How you feel about the Phoenix Suns potentially selecting 19-year-old Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland at No. 6 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft goes well beyond just your overall impressions and projections of the NBA player Garland can be.
It’s complicated, starting with the Suns’ future forecast. (Sorry, couldn’t get a weather-related metaphor in there. I’ll be better next week.)
The Suns want to start competing in a realistic and attainable fashion. They desire a win total of at least 30 next season and look at 2020 as the time to shift toward a playoffs mentality. This was the vision for the 2018-19 season, but we can kindly frame that as a “transition year” to arrive in the James Jones and Monty Williams era.
But it’s naive to not look at Phoenix’s situation from afar to see why a slow and steady approach is a logical conclusion to draw. At first glance, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges are 22 years old, Josh Jackson is 21 and Deandre Ayton is 20. Their next first-round selection will be that young, restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. is 23 and the longest-tenured member of the roster is 25-year-old T.J. Warren.
They should take their time since the roster is so young, right?
Well, there are three things that defy that notion.
One, Booker’s level of play is high enough to where they just need to put the right players around him and he can take you to a certain region of the promised land. The problem is, the lack of quality players and youth around him caps the team’s ceiling despite Booker being one of the 10-20 best offensive basketball players on the planet.
Two, as I’ve written about all season, that coincides with Booker’s craving for winning basketball and how it could interfere with him wanting to stay in Phoenix.
Three, the Suns have a lot of young pieces already. They already have four young wings, two of which are good and one is serviceable. Booker is a borderline star right now and Ayton’s trajectory after one season looks pretty reasonable for a No. 1 overall pick. So how much does the average No. 6 pick help them in terms of what they need?
That’s where we arrive at the point guard position and Garland.
At the very least, the Suns need someone who can be another scoring option as a ball-handler from the perimeter to take the pressure off Booker. Oubre’s slashing line drives to the rim were the only consistent help this past season.
Garland’s biggest strength by far is what he can do on his own or with a ball screen.
He plays at his own pace, which can be a good and a bad thing, but he’s either slowing down or speeding up because he can read two-to-three guys in the defense really well.
The most important attributes that make him lethal here are his handle and burst.
If you’re an old head and you suck, Garland’s hesitations are going to drive you crazy because he’s carrying the ball/traveling a lot. But that’s not the basketball world we live in anymore.
Check out the quick crossover around the ball screen, then stunting the big man on the switch with a hesitation dribble to create a finishing angle.
The bucket is possible because he’s fast enough to benefit from that hesitation dribble and has the handle to execute said hesitation dribble.
He can adjust quickly to coverages. Say the guard is playing him aggressively and the big is now doing the opposite of the above and backing off. As the great Shannon Sharpe said, that ain’t no problem.
As you can tell in that clip, Garland’s fluid footwork and release allow him to be quite the threat shooting off the dribble.
That’s the most important skill for a NBA point guard today and he’s tremendous at it for his age.
This is where we quickly venture into Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard comparisons. While I don’t believe Garland is a top-five prospect in this class, I will say that he does have star potential, which is especially lacking in this group.
With his quickness both as a shooter and ball-handler, that makes him a great off-ball option too.
But there are a couple of snags in his evaluation that directly relate to what we’re talking about with the Suns.
To take it back to what the Suns need to help Booker, they need more threats around Booker to give him space.
The biggest threat is Ayton, and Ayton needs a point guard who not only knows when to get him the ball but can also run an efficient two-man game with him as well.
Now, if that point guard can run their own stuff too, that’s great. But maximizing Ayton should come first. Booker, however, also can’t do everything. Someone else needs to lead the offense from time to time, and while Garland can for himself, he needs to do it for others like Booker does.
That’s where Garland is a worry and I’m not sure he checks either box. Looking at him as a “floor general” and “quarterback of the offense,” as most point guards should be evaluated, is concerning.
Remember when I said Garland can read the pick-and-roll coverages? He can, just like he can see a whole lot of passes across the floor.
It’s a matter of execution and deciding how to capitalize on those reads. I’ll let ESPN’s Mike Schmitz take the wheel and talk us through his required improvement here.
Garland only played four games at Vanderbilt before getting hurt in his fifth and missing the rest of the season. That leaves us an impossible-to-use sample size in terms of efficiency shooting, his assist-to-turnover ratio, defense and so on. Just gotta go off what you see skill-wise, for the most part.
The debate over Garland would be a whole lot easier if he was a traditional point guard. But he’s not. His biggest weakness, essentially, is being a point guard.
I will now steer the ship back to what the Suns have and require.
John Gambaodoro of 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station has reported the Suns want a veteran playing ahead of a rookie point guard if they select one. Can the Suns trust Garland in those minutes for the first year or two of his career until he’s ready? What if they don’t? Does he not play? How much do those spotty minutes really help his development?
This may sound like a dumb thing to say, but a lot of this would have to come down to how special Garland is. He’s raved about in interview settings and is spoken highly of as a person. A lot of this should come down to the read the Suns get when they sit down to him. Can he still thrive in a less-than-ideal situation?
If they like him and he’s available at No. 6, the Suns should probably pick him. Addressing a position of need with a high-upside young talent is a fine outcome, especially considering what else is likely to be there to choose from.
But let’s go hypothetical and say Garland is the pick. So now, the Suns have four of their five long-term starters under the age of 25 for the next two seasons. In Booker’s fifth NBA season for 2020-21, Bridges and Ayton would be in their third year while Garland would be in his second. Unless Ayton is a borderline All-Star, that has to be too young of a group for real success, right?
In a funny way, drafting Garland almost puts more pressure on the Suns to get that veteran point guard and avoid that scenario.
But, what we’re obviously overlooking here is Garland turns out to be a star and now the Suns have a legitimate big three.
It’s not an easy decision if he’s there but what it will provide is a look at how Jones evaluates the draft, the current standing of the team and how young the Suns can afford to be.