Jalen Lecque

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Suns improve, but to what end?

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

While coaching Marist, Jeff Bower hosted a middling recruit named Cameron Johnson. Bower was ahead of the curve. Bringing Johnson to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference would’ve been a coup. Bigger programs eventually realized Johnson’s ability, and he bypassed Marist for the ACC (Pittsburgh then North Carolina).

Bower and Johnson reunited this summer. The Bower-employing Suns drafted Johnson No. 11 overall.

Delightful coincidence or distressing signal?

Since leaving Marist, Bower got hired by the Pistons, ran day-to-day operations in Detroit’s front office the entire San Van Gundy era, got fired by the Pistons, sat out a full season and got hired by Phoenix. It has been a long time since his initial meeting with Johnson.

Put another way: Johnson is old.

At 23, he’s one of the oldest lottery picks in the last 20 years. His 23-and-over company aside from Buddy Hield (No. 6 in 2016) is uninspiring. The others: Ekpe Udoh (No. 6 in 2010), Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13 in 2009), Al Thornton (No. 14 in 2007), Rafael Araújo (No. 8 in 2004), Melvin Ely (No. 12 in 2002), Fred Jones (No. 14 in 2002), Courtney Alexander (No. 13 in 2000).

Johnson is a polished shooter. There’s a chance he could fill a rotation role for Phoenix next season. But it’ll be a limited role. His upside appears low. His injury history is troubling.

Off all the ways the Suns misplaced their priorities and operated like novices this summer, drafting Johnson stands out.

Phoenix entered the draft with the No. 6 pick then traded down for No. 11 and Dario Saric. Saric is a fine player, but not someone – one year from free agency – who justifies watching prospects like Jarrett Culver and Coby White go off the board. Then, the Suns made the shocking reach for Johnson.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, that multi-blunder process doesn’t even cover everything that went wrong this summer. In James Jones’ first year as general manager, the Suns were determined to get their desired players and improve quickly. Missions accomplished. But Phoenix’s short-term upgrades came with too little consideration for value and where the team is in its ascent.

The big addition was Ricky Rubio – a solid starting point guard on a team that had no point guard. He’ll solidify so many disparate parts around him. But h didn’t come cheap at three years, $51 million.

A pair of draft-day trade agreements with the Pacers and Celtics helped clear cap room for Rubio. But Phoenix’s return was disappointing. The Suns traded up from No. 32 to No. 24, relinquished the Bucks’ 2020 first-rounder, unloaded T.J. Warren (three years, $35.25 million remaining) and took Aron Baynes (one year, $5,453,280 remaining). I at least like using the No. 24 pick on Ty Jerome.

That didn’t open enough cap space for Rubio, though. So, the Suns had to trade Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and a second-rounder or two to the Grizzlies for Jevon Carter. None of those prospects – including 2017 No. 4 pick Jackson – are great. But Phoenix had to forfeit some upside in order to clear cap room.

The Suns used the full room exception on Frank Kaminsky (two years with a team option). Again, not great value.

Neither was re-signing Kelly Oubre for two years, $30 million. But at least that was justifiable, because Phoenix held him at a lower number and had his Bird Rights. Oubre is an interesting young player who fits the long-term vision the Suns should be prioritizing.

Phoenix didn’t completely ignore youth this summer. Cheick Diallo and undrafted Jalen Lecque have upside and signed deals that grant substantial team control. Still, they were low-priority moves.

It’s easy to see what happened in Phoenix. The Suns have missed the playoffs a franchise-worst nine straight years and got impatient. They want to win now.

Rubio will help. The other new role players will help. New coach Monty Williams will help.

But even with all its immediate improvements, Phoenix is highly unlikely to make the playoffs next season. Would going from 19 to 34 wins really feel that much better, especially considering the downgrade in lottery odds? I don’t think so.

The bigger picture hasn’t changed much. The Suns are building around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Phoenix can still grow into a winner around those two.

I doubt it happens next season. And because of this summer’s moves, the Suns will have fewer resources to use when Booker and Ayton are actually ready to win.

Offseason grade: D+

Ten best players not taken in 2019 NBA Draft

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Fred VanVleet hounded Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals, hit big shots, and played an important role in the Toronto Raptors winning their first ever NBA title.

VanVleet was undrafted.

So was his teammate Jeremy Lin. And the Warriors’ Quinn Cook. Then there’s Seth Curry, Robert Covington, Kent Bazemore, Joe Ingles, Yogi Ferrell, Allonzo Trier, Jonathon Simmons, Langston Galloway, Matthew Dellavedova, Royce O'Neale, Maxi Kleber… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of undrafted players making an impact in the NBA.

Who are the guys overlooked in the 2019 NBA Draft that teams may regret not snapping up? Here are our top 10:

Luguentz Dort, 6’4” shooting guard, Arizona State. He was the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year and his value at the next level is as a defender, he was tenacious as an on-ball guy (although not every scout is so sure about that). Some people thought he was a late first-round pick. What scared teams off? He’s a shooting guard who shot 30.7 percent from three last year. That has to improve (and reportedly has in workouts). OKC quickly locked him up after the draft.

He also has to become a better finisher at the rim, he was inconsistent there. But with his potential, it’s a surprise to see him go undrafted.

Naz Reid, 6’10” center, LSU. He has a world of potential, and while he’s a project big man, there were a lot of project bigs taken in this draft. Minnesota locked him up after the draft.

