Friday, April 20, 2007

Keeping An Eye On #4

In the Year of Oden/Durant, the attention has obviously focused mainly on the top two picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and for good reason. However, the lingering secondary issue is that of the #4 picks. We all know that the Hawks have to give a top-3 protected pick to the Suns as part of the Joe Johnson deal, so if the ping-pong balls go crooked for Atlanta, Phoenix will be looking at the rare opportunity to bolster a 61-win team with a top five pick in one of the most loaded drafts in years.

Atlanta finished the year with the fourth-worst record in the league and has 13.7% of the ping-pong balls. So they aren't completely out of luck, but if things shake out by the numbers, they will be on the outside looking in and Phoenix will have the #4 pick.

So the question becomes: what will Phoenix do with it? I see the Suns going one of four different directions with this glorious opportunity:

1. Trade the pick(s) for a star. Phoenix also has the #24 pick (Cavs pick, sent to Boston in the Jiri Welsch trade - which has to sting Cleveland more than a little bit - and then traded last year for Rajon Rondo) and its own pick at #29. Considering what a deep draft this is, there is an opportunity to tantalize a rebuilding team. If Sarver is willing to pay luxury tax dollars next year, the Suns could turn picks into another star player and really make a title run. Or they could attach picks to Marion (who seems to want out anyway) and get back a younger star with a more affordable deal. I've been thinking a sign-and-trade with Seattle for Rashard Lewis (in exchange for the #4 and #29 picks, plus Boris Diaw) would work for both teams, but can't be bothered to run the salaries, so I have no idea if this would work.

2. Go big, then small for depth. Despite the Kurt Thomas trade and the Marcus Banks signing, the Suns are still incredibly thin. They would have been better off not making those moves, keeping Q, drafting David Lee in 2005, and then taking Rondo last year, as detailed here. But that ship has sailed and now they have the chance to reload on the fly. The biggest needs are for a rebounding, shot blocking big man (it is pretty sad that they still miss Stephen Hunter after two years), and of course a backup point guard not named Marcus Banks. The prevailing theory in the NBA is that you go big first, which makes sense here, because they are sure to get a stud at #4. With Oden and Durant going off the board at 1 and 2, that leaves Al Horford and Brandan Wright sitting there for the next two teams. It seems likely that the next team would take one of them, leaving Phoenix to have the other. Horford would seem to be a slightly better match because of his toughness, but Wright was an underrated shot blocker at UNC during his freshman year. Adding either guy to the frontline rotation would be huge. From there, Phoenix can address its perimeter situation with the #24 and #29 picks. They could either spend both picks on point guards, use one on a point and one on a wing, or move one of the picks like they did last year.

3. Go small, then big for depth. The problem with simply snatching Horford or Wright at #4 is that this is the rare year in which there might be more decent big men available late than there are guards, especially point guards. I guess it is possible that Acie Law could slide to #24, but it seems remote. They could reach for Aaron Brooks or Taureen Green at #29. But these guys all pale in comparison to Mike Conley Jr. Conley would be a reach at #4, but when you get a gift of a lottery pick, why not spend it on the guy you really want and need? Guys like Tiago Splitter, Jason Smith, Aaron Gray, Josh McRoberts, and Marc Gasol have all been projected by some sites to last until late in the first round, so it seems Phoenix can add some frontcourt depth at #24. And with swingmen galore in this draft, they can add an NBA talent even as late as #29.

4. Draft an upgrade. The other option for Phoenix is to worry about depth late and instead look to draft a player that can actually push for a starting spot and possibly beat out a weak link. Nash, Barbosa, Marion, and Amare are all secure in their minutes as long as they wear orange and purple. So the only place you could look to upgrade the six-man rotation (normally I would focus on starters, but Barbosa really extends their lineup to six starters) is with Raja Bell or Boris Diaw. The key to Diaw is his versatility, so even though guys like Horford and Brandan Wright project to be better pure big men, I don't think you go there for the upgrade. So that leaves Julian Wright (over Diaw) and Corey Brewer (over Bell). Which one seems like a better bet? That seems easy; it is Brewer. He is basically a (much) taller and (much) more skilled version of Bell. He would give Phoenix the same tenacious defense, deep range (although he will need to improve that stroke), and fire that Bell brings, but with more length, skill, and athleticism. It would be like blending Bell and Tayshaun Prince, really.

So those seem to be the options. Phoenix could also try to move down just a few spots and gamble on grabbing their guy under options 3 and 4, but the only point of that would be to acquire more assets, and it doesn't seem that they can afford anymore of those.

If I had to bet, I would anticipate them going the safe route, keeping the pick, and drafting Horford or B. Wright. This would allow them to brace for a possible shake up with Marion, and leave them two late first rounders and their mid-level exception to try to get that elusive backup point guard.

1 comment:

Josh Stump said...

Great work here as always. A few thoughts in response:

1. Marion is the odd man out and has to be one of the most consistently underappreciated stars the league has seen. But he has no chemistry with Amare and I think he's done in Phoenix. The bigeest problem with Rashard is that he wants MAX dollars so even if Marion is a luxury tax casualty, they won't have enough room for Lewis. Maybe one of Atlanta's 3s would be more realistic.

2. For what it's worth, word on the street is that Portland will make Rashard their number one off-season priority. That will probably mean they try to move Zach in a 3 team sign and trade deal. How sick would Chicago be with Randolph in the low block? Of course it's tough to see Skiles surviving that, but who knows?

3. I honestly think Atlanta is going to get that number 3 spot and use it to draft Conley. They need a PG and he will be the best on the board and that will this year's Sheldon Williams pick. I like Conley, I think he's a legit first round prospect, but not at 3 in this draft. But it just seems like the kind of thing that would happen in Atlanta. Either that or they'll take Julian Wright and be the first team to start 5 swing players who all think they're guards.