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Setting expectations for Toumani Camara, Suns' 52nd overall pick in 2023 NBA Draft

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
June 23, 2023

The 2023 NBA Draft didn’t provide any additional fireworks in the form of a Deandre Ayton trade or a move up into the first round, but the Phoenix Suns still found value with Toumani Camara, their lone selection at No. 52.

A 6-foot-8 forward out of Dayton, Camara was projected by most mock drafts to go late in the second round or not at all. The 23-year-old from Brussels, Belgium, went 57th overall on The Ringer’s final mock draft, while The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie ranked him 67th on his big board.

We won’t pretend to be intimately familiar with the new Suns rookie’s game after one night of reading draft analysis and watching YouTube highlights. Doing so would be an insult to the fine folks who put in hours of work into studying all the college and international prospects leading to up NBA Draft night.

But even though Camara wasn’t listed on our five second-round prospects to keep an eye on, we’re nothing here if not well-researched. From taking a look at the numbers, some film and plenty of pre-draft writeups, we can piece together the type of player Phoenix is adding to its roster. Expectations for a guy taken this late in the draft should be tempered, but recent contributors picked at No. 52 in three of the last four years — Luke Garza, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jalen McDaniels — prove it’s possible to find capable role players here.

Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at the latest Sun, Toumani Camara.

Toumani Camara’s defense

Camara grew up in Brussels and is now the fourth Belgium-born player in the NBA, following in the footsteps of Tony Parker, Xavier Henry and Frank Ntilikina (though those three were all raised in other countries). After representing his country in the 2016 FIBA U16 European Championships, Camara moved to the United States. He attended Chaminade-Madonna Prep School in Hollywood, Florida, playing basketball there for four years before becoming a four-star recruit.

Camara spent his first two years playing college ball for Georgia before transferring to Dayton for his junior year. As a senior, he averaged 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, leading the Atlantic 10 in rebounding while earning Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team and Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team honors.

Thanks to his 7-foot-1 wingspan, 8-foot-11 standing reach and 220-pound frame, Camara is physically built to play the 4-spot at the next level. His multi-positional defense is his greatest asset to the Suns at this point, since he’s a switchable forward who can sit down and guard his man and also be relied upon to show up in the right spots as a help defender.

Thanks to all that length and smooth footwork, Camara generates a solid number of steals. He averaged 1.2 per game his final season at Dayton, showcasing good defensive instincts for disrupting plays, tracking off-ball shooters and stopping drivers dead in their tracks:

Although he only averaged 0.8 blocks per game in college, he showcased some skill as a weak-side rim protector as well. The Suns need 3-and-D players to put around Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, and between Jordan Goodwin and Toumani Camara, they’ve now added two lockdown defenders.

Goodwin is more of a point-of-attack ball-stopper, but Camara is no slouch when it comes to containing perimeter ball-handlers or slashers either:

Toumani Camara’s offense

The offensive end is where Camara will need to prove himself. Although the Suns don’t need a ton of shot creation or individual scoring ability behind their star trio, they could use reliable 3-point shooting. Some extra ball-handling and playmaking on the wing never hurt either.

Unfortunately, Camara may not have the perimeter skill-set to provide those things right now, which could make it difficult for him to match up with NBA 4s as the league continues to evolve to a more perimeter-oriented game. Although he was probably forced to do too much of both with the Flyers in college, Camara is shaky as a ball-handler and playmaker. He recorded 1.7 assists to 2.1 turnovers per game as a senior, giving him a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.

As Vecenie points out in his draft guide, Camara just doesn’t look comfortable handling the ball. While that’s not the end of the world for a 4-man, he doesn’t pose much of a threat when he catches the ball on the perimeter outside of straight-line drives, lacking an explosive first step to get past good closeouts.

The good news is he won’t be tasked with playmaking or ball-handling in Phoenix as often as he was at Dayton. The bad news is some of those skills will still need refining if he wants to carve out minutes for himself on a title contender. Otherwise, he won’t pose much of a threat attacking closeouts off the bounce at this level.

That, of course, is assuming NBA defenses bother to close out on him at all. The biggest question mark with Camara is whether the improvement he showed with his 3-point shot last season is sustainable. To his credit, Camara improved his efficiency by a significant percentage every season he was in college, going from 17.2 percent as a freshman to 26.3 percent as a sophomore to 33.8 percent in his first season at Dayton to 36.3 percent last year.

However, that number came on only 80 attempts total, which is a small sample size. He only made 66.9 percent of his free throws, which is an area that can offer a frame of reference for a player’s shooting potential.

Vecenie notes that Camara made a respectable 36.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s, but as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pointed out, that number dropped from 40.4 percent on 89 open catch-and-shoot 3s over his two seasons with Dayton to just 25.5 percent on 47 attempts when guarded.

For what it’s worth, the mechanics of his lefty release look smooth enough. His shot pocket is a bit low, and he’ll need to increase his tempo to get it off against NBA contests, but there’s a foundation to work with here:

Camara will have to prove his progress as a 3-point shooter is real, but despite his flaws, he’s not useless on the offensive end. He can’t create much with the ball in his hands, but he’s an effective cutter who can find openings diving from the perimeter or hiding out in the dunker’s spot for easy looks.

He’s also an effective finisher around the basket, showing the type of quick-twitch athleticism that’ll help him dunk on people without much notice:

Camara shot 54.6 percent overall last season, and as Vecenie mentioned, he converted an impressive 64.6 percent of his shots at the rim in the half-court. He can set screens and roll, he can pick-and-pop. and he’s good at crashing the offensive glass, averaging 2.0 offensive boards per game over his four years in college.

To sum up, these words from Vecenie should be music to the Suns’ ears:

“He doesn’t need the ball all that often to find production, and that’s valuable in conjunction with his defense.”

Expectations for Toumani Camara

In a reduced role where he’s no longer asked to be a decision-maker and instead becomes more of a play finisher, Camara may be able to be serviceable enough to allow his defensive attributes to shine. He shouldn’t be asked to do much creation and doesn’t have much of a midrange or pull-up game.

But if he can just be an average threat from 3-point range, crash the offensive glass, and put pressure on defenses by cutting when they pay too much attention to Phoenix’s prolific scorers, he’s got enough defensive upside to warrant a look. A defensive-minded head coach could find ways to deploy him and Goodwin to wreak havoc on opposing pick-and-rolls with incredibly switchable lineups.

Second-round picks are rarely guaranteed playing time in this league, especially on a team with championship aspirations. It’s also somewhat amusing James Jones found a way to acquire a Torrey Craig-like player for a third time, especially with a four-year college prospect who’s already 23 years old.

But the Suns could’ve done worse this late in the draft than a prospect being compared to Craig, especially with their need for defense and bench contributors on cheaper contracts.

As Vecenie writes, “If you’re looking to invest in a draft prospect who could help you sooner rather than later if the shot comes through, Camara is a good one to take a flier on.”

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