Reid can put the ball on the floor, shot better than 35 percent from three, has a good touch, and is the kind of big who could grab the board and bring the ball up himself. However, he seemed disinterested in defense (and occasionally offense) this season. Does he love basketball? That may have been the biggest reason he fell, but he has a chance to prove guys wrong.

Brian Bowen, 6’7″ wing, Sydney Kings. It didn’t take long after the draft for the Indiana Pacers to lock Bowen up.

Rather than play in college, Bowen went to Australia and played against men (and alongside Andrew Bogut). He’s got an NBA shooting touch, more confidence now, and knows how to play a physical game. It’s a surprise a team didn’t give him a shot before the Pacers.

Shamorie Ponds, 6’1” point guard, St. Johns. He’s got a lot of playground in his game, both for good and bad. He’s got impressive handles and uses that and some hesitation moves to get space and get to the rim or pull up for a jumper. After that, he’s got work to do. He has to get stronger, he has to be better at setting up teammates, his shot needs to be more consistent, and his defense needs to improve. A project, but if he puts in the work he could be a rotation guard in a few years.

DaQuan Jeffries, 6’5” wing, Tulsa. He has the raw tools to be a 3&D role player in the NBA — he’s very athletic, shooting range, he has a 7-foot wingspan — but it’s going to take a lot of development to get him there. Orlando is going to give him that chance.

Jeffries’ ball handling has to improve, and he has to be far more consistent. He had a good showing at the Portsmouth Invitational, which helped boost his draft stock, but just not enough.

Jontay Porter, 6’11” center, Missouri. The concern here is obvious — he has two ACL tears. He wasn’t the most athletic prospect to begin with, but the medical reports are the reason he fell out of the draft. Porter has skills as a shooter out to the arc and he plays a high IQ game, plus he fights hard for rebounds and tries on defense. Some team should bring him in this summer and give him a chance.

Terence Davis, 6’5” shooting guard, Mississippi. A guy who has moved up draft boards as the day got closer, but apparently not enough. He a good athlete he has been a decent shooter, if a bit streaky, but if he can become a more consistent shooter and add a little playmaking to his game, Davis can be a role player in the NBA. He’s got to improve his defense and accept a role, but if he can do that he can develop into a scorer off the bench in the league.

Louis King, 6’8” forward, Oregon. Teams see the potential for a stretch four in him, he shot 38.6% from three last season, but he’s just got to get stronger. He’s not quick enough to be a very switchable defender. That said, he can become a role player if he puts in the work — and that’s the big question. Reports have teams concerned about his work ethic and love of the game, and that likely doomed his chances. He has to repair that this summer.

Jalen Lecque, 6’4” guard, Brewster Academy. This is all about the potential. Lecque played last season at a prep school, not in college, he’s a top-shelf athlete with NBA wingspan (6’8.5”) who could be an impressive NBA defender. That’s why the Suns gave him a non-guaranteed contract.

Lecque is very, very raw, his shot isn’t there yet, the game seemed to move too fast for him at the Draft Combine, and there is a lot of development to do here. Still, gambling on a guy with athletic upside is a smart play.

Zach Norvell Jr., 6’5″ shooting guard, Gonzaga. In a league that needs shooting, Norvell can get red-hot and has ridiculous range. Yes, there were questions about his athleticism, and with that who he could defend, but considering who was taken it’s surprising to see a good shooter left on the sidelines.

• One Bonus note: Teams were not nearly as high on Tacko Falls as fans. Maybe he proves everybody wrong and pans out, but he has no range to his game. He’s an old-school style center in a league getting away from those kinds of players, and teams were concerned he cannot keep up with the pace of the NBA. This isn’t college where he can just be planted near the rim, plus he needs to get a lot stronger to compete inside in the NBA. He’ll get a Summer League invite, no doubt, but he has a lot of work to do to get where he wants to be.

Coby White astonished by Suns drafting Cameron Johnson No. 11 (video)

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North Carolina point guard Coby White – the Bulls’ No. 7 pick – was doing his NBA draft media session when the Suns chose North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson No. 11.

I recommend the video to see White’s emotions, but the the transcript captured his words:

Q. Cameron Johnson just went 11th. How do you react to that news?

COBY WHITE: Cam went 11th?

Q. Yeah, it’s right on the screen right there.

COBY WHITE: Wow. Wow. Wow, bro! That’s crazy. That’s so low, bro. Y’all know Cam? You don’t know how hard Cam worked. There’s a lot of people that doubt him. But wow, that’s crazy, bro. Wow, that’s so crazy. I’m so happy for him right now. Y’all don’t understand how happy I am for Cam. He proved it night in, night out that he deserves to be in the conversation for a lottery pick, man. He shot the ball like anybody I’ve never seen before in my life or played with. Wow. I’m getting chills up here.

I had a similar reaction – minus the deep happiness for Johnson, whom I’ve never met.

I was stunned.

Johnson ranked No. 27 on my board, and that wasn’t a major outlier. Johnson was a fifth-year senior who does little besides shoot. (At least he shoots very well). There are also long-term health concerns.

Suns general manager James Jones is definitely putting his stamp on the franchise. He traded T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers, traded the No. 6 pick to the Timberwolves for the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric, traded for No. 24 pick Ty Jerome (another upperclassman) and gave undrafted Jalen Lecque an unusually large guarantee.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Of all those moves yesterday, drafting Johnson so high was the eye-popping one.

It’s very cool White shared his joy for his teammate. That showed their bond and looked like a genuine moment.

But White also displayed a shock many of us were feeling, and that will probably be what gets remembered.