And your point is? Drafting the right guard could be key to Phoenix Suns’ success

PHOENIX – Tick, tick, tick. The Phoenix Suns are on the clock.

All eyes are on an organization that has gone nine seasons without a postseason appearance, the second-most in the NBA. The team has the sixth overall pick in today’s NBA Draft that will be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Coverage is set to begin at 4 p.m. (Phoenix time) with the No. 6 pick expected to selected at approximately 5 p.m.

Most analysts agree: The Suns need a point guard. If the team doesn’t pursue a veteran free agent at that position – Darren Collison tops many lists – odds are good the Suns will take one with their first-round pick.

Phoenix has cycled through a number of options in its pursuit to find the right complement to Devin Booker. Despite losing out on the chance to select consensus top-two pick Ja Morant of Murray State, plenty of intriguing options at point guard remain.

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Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt University remains an option for the Suns at six, as most draft observers agree he displays an intriguing combination of long-term upside and immediate offensive production. Garland came into the season as the 16th-ranked prospect according to ESPN and the top point guard in the class. He stood out in his first four games with the Commodores, averaging 19.8 points on 52.8% shooting from the field before injuring his left meniscus minutes into Vanderbilt’s fifth game of the season.

Even with the emergence of Morant, many believe Garland has a legitimate claim to top guard in the class. His offensive skill set projects immediately to the modern NBA, which relies heavily on pick-and-roll action and quick decision-making. Garland is an elite level athlete, displaying a quickness and frenetic energy akin to the NBA’s best at the position.

What separates (Garland) is his skill level,” said Hubie Smith, Garland’s coach at Brentwood Academy. “He has a phenomenal skill package, a phenomenal work ethic, and just a fantastic attitude.”

Well-rounded talent

Garland has been lauded for his ball-handling skills for a 19-year-old guard, showing off an impressive display of deftness with either hand.

“His ball-handling is off the charts, but I would also say his passing is off the charts, his shooting is off the charts, his floaters are off the charts, and his basketball I.Q. is superb,” Smith said. “He just has all the intangibles to be an all-time great player.”

James Jones is optimistic about the Phoenix Suns and believes the team can make an impactful pick in the NBA Draft. (Photo by Justin Parham/Cronkite News)

His most NBA-ready skill may be his jump shot. The Nashville native has a smooth release, allowing him a quick trigger in a variety of different situations.

The biggest criticism surrounding Garland is his shortcomings on the defensive end of the floor. Listed at 6 feet, 2 inches and 170 pounds, critics say Garland is overpowered by bigger and stronger guards who take him off the dribble.

Coby White from the University of North Carolina is another popular option for the Suns at six. His frenetic energy, speed and wild hair quickly made him a fan favorite among the Tar Heel faithful, and his ability to mesh with a talented but often disjointed UNC team made him an integral member of the starting lineup. As a freshman, White started all but one game for the Tar Heels, averaging 16.1 points on 42.3% shooting while dishing out a team-high 4.1 assists.

He presents a similar skillset to that of Garland, as both prospects possess finishing and shot-creating skills but have defensive deficiencies. White is a little taller and more physical, coming in at 6-5 and 185 pounds. In the NBA, White will project as more of a combo guard rather than a true point guard, as his long-term outlook will likely be determined by his ability to translate his chaotic style to the NBA.

“If you’re in transition, and he’s coming at you,” said Rob Salter, White’s coach at Greenfield High School, “you’re at his mercy.”

In the half court, White’s speed stands out. Draft experts rave that his ability to beat defenders off the dribble is advanced for his age, and in the pick and roll White is able to leverage his speed for easy buckets.

“His body control is unbelievable,” Salter said. “You think the defense has cut him and off and he can just slide through defenders and just maneuver his body to get in there and score.”

Pac-10 standout

Matisse Thybulle from the University of Washington is a different prospect than either Garland or White. A four-year starter for the Huskies, Thybulle withstood coaching and scheme changes to become one of the most successful players in Washington basketball history.

A two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, Thybulle wreaked havoc this past season at the top of the Huskies’ vaunted 2-3 zone. The Pac-12’s all-time leader in steals, Thybulle averaged 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game as a senior. Standing 6-5 with long arms and quick feet, Thybulle is expected to hold his own defensively very quickly in the NBA.

As a whole, Thybulle possesses one of the draft’s most unique profiles and many believe he could be the rare rookie who can contribute immediately for whatever team selects him.

Although he doesn’t exactly fit the profile of the pure point guard Phoenix is likely searching for this offseason, his pairing with Booker would present an interesting contrast of skills that could provide immediate improvement for the Suns on both ends of the floor. Starting Thybulle next to Booker would shift Booker into much more of a scorer and creator-type role, a role in which he thrived toward the end of last season. The belief is the pairing would alleviate much of the offensive pressure from Thybulle, allowing him to focus primarily on defense where he would match up with the litany of talented guards that currently populate the Western Conference.

Armed with the sixth and 32nd picks, the Suns will likely look to address the point guard position at some point in the draft. Garland and White are expected to be options at six, while Thybulle would be a probable  selection at thirty-two. No matter what players the Suns select, fans are hoping they can help produce the team’s first playoff berth in 10 seasons.

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