Let the record show that I like the depth of this draft class quite a bit. We're already 17 picks into our highly unreal 2014 NBA Mock Draft, and there are plenty of players left that could potentially make a nice impact at the professional level. Even though what seems like 95 percent of draft coverage is concentrated on the top-tier prospects, this is also an excellent year to be picking in the mid-to-late first round.
When Marcin Gortat and flotsam were shipped to Washington in exchange for Emeka Okafor's expiring contract and a conditional first-rounder in October, conventional wisdom held that the Phoenix Suns would be picking near the very top of the draft. Instead, behind a whirlwind two-point-guard offense driven by Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, the Suns were the league's feel-good story.
Although Phoenix just missed the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference, they submitted a very quality season. In fact, if they happened to play in the East, the Suns probably would've been the second-best team as the playoffs got underway. In the hope of adding onto an already exciting young core, the Phoenix Suns select Adreian Payne from Michigan State University.
Standing at 6-foot-10 with a 7-4 wingspan, Payne is the physical definition of a stretch four. His style of play fits the description, as well: One of his major skills is three-point shooting, as he went 44-104 (42.3%) from behind the arc during his senior season in East Lansing. Also an explosive athlete that can finish alley-oops and attack the basket against aggressive closeouts, his transition as a scorer to the next level should be smooth.
Playing for Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, in an offensive system where forwards like Channing Frye and the Morris twins run pick-and-pop and shoot spot-up threes from behind the arc and others like Miles Plumlee catch lobs off the pick-and-roll, would be a perfect fit for Payne's talents. Earlier in the fake draft, Dave got his Ryan McDonough on and selected Creighton's Doug McDermott for Phoenix. I'll double up on a somewhat similar player and we're going to attempt to outshoot the entire league.
There are questions about Payne's age (23 years old), endurance (small lungs for his size), and defense, but at this point it's a fairly easy decision. If you want to learn about his character, Google "Princess Lacey" and make sure to bring some tissues.
As always, we solicited some help from a fellow SB Nation blog. In Phoenix's case, that means the excellent Bright Side Of The Sun, which you should all check out. Here's Sean Sullivan's take on my selection of Payne:
Adreian Payne is a great fit for the Suns with the 18th pick. The Suns run a dual point guard offense focused on attacking the rim through the pick and roll, or finding the open shooter on the perimeter, both of which are predicated on spacing the floor. So, Payne’s shooting ability as a stretch four is a key aspect that the Suns will be interested in. Not only that, Payne is very athletic which is crucial to the Suns up-tempo style of offense. And his ability to score inside the post and play above the rim makes him a perfect fit. Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek had a relevant quote about Payne in this regard from his workout in Phoenix, "You don't just want a stretch four guy that does nothing but shoot the ball. You want a guy that can go in the post some and play inside. And if teams want to play a smaller four, they can punish them inside. I think Adreian can do both of those things."The one issue that may hamper Payne’s fit in the Suns’ system is the question of his lung capacity. Apparently, Payne has smaller lungs than a normal person of his size. I watched him workout in Phoenix first hand, and Payne was noticeably winded and very tired after the Suns workout. It’s difficult to say if this is related to his lungs, or possibly just a symptom of recently getting over his bout with Mono. Still, the Suns rarely play their bigs more than 30 minutes a game anyway, and he obviously wasn’t hampered in that regard at Michigan State. So as long as he checks out medically, I'd have a difficult time seeing the Suns pass on Payne if he's still available at the 18th pick.
So there you have it. Payne is off the board, which means that the Chicago Bulls (manned by Justin) are next at the 19th pick. Check back tomorrow and see who gets selected next.