Suns work out Burke, other top point guard prospects
JUN 06, 2013 4:40p ET
Of the seven draft prospects under scrutiny Thursday at the US Airways Center practice court, five will spend some (if not all) of their professional work as a primary ballhandler. That’s interesting in these parts because the most productive player on that aforementioned roster is Suns point guard Goran Dragic. Last year’s lottery pick, former North Carolina Tar Heels star Kendall Marshall, is a point guard, too.
“Like I said when I took the job, and it still continues now, we’re going to draft the best player,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough pointed out.
Over a two-day span, McDonough, coach Jeff Hornacek and crew have hosted enough highly regarded players to – if most projections are anywhere near accurate – cover at least half of the lottery spots in the June 27 NBA Draft.
“These guys over the past few days made my decision tougher,” McDonough said.
The cast of point guards featured Michigan sophomore Trey Burke (the Wooden Award winner as national player of the year), Miami sophomore Shane Larkin, lanky Syracuse sophomore Michael Carter-Williams and Lehigh senior combo (not his favorite designation) guard CJ McCollum.
Thursday’s three-on-three format also included point guard Korie Lucious of Iowa State, Akron center Zeke Marshall and 18-year-old French post player Mouhammadou Jaiteh.
McDonough did allow that some current roster considerations would apply when the Suns are on the clock.
“But if one of those guys emerges as the clear best guy at (pick number) five, we’ll take him,” he said.
We’re not sure where Burke will emerge, but he arrived as the presumed leader (in terms of draft range) of this year’s point-guard-prospect pack. And, just like Ben McLemore one day before him, the 6-foot-1 Burke – under business-oriented marching orders from his agent – passed on a group workout to star in a solo audition.
“I wouldn’t mind competing with a group,” said Burke, who demonstrated considerable pluck while almost willing Michigan into the championship game of the NCAA tournament a couple of months ago. “My agent tells me it’s best to compete by myself. I really don’t have a lot to gain by playing with others.”
Taken out of context, that quote would offer a scary bit of philosophy. But in following the typical scripts written for players who could go off the board early, it makes sense. Burke and/or his agent, by the way, are of the opinion he could go “anywhere from 2 to 8 or 2 to 9. We won’t really know until the draft.”
And with a seeming absence of clear-cut elite prospects, we’re seeing a fluid draft lead-up that could be impacted by some of the other players visiting the Suns on Thursday.
One of the most intriguing is the 6-3 McCollum, whose final season of cold-blooded scoring (23.9 over 12 games) was abbreviated by a broken left foot. Escorted into a wider limelight by the rise of two NBA hotshots from smaller Division I schools (Steph Curry of Davidson and Weber State’s Damian Lillard), McCollum has the shooting range and pick-and-roll chutzpah to spend time at either guard position.
“Whatever the team needs,” he said when asked his opinion of being categorized as a combo guard. “I don’t get caught up in that stuff. I’m a basketball player first and foremost.
“I do feel my game translates well to the NBA. My ability to use ball screens and go off the ball I think fits with any system, especially Phoenix. My role will be defined by the team I go to; I’ll build on that and make a name for myself.”
McCollum’s name usually doesn’t come up in the top five on most civilian pre-draft boards. If the Suns feel he’s their guy, however, trading down might be an option. But what would they trade down for? Getting back a player under contract could limit their cap flexibility, and really good talent probably won’t be offered up in a deal to move forward a few spots in this draft.
But McDonough doesn’t have a reputation for using conventional evaluation techniques, so he might find McCollum worthy of the No. 5 pick. That’s what makes this process fun for loyal draft-following fanatics.
Seemingly checking in slightly lower on draft boards are the 5-11 Larkin and 6-6 Williams.
Larkin, who registered the best vertical bounce at the draft combine (44 inches), is a pick-and-roll sharpie capable of passing at a high level and shooting well enough to keep those options open.
It hardly seems likely the Suns would use the fifth pick on an apparent backup for Dragic, especially when that player is under 6 feet. But Williams, who rallied from a slow freshman season to stardom as a sophomore at Syracuse, would be long enough to defend shooting guards while playing in tandem with Dragic.
And with trades offering the potential for different draft variables than we now see for the Suns, the possibility of working with two ballhandlers may be reasonable.
“I think we can play well with each other,” Larkin said when asked if he could thrive in the same backcourt with Dragic or Marshall.
And McDonough, not one to limit his leverage by publicly dismissing the Suns’ potential to do whatever’s necessary on draft night, noted how double-point-guard lineups may be around a while.
“I think there will be a lot of that,” he said, noting the going-small schemes that worked well this season for the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets. “I do see that trend continuing.”