During the James Jones era, the Phoenix Suns have separated themselves and their draft process from the rest of the NBA. That starts during his time as the assistant GM where he was largely credited in the push to trade for Mikal Bridges during the 2018 draft. That move took a backseat to Deandre Ayton being drafted first overall that night, but it established what we should expect from Jones in drafts going forward.
There are definitive similarities between each of Jones’s picks during his short time in power – Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jalen Smith. Paramount among those similarities is experience at a high-level college program. The three players played ten high-major seasons between them and each had at least one season as an All-Conference award recipient. That bounty of experience tends to point toward high basketball IQ and a strong feel for the game.
Another common thread between Jones’s draft picks is a track record of capable shooting. The three combined to shoot 481 of 1225 from deep, good for 39.3%. Free-throw shooting at lower levels has shown to be an accurate indicator for how a prospect will shoot in their NBA career, as well, and the three combined to shoot 635 of 803 from the line, good for 79.1%.
These examples of common threads can help us project Phoenix’s direction in future drafts, and the 2021 draft’s lower end of the first round is a range loaded with these types of players, fortunately for Jones and his scouts. For the purpose of knowing whether you should erupt at the value Jones gets on draft night at pick 29, I’ve separated the prospects the Suns may be looking at into two groups: Likely first-rounders and likely second-rounders, as determined by the more consensus, mainstream draft boards. I’ll also include my own ranking of the player according to my board and a projection of whether the prospect will be available at 29.
UPDATE: I made a mistake not including Auburn’s JT Thor. I amended this mistake, writing about him here.
Likely First Rounders
24 years old, two seasons at Oregon, 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, 6-foot-7 wingspan.
65.6 TS%, 42.4 3FG% on 5.5 attempts per game, 81 FT%.
Arguably the readiest prospect in this class to come in right away, play meaningful minutes, and contribute to winning, Duarte would make a significant impact for Phoenix as a bench wing. His intense playstyle is well-suited to coming off the bench since he doesn’t need any time to get going. That intensity carries over on both ends, as Duarte ranks in the top 10 in the class in stocks (steals plus blocks) per 40 minutes (3.1). His elite shooting would translate immediately and could be the reason he sees the floor so early and often.
Chris Duarte showed his shooting versatility against Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. Can hit shots any way off the dribble in addition to being a great spot up shooter. This was one of his more complete games offensively pic.twitter.com/IgUWX8qLZS
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) July 12, 2021
— I took Duarte at #29 on behalf of Phoenix in @MavsDraft’s 4th Community Mock Draft.
Chances Duarte is on the board when Phoenix picks: 30%
Trey Murphy III (#20)
(met with Phoenix already)
21 years old, two seasons at Rice, one season at Virginia, 6-foot-9, 206 pounds, 7-foot-1 wingspan.
67.1 TS% (4th-best in class), 43.3 3FG% on 4.8 attempts per game, 92.7 FT%.
Murphy fits beautifully in a mold James Jones has gone to before: wing who may be boxed in by some as purely a 3-and-D guy but really has so much more to offer a la Cam Johnson. Even taller and longer than Johnson, Murphy also shot the ball better over his career than the current Sun did in college. Murphy showed by seeking out the Virginia opportunity that he was ready to show pro scouts what he’s capable of and how he can translate to the NBA. It’s that same work ethic and intelligence that made Murphy look so good in his film session with Mike Schmitz that can make him look so good on a team like Phoenix.
UVA's Trey Murphy III (@Treymurphyiii) announced he will be declaring for the NBA Draft while maintaining his collegiate eligibility in the process. Skilled Sharpshooter at 6'9 w/ the ability to play 2-through-4 on both ends of the floor.
67.0% TS = 3rd in ACC & 15th in NCAA pic.twitter.com/xcvk6aiZnK
— League Him (@League_Him) April 13, 2021
Chances Murphy is on the board when Phoenix picks: 35%
Jared Butler (#16)
20 years old, three seasons at Baylor, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, 6-foot-4 wingspan.
62.1 TS%, 41.6 3FG% on 6.2 attempts per game, 78 FT%.
The way I see Jared Butler, the Phoenix Sun, does not involve a lot of early playing time. It does, however, involve very engaging and educational practice sessions around Chris Paul, soaking in as much as he can. Butler has a very strong foundation as a pick-and-roll ball-handler already, and his deep shooting potency plays a big part in that, but he has room to add a more mid-range inclusive side to that pick-and-roll arsenal.
Who better to learn from than Point God himself? The timing could work out that Butler plays spot minutes as a rookie, join the rotation full-time in his second year, and become a starter in year 3 when Paul is on his way out of the league at age 38.
yeah jared butler is cold as hell pic.twitter.com/YNWw6Ukz5A
— Ben Pfeifer (suns FINALS) (@Ben_Pfeifer_) June 16, 2021
Chances Butler is on the board when Phoenix picks: 25%
20 years old, two seasons at West Virginia, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, 6-foot-9 wingspan.
54.2 TS%, 41.4 3FG% on 3.8 attempts per game, 81.3 FT%, 4.8:1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (best ratio in the class).
McBride fits another mold already on the Suns. His fellow former West Virginian, Jevon Carter, was similarly raised by Bob Huggins to be an aggressive point guard on defense who’s also capable of facilitating the offense. McBride shot better both from deep and from the line than his older counterpart, which is a big reason for his greater upside, alongside his taller, longer measurements. Like Butler, Deuce would most likely have to take his time working his way into the rotation immediately, but the upside of learning around Phoenix’s current guards bodes well for his development.
