer, shooter and shot-maker. He put up 16.5 points per game on .480/.405/.830 shooting splits in his one season at Ohio State, flashing the potential to be a true three-level scorer. He’s got a great handle, can get to his spots and made 44.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s, which would make him a perfect fit next to similarly versatile scorers like Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.
However, the Suns need defense and shooting above all else, and as much as Sensabaugh provides the latter, he’s been frequently labeled as one of the worst defenders in the draft class. He’s also an untrustworthy passer who makes questionable reads.
Second-round target honorable mention: Emoni Bates
It wasn’t that long ago that Emoni Bates was one of the most-hyped prospects in the country. Now he’s a projected second-rounder who may not get drafted at all. In an older rendition of The Ringer’s NBA Mock Draft, Kevin O’Connor had Bates going to the Suns with the 52nd pick, writing:
“Finding quality mentors for Bates will be key to his future success. Kevin Durant has a relationship with him, so the Suns feel like a good situation for him to learn positive habits.”
This late in the draft, a 6-foot-9, 19-year-old with undeniable shot-making talent could be worth the flier. He’s got a plethora of moves, can light it up in catch-shot situations and knows how to create separation to get to his spots. There is definitive upside here for a guy that needs to be drafted into the right situation.
However, there’s a good chance Phoenix is not that place. As Pfeifer notes, Bates is the type of guy who needs to be able to launch pull-up 3s without a conscience, but the Suns won’t have many possessions to spare — especially for a guy who routinely takes terrible shots, doesn’t play well with teammates and whose defensive ability was described by Vecenie as “nonexistent.” He’s not a good finisher at the rim or in the midrange right now, he’s too skinny to show much resistance defensively, and his lack of athleticism is another problem.
Finding players who can create their shot at his size is exceedingly rare, and it may be worth a flier if the Suns believe Vogel can instill better principles in him, particularly on defense. But right now, Bates doesn’t play the game the right way, and Phoenix needs guys who can contribute without being a detriment to their playing style.
Second-round Suns target No. 5: Jordan Miller
Vecenie mocked the Suns taking Jordan Miller at No. 52 and has him listed as his No. 50 prospect overall. The 6-foot-7 wing is quite a bit older at age 23, but he’s got a nearly 7-foot wingspan and 8-foot-7 standing reach.
The Miami product averaged 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season, shooting 54.5 percent overall. Despite staying mostly below the rim, Vecenie calls him one of the best wing finishers in the entire draft class, given that he made 64 percent of his shots at the basket in the half-court. Miller plays with tempo but has the body control and IQ to be effective at full speed, getting downhill often as a driver thanks to some crafty finishes off his straight-line forays into the paint.
On the defensive end, he’s not a lockdown guy by any means, but he’s reliable enough to get by at the next level. His length and lateral quickness help him on that end, as do his fluidity, craftiness and overall intelligence.
However, Miller may not be strong enough yet to get to his spots against NBA defenders, since he relies on one perimeter move to get by his initial defender for a straight-line drive. If those defenders have the quickness to stick with him through that first move and the strength to bump him off his spot, he doesn’t have the handle to free himself up or finish through contact.
As Vecenie notes, the biggest determinant of whether he can carve out a role at the next level is his jumper. He made 35.2 percent of his 3s last season at Miami and can function as a spot-up shooter, but it takes some time to load up his catch-and-shoot jumper. If defenses can take away his spot-up looks, and then stick with his initial move off the bounce, he doesn’t have the isolation skills or advanced playmaking to make them pay just yet.
Second-round Suns target No. 4: Adama Sanogo
At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Sanogo is quite a load to handle in the paint. He’s not incredibly quick or explosive athletically, he’s largely a below-the-rim finisher, and he may not have the size to be a starting NBA center.
However, because of his nonstop motor, Sanogo made up for being undersized by regularly outworking his opponents in his junior season at UCONN. The 21-year-old reminded of Montrezl Harrell in that way, but much like Joel Embiid or Kyle Anderson, his exceptional footwork, sweeping strides and body control allowed him to get to his spots despite quicker defenders being able to stick with him every step of the way.
Averaging 17.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, Sanogo was incredibly efficient, shooting 60.6 percent overall and showing growth as a 3-point shooter at 36.5 percent. However, it’s his prolificacy around the basket that gives him a trademark NBA skill. Sam Vecenie did it the most justice in his draft guide:
“He shot 75.6 percent at the basket this past season. Among all 893 players to take at least 150 shots at the rim this past season, Sanogo was 14th-best and second among all high-major players.”
The Suns don’t need a center at the moment, but if they wind up trading DA, it wouldn’t hurt to have a young backup big with great hands. He’s flashed pick-and-pop ability, can attack in the short roll and has the best interior touch of anyone in the draft. Sanogo also touts a solid post-up game, has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, times his rolls well coming off screens and could carve out an NBA niche for himself as a small-ball 5 off the bench.
