PHOENIX – Amid a night of excitement and optimism, many fans left the Suns draft party Thursday confused by the events they had just witnessed.
When the day began, Phoenix was in possession of the sixth overall pick and had appeared to zero in on University of North Carolina point guard Coby White. Yet after a flurry of moves that saw the Suns move back to the 11th pick, Phoenix instead opted for a different Tar Heels player and selected forward Cameron Johnson.
Some analysts suggest Johnson, 23, is one of the safer bets in the draft, projecting as an immediate contributor as an off-ball shooter and scorer.
Johnson spent the first three years of his collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh, averaging eight points and three rebounds before transferring to North Carolina for his final two years. There he blossomed into one of the better players in the ACC, averaging 15 points on 47.5 percent shooting while connecting on 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts in his two seasons as a Tar Heel.
“I think he’s going to be a great player and great addition,” Suns fan Will Strothers said. “He’s somebody that we desperately needed.”
The Suns’ wheeling and dealing was not done there, as Phoenix moved back into the first round later in the night as they completed a trade with the Boston Celtics to acquire the 24th overall pick. There the Suns selected University of Virginia point guard Ty Jerome, who similar to Johnson, is believed to be an NBA-ready talent that some suggest is lacking in terms of upside and potential.
A key contributor on the Cavaliers national championship team, Jerome averaged 13.6 points and 5.5 assists in his final season with Virginia.
Johnson and Jerome were not the only additions the Suns made Thursday night, as they added former lottery pick Dario Saric as part of their trade with Minnesota as well as center Aron Baynes in their trade with Boston. Saric, a 25-year-old power forward, will join the third team of his short career as he looks to secure his position within the league. Baynes on the other hand just completed his seventh season in the NBA, and has established himself as a consistent source of rebounding and toughness.
“I appreciate his game and what he brings to the table. He’s going to be a piece of the puzzle” Strothers said on Saric. “I think we’re going to have to figure out what role he’s going to play but once he finds that role, he’s going to be a key player.”
The theme of the Suns’ draft night became clear as the night progressed, as they prioritized immediate production over potential. Their two selections, Johnson and Jerome, were two of the more accomplished players in college basketball this past season and were both important members of two of the best teams in college basketball. Both Johnson and Jerome also project as elite shooters, as Johnson’s 46.5% and Jerome’s 39.7% ranked as the best and seventh best three-point percentages in the ACC this past season. For a fan base hungry for competency, Phoenix appears to believe it is on the right track to compete next season and beyond.
“Hopefully, they can make something happen,” said Suns season ticket holder Joshua Cramer. “But it’s the Suns. I’m not going anywhere. They were here before everybody else, they were the team my parents were a fan of. I’m hoping to be a generational Suns fan.”