26 seconds of Miles McBride defense… Enjoy pic.twitter.com/DhPLyu2uyN
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) December 7, 2020
Chances McBride is on the board when Phoenix picks: 45%
Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland (#22)
(met with Phoenix already)
20 years old, two seasons at VCU, 6-foot-3, 169 pounds, 6-foot-9 wingspan.
59.5 TS%, 37.1 3FG% on 7.8 attempts per game, 86.2 FT%.
Hyland has one of the most illustrious track records of shot creation and making out of any 20-year-old ever, and the numbers support that. In his sophomore season at VCU, Hyland hit 69 of his 186 three-point attempts, and out of those 69 makes, 67% were unassisted. That self-creation carries over to his finishing as well, at 65% unassisted on his close two-point makes. When a player is as independently productive on offense, it becomes very difficult to keep playing time away from them, so I would think Hyland would play early and often for these Suns.
gonna spam some bones hyland clips i took a little while back, his combo of front end burst to blow by and back end deceleration to evade defenders and finish with balance and touch is wildly impressive pic.twitter.com/KXvljaKgKG
— Ben Pfeifer (suns FINALS) (@Ben_Pfeifer_) July 2, 2021
— I took Hyland at #29 on behalf of Phoenix in @MavsDraft’s 5th Community Mock Draft.
Chances Hyland is on the board when Phoenix picks: 45%
Likely Second Rounders
Joe Wieskamp (#32)
21 years old, three seasons at Iowa, 6-foot-7, 212 pounds, 6-foot-11 wingspan.
61.5 TS%, 46.2 3FG% on 5.1 attempts per game, 77.1 FT%, 42-inch vertical.
Wieskamp is an example of the mold that James Jones — and most NBA teams — drools over: tall, long, strong, experienced wing who doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Wieskamp shot 59 of 118 on catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, good for 50%. That kind of potential becomes even more enticing when acknowledging that many of these attempts come off of off-ball movement a la Duncan Robinson. If he continues to put in the requisite effort on defense to match his offense, Wieskamp could find early minutes if drafted by Phoenix.
February 10 against Rutgers was one of Joe Wieskamp’s best shooting games. 9/14 for 26 points and 10 rebounds with an assist and steal. Deep range, and excellent ability to catch and shoot over defenses on display pic.twitter.com/SuTsS0IGlq
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) July 2, 2021
Chances Wieskamp is on the board when Phoenix picks: 75%
Joel Ayayi (#34)
21 years old, three seasons at Gonzaga, 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, 6-foot-7 wingspan.
66.8 TS%, 38.9 3FG% on 3.0 attempts per game, 77.6 FT%.
Suns fans should be quick to point out Ayayi’s biggest offensive calling card, should Phoenix draft him. Mikal Bridges has had Suns fans spoiled with watching his cuts and Ayayi would only bring more cutting. A strong finisher at the rim (69.8%), he benefitted greatly from playing alongside players with higher usage on offense at Gonzaga, like Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert. Those other threats allowed Ayayi to cut so frequently when given less attention by the defense, and with the Suns’ bevy of offensive creators, Ayayi could thrive as a depth wing early on.
Joel Ayayi is the best backdoor cutter in the 2021 Draft by a wide margin, imo. Just one of the many great skills he has that I think would make him a solid pick for the Sixers at 28. pic.twitter.com/aKM6ZUvYcm
— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) July 9, 2021
Chances Ayayi is on the board when Phoenix picks: 80%
Herb Jones (#36)
22 years old, four seasons at Alabama, 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, 7-foot wingspan.
49.6 TS%, 35.1 3FG% on 1.7 attempts per game, 60.4 FT%.
Jones mirrors the archetype of Jae Crowder quite a bit. As a thicker wing, Jones matches up physically well with the NBA players he would be guarding right now. He’s shown some ability to hit from deep, but he’d have to expand upon it more at the next level to reach his ceiling. Until he develops more skill with the ball, Jones should earn playing time by playing hard, tough, frenetic defense while being a connector on offense, cutting and moving the ball.
This whole possession is elite defense by Herb Jones. Stays in front of Keon Johnson's drives multiple times, shows and recovers, then gets the block. Able to cover so much ground with his height and length pic.twitter.com/Lt81DbAM4C
— CT (@CTFazio24) March 15, 2021
Chances Jones is on the board when Phoenix picks: 95%
Feron Hunt (#70)
(worked out with Phoenix already)
22 years, three seasons at SMU, 6-foot-8, 195 pounds, 7-foot-2 wingspan.
60.5 TS%, 25.0 3FG% on 1.4 attempts per game, 72.4 FT%
Despite his age, Hunt is quite raw in the perimeter facets of his game. He is, however, an elite physical specimen among his peers in the class. Hunt’s athleticism and length will be enough to get a team to take a chance on him, though he’ll have to do a lot of skill work to become a rotational staple in the league. For the sake of familiarization, one could make the Torrey Craig comparison for Hunt, though Craig is a better shooter now than Hunt projects to be.
Giving Feron Hunt any room to drive on you is not a smart move as a defender. Dangerously athletic & quick with long arms that make him a fantastic finisher at the rim (combined with good touch at the rim) pic.twitter.com/4gIIiQDFXc
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) June 10, 2021
Chances Hunt is on the board when Phoenix picks: 98%