The biggest issue, apart from his size, is how teams will have to use him defensively. He’s active enough on that end, but he’s not an explosive leaper or weak-side rim protector. As Vecenie notes, he’ll need to work with a coach willing to scheme for him, since he’ll get eaten alive on switches and wasn’t effective in the drop in college. Staying out of foul trouble and finding the right defensive system will be key, but Sanogo’s interior touch is too elite to ignore.
Second-round Suns target No. 3: Colin Castleton
Like Sanogo, Castleton only makes sense if the Suns are dead-set on moving DA. Unlike Sanogo, this 23-year-old Florida product makes his living on the defensive end.
At 6-foot-11, Castleton has a 7-foot-4 wingspan and a ridiculous 9-foot-2 standing reach. He’s lanky for his size, but with that kind of length, it’s no surprise he averaged 3.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game for the Gators last season. According to KenPom, his 9.2 block percentage ranked top-20 in the country among all qualified college basketball players.
His mobility is what NBA teams will really be interested in. Castleton can hold up on the perimeter to contain switches or manage ball-screen coverages. He’s solid in the drop, moves his feet well, cuts off passing lanes and generally fights hard on defense.
The offensive end is where the question marks start to pop up. Although he averaged 16.0 points and 2.7 assists per game last season, he only shot 50 percent from the field and went 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. His 72.9 percent shooting from the free-throw line and his decent shooting form suggest untapped potential as a stretch-big, but he was generally unwilling to shoot in college, even from the midrange.
His ability to stay on the court offensively may depend on developing his shooting into a reliable skill, since he doesn’t create much of his own offense, settles for floaters too often and doesn’t dunk as often as he probably should (which Suns fans will probably agree sounds familiar).
However, Castleton’s got a more reliable handle and feel for passing in his bag, and this late in the second-round, his versatility and rim protection are worth a look. The Ringer mocked him to the Suns at No. 52, and he’s listed as Vecenie’s No. 45 prospect in his draft guide, so there’s a fair chance he’ll be available at this point in the draft.
Second-round Suns target No. 2: Seth Lundy
The Suns need shooting, guys who can come in and contribute right away, and bench players who won’t be afraid of the moment. Seth Lundy checks all three of those boxes.
The critical skill he brings to the table is efficient 3-point shooting. This 23-year-old wing out of Penn State shot 40 percent from 3 overall and made 41 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s last year. He attempted 6.4 3s per game, so those hyper-efficient numbers are even more impressive on that kind of volume.
Lundy was always ready to catch and release, squaring himself up well off movement for clean shots. Throw him a couple pindowns or space him on the wing, and he’ll make defenses pay for giving Booker, Durant or Beal too much attention.
Lundy’s also not too shabby as a shot creator, though that skill will need to be refined as he goes along. He has a decent handle and burgeoning pull-up game, and on the defensive end, he competes. Using a combination of physicality, strength, length (6-foot-10 wingspan) and energy, the 6-foot-6 Lundy should be able to hold his own defensively.
However, this 23-year-old wing may lack the athleticism and lateral flexibility to guard 3s and 4s at the next level, let alone stick with 1s and 2s on switches, which will be exacerbated in the pros because he struggled getting through screens in college. Offensively, he needs to tighten up his handle and improve when it comes to reading the game and making the right play instead of holding the ball. He’s not an intuitive cutter, creative passer or impressive finisher at the rim.
Second-round Suns target No. 1: Jordan Walsh
Like almost every other player on this list, one of the first words that comes to mind with Jordan Walsh is “motor.” The 19-year-old wing out of Arkansas plays hard and aggressive all the time, and he’d provide a truly versatile defensive wing to complement the Suns’ firepower.
Walsh is a bit limited offensively. He won’t get to the basket much off anything other than straight-line drives, and even then, he has blinders on when he gets into the paint. That problem is heightened by his lack of burst to get past perimeter defenders, his subpar handle in the half-court and his underwhelming shooting percentages at the rim. For a 6-foot-7 wing with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and otherworldly 8-foor-11 standing reach, shooting 52.3 percent on layups leaves something to be desired.
Defensively, though, Walsh has All-Defensive team potential. He’s incredibly switchable, with enough strength and more than enough length to spend time as a small-ball 5 if need be. He’s a hound on the perimeter, pouncing on shaky ball-handlers for on-ball pressure and even steals. Walsh fights through screens, has great awareness as a help defender off the ball and generally disrupts opposing teams’ offense in game-changing ways.
His offense is largely reliant on transition and off-ball movement, but he’s active on the offensive end too, setting screens to free teammates up and trying to find openings with cuts. The question is whether he can develop his jumper into something defenses have to respect. He only made 27.8 percent of his 3s last season for the Razorbacks, and although he shoots with confidence, NBA defenses will need to see more of those fall in order to actually command their attention.
With that being said, Walsh is projected to go as early as the 30s, so if he’s somehow still available at No. 52, the Suns should scoop up one of the best defenders in the draft without hesitation. His limitations on offense should not overshadow what he could contribute from day one on the defensive end, especially for a team that could use more defensive-minded wings.
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