North Carolina guard Cole Anthony (2) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
It’s that time of year again! Well, at least we assume it is.
The 2020 NBA Draft is coming at some point. Probably mid-October. We’ll see.
The Phoenix Suns are currently slotted 10th in the reverse standings, which will hold if neither they nor the Eastern Conference’s Washington Wizards make the playoffs after an eight-game regular season.
Let’s take our time waiting to find out their draft slot by getting familiar with the top prospects.
With a third guard and starting power forward at the top of Phoenix’s shopping list this offseason, it’s actually quite a good class for James Jones and company to comb through.
As always, we start the board off with tiers and will eventually work our way to analyzing how each guy would fit in Phoenix and a Suns-centric board. For now, here’s my first version of a top-20.
After working through part one, we continue by breaking into the lottery for part two.
All statistics via Hoop-Math and Sports-Reference
Tier 4 continued
16. Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina, 19 years old
As covered in part one, it’s hard to top Nico Mannion, but no one was more disappointing to watch this season than Anthony.
As a lead guard prospect who has a lethal one-two of shot-making and ball-handling, it was a matter of Anthony growing off that in his one year at North Carolina to develop more as a point guard.
But not only did his floor general polish remain rather elementary, he also wasn’t even able to put it together as a scorer at the college level.
Constantly making bad decisions with either passes or shots, Anthony shot 38% from the field, nearly averaging as many turnovers per game (3.5) as assists (4.0).
Anthony had surgery on a partially torn meniscus in mid-December, which didn’t give us the full picture. But he did have burst concerns off the dribble before the injury and taking only 20% of his shots at the rim is a red flag for his scoring potential.
A lot of fingers are being pointed toward a bad North Carolina team with terrible spacing for hurting Anthony’s draft stock. His lack of scoring creation and not being able to use that to make his teammates better, however, had something to do with it too.
There were flashes, as there always are with these guys.
I remain enamored with the way he finishes.
Anthony is skilled enough to warrant lottery attention still, but it was a dramatic turn of events over one year for the guy I and some others thought they would have in the discussion for No. 1 last summer.
15. Tyrese Maxey, PG, Kentucky, 19 years old
What the hell do you do with a shot-maker who only made 36.8% of his two-point jumpers and 29.2% of his threes? What happens when he didn’t play much as a lead ball-handler in his one college year when he should be a point guard at the next level? No, we’re not talking about Anthony Edwards yet!
The problem is, I like Maxey, and I’m not alone. He’s tough and plays with a certain level of bravado that wins you over.
A lot of very smart draft people still have him top-10. That’s because Maxey has strong body control and burst, which makes his offense more projectable.
And with those intangibles we discussed earlier, he’s going to bang inside to get buckets despite his size.
Thankfully, all of that stuff translates to defense, where he competes, and again, you’re starting to get won over.
With how Maxey creates separation and gets through to the next level of the defense, he could really be something if his passing and vision improve. Needing that along with his worrying shooting efficiency, though, is why it’s hard to see him as a top-10 guy.
14. Aaron Nesmith, wing, Vanderbilt, 20 years old
There are some links between Nesmith and Cam Johnson.
Nesmith shot a ridiculous 52.2% from three-point range on over eight attempts a game for Vanderbilt in 14 games, and the Commodores did well setting up their primary scorer for those looks.
It’s great to see how many of these are on the move because Nesmith will be utilized in that manner immediately like Johnson was for the Suns so far this year.
But even with how much Nesmith has the ball as a guy averaging 23 points per game, his assisted three-point percentage of 83.3% supports he’s not much of a shooter off the bounce.
So what else is he good at other than that? Eh, that’s the issue.
His athleticism is limited on both ends of the floor. It’s not realistic to expect him to create space as a ball-handler consistently. Ditto in regards to limiting it on the ball defensively despite the effort he puts in there. Even when he gets by defenders, the finishing and passing is nothing more than adequate.
Like Johnson, however, you get a strong read that he’s a team-first guy who will make the right plays on both ends of the floor. Even with his slashing limitations, he’s smart there. With that, his size (stocky build at 6-foot-6 with long arms) and shooting ability, you’ve got a chance at a supporting cast-level wing.
Maybe James Jones will just keep drafting these guys every year. Who knows? I don’t.
13. Precious Achiuwa, big, Memphis, 20 years old
OK, so, here’s what we’ve got.
It’s a high-motor, rim-running, shot-blocking, switchable and wiry big man.
You know the type.
Now watch me pull back the big red curtain as the spotlight shines on the stage! Observe, the man they call Precious, move in space on offense!
Look at him on defense too!
Achiuwa glides through his lateral movements, almost bouncing around, and is able to make those type of jump-cut movements to his benefit as an on-ball defender. Watch that clip again to see how quickly he swings his hips. With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, his potential there is insane.
There’s some future version of Achiuwa that is a ball-handling four who guards anyone. That crack Pascal Siakam fell through won’t get any more company because Achiuwa had a high-enough profile as a freshman, but this is the type!
Here’s the problem: Achiuwa seems to know this and really, really worked through the development of it at Memphis, trying to turn himself into the next Siakam.
Despite being productive still with 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, Achiuwa only shot 49.3% from the floor and had 2.8 turnovers a game. This rim-reaping, glass-eating menace should be shooting at least 60% from the field, probably higher.
But over 30% of his shots were jumpers, and both that and his ball-handling in general are a mess right now.
He’s exploring the potential versatility of his game already before dominating with what he’s good at, and it’s actually revealed his shortcomings there instead of being a potential development point.
How teams feel about corralling the bad of Achiuwa’s game into their own more sustainable improvement trajectory instead of the one he took on himself will be a big deal pre-draft. Some teams will stay far away, but at least a team or three will convince themselves they can craft him into something special.
Achiuwa’s upside is immense. There’s virtually no one like Siakam, even from the beginning of the skill tree layout, but that’s where this kid is at. And even if the ceiling breakthrough never comes, you’ve still got an active, switchy big if he keeps his head on straight. That deserves a lottery spot.
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