Bear in mind that it was only two years ago that the Phoenix Suns made an NBA draft pick that was widely panned as a stretch and a poor decision. Suns GM James Jones traded down from No. 6 in 2019, taking the 11th pick and Dario Saric from Minnesota, and using that pick on 6-foot-9 shooter Cam Johnson out of North Carolina.
The Timberwolves took Texas Tech 3-and-D wing Jarrett Culver with No. 6, and let’s note: Culver has had injury issues and currently can be had for a sack of basketballs and some cap space. Johnson, meanwhile? He struggled with his own injuries down the stretch but averaged 9.5 points on 58.5% shooting and 47.5% 3-point shooting in the final 11 games of the Suns’ playoff run.
We should bear in mind just how right Jones was on Johnson as we consider his most recent pick, taking Jalen Smith out of Maryland with the No. 10 pick in 2020, ahead of impact rookies like Detroit star Saddiq Bey, the Kings’ Tyrese Haliburton and Tyrese Maxey of the Sixers.
Smith has been widely considered the team’s top trade chip, in part because we know so little about him: He is 6-foot-10 but averaged just 5.8 points in 27 games this season.
Suns Could Package Smith and the 29th Pick
Smith, clearly, did not fit in with this year’s Suns team, which was focused on winning in the short term and not on his development.
Assuming that is the path the Suns continue to take, and Phoenix attempts to keep building forward on its 2021 run to the NBA Finals by adding veterans, Smith could be moved in the coming days. A package of Smith—essentially a rookie because of a lack of playing time this year—and the Suns’ No. 29 pick figures to land the team a sturdy veteran for the upcoming playoff push.
That’s if the Suns want to go in that direction. They could opt to let Smith and a rookie develop on the bench and look for upgrades elsewhere.
The Suns are in the market for guard help even before free agency gets underway next week. With both star starter Chris Paul and remarkable backup Cameron Payne behind him set for free agency, the Suns need to be prepared to add some new blood to the guard mix.
Suns Sitting on Good Options in the NBA Draft
Jones was awarded this year’s Executive of the Year award in the NBA, primarily for the acquisition of Chris Paul in the offseason but also for the hiring of Monty Williams and, yes, the drafting of Johnson.
Remember just how widely panned Johnson was when selected. The Sporting News graded the Johnson pick an “F” with writer Chris Stone saying, “This selection is frankly awful.” The picked earned a D grade from SB Nation, the Detroit News, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated. SI’s Jeremy Woo noted, “This is an extreme reach for the Suns.”
So perhaps there should be some faith in the fact that Smith, if given a chance, could develop over time. Either way, the Suns are entering the draft in a strong position—they have the ability to be patient with some youngsters, or they could be aggressive and add to their veteran depth.