The 2013 NBA draft is now just a little over a month away, and Phoenix Suns fans may want to circle the date (June 27), as it could be the most important night of the offseason for this team.
As of now, the Suns have their own pick (fourth overall), Miami's first-round pick (30th overall), and Denver's second-round pick (57th overall). But with the NBA lottery less than a week away, that fourth overall pick could still change.
After finishing the season with a 25-57 record, it is clear that the Suns have a lot of work to do, and they need help at more than one position. Point guard may be left alone as Goran Dragic was the team's best player this season, but the Suns desperately need help on the wings and down low.
Because Phoenix could use youth at several different positions, there is no clear-cut choice for the team's lottery pick. As of now, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo appear to be the four top candidates, but there is no consensus on which one would be the best choice.
As a result, many expert mock drafts have conflicting feelings about who the Suns should take in the first round.
Let's take a look at some of these online mock drafts to get a better idea of which draft prospects could prosper in Phoenix.
First, let's start with a mock from ESPN analyst Chad Ford (insider required).
Ford has the Suns going with Victor Oladipo fourth, and Kentucky shooting guard Archie Goodwin 30th.
Considering that McLemore is taken with the second pick in this draft, Oladipo is the next best shooting guard available for the Suns.
Oladipo, the 6'5" guard out of Indiana, is not the go-to scorer that the Suns crave. It simply isn't in his nature to score 20 points per game. However, he has a wide array of skills, and in a best-case scenario, perhaps his career will emulate that of Andre Iguodala or Luol Deng.
Oladipo is quite explosive, and his athleticism allows him to get out in the fast break and perform emphatic dunks. He almost always takes smart shots, as evidenced by his crazy 60 percent field-goal shooting, and his 6.3 rebounds per game average is fantastic for a guard.
For the Suns, Oladipo could be used on offense as a great option to catch and shoot in the corner, do a backdoor cut and finish a play off the pass, or thrill the crowd with an exciting alley-oop on a fast-break play.
But what really makes him a potentially special player is his elite defense.
Oladipo led the Big Ten with 2.2 steals per game and a defensive rating of 86.9. He has enough defensive potential to come into the NBA and immediately be a force on the defensive end. If all goes well, he would be contributing on the offensive end while being trusted to take on elite guards such as Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
Archie Goodwin, the freshman guard out of Kentucky, is an interesting pick for the Suns.
On the bright side, Goodwin has tremendous length, standing 6'5" tall with an enormous 6'10" wingspan. He is also very aggressive at getting to the rim and can isolate to create offense for himself, and he is a solid perimeter defender.
But Kentucky struggled all season long, and Goodwin did, too. He was inconsistent with his shooting stroke and shot just 44 percent from the field and 27 percent from downtown.
He also turned the ball over 3.1 times in just 31.8 minutes per game, and he is only 18 years old, making him one of the youngest players in this draft class. With that being said, is Goodwin truly ready for the huge transition to the NBA so soon?
This is a pretty good mock draft, and with Noel and McLemore off the board, I do believe that Oladipo would be the best option for the Suns because of the defensive upside he brings.
However, drafting two guards in the first round isn't a great idea. Goodwin isn't a particularly enticing prospect, and if the Suns do take a shooting guard/small forward such as Oladipo with their first pick, they should probably target some frontcourt help later in the first round.
The second mock draft comes from nbadraft.net, and has the Suns taking Cody Zeller and James Ennis in the first round.
The Suns could use a center to replace Marcin Gortat, who only has one year left on his contract, but if Noel is gone, Alex Len may be a better option than Zeller.
The 7'0" center had a fantastic freshman season with Indiana, putting up 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 62 percent from the field.
So what's the problem? In his sophomore season, Zeller's production remained fairly stagnant and he was unable to develop into the dominant prospect that some thought he could become.
In fact, Zeller's PER, effective field-goal percentage and offensive rating all went down in his second season with Indiana, and he committed 0.6 more turnovers per game in about the same amount of playing time.
Zeller is still an athletic player, and quick 7-footers with the ability to run the floor don't come around so often. But Zeller is purely an offensive force, and he would do little to help the Suns improve their defense down low.
Even on offense, his short 6'8" wingspan (smaller than the 6'5" Archie Goodwin mentioned earlier) and small hands would put him at a disadvantage when it comes to finishing down low.
James Ennis is a fairly unknown prospect coming out of Long Beach State, but he is an interesting name to watch. There are a lot of wings available to be taken in that 25-35 pick range, but Ennis could be a candidate for Phoenix.
In his sophomore season as the main man for the 49ers, the 6'7" small forward put up 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. He was named the Big West Player of the Year after leading his team to a regular season conference championship.
Ennis is a very versatile player with the ability to contribute in all sorts of ways. He is athletic enough to drive to the rim, large and strong enough to grab rebounds and has the range to make three-pointers.
On the other hand, Ennis did lead the Big West with 99 turnovers (three per game), and he himself said that he needs to improve his on-ball defense.
There hasn't been a lot of news around Ennis, but keep your eyes open for that name as we get closer to the draft.
As for Zeller, this was one of the few mock drafts still taking the center as a top-five pick. But some of the concerns about him are justified, and there are several other prospects the Suns should strongly consider taking with their pick before Zeller.
The final mock draft comes from Bleacher Report's very own Jonathan Wasserman, who has the Suns taking UNLV forward Anthony Bennett and Kansas center Jeff Withey.
Anthony Bennett, the undersized tweener, is expected to be a top pick, and he is one of the most versatile scorers in his class.
Bennett is a powerful and explosive leaper who can stun the crowd with great dunks, and he can either score in the paint on opposing big men or shoot mid-range jump shots and three-pointers. He would bring some excitement back to the U.S. Airways Center with his highlights.
Bennett averaged 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game for UNLV, and he could be an exciting prospect to watch, despite a shoulder injury that will keep him out for four months.
I personally believe that Oladipo is the better pick fourth overall, but Bennett could really help strengthen the frontcourt, as Luis Scola is only getting older, Channing Frye is returning from enlarged-heart issues and Markieff Morris shows potential but may not be ready to be a full-time starter just yet.
Then, center Jeff Withey would join Kansas alums Markieff and Marcus Morris to add some depth down low, which may be necessary if the Suns consider trading Marcin Gortat sometime before his contract expires next summer.
Withey has a fantastic 7'3" wingspan, and he has developed into one of the best post defenders in the NCAA.
On offense, Withey is a great target for point guards on the move and he thrives in pick-and-roll scenarios. However, his average lower body strength often prevents him from establishing good post position, and he is not a great offensive weapon with his back to the basket.
But on defense, Withey was fantastic. In 30.9 minutes per game, Withey averaged 3.9 blocks and put up a defensive rating of 83.7. Both of those statistics led the Big 12 in 2012-13.
Withey may not be expected to be the team's future starting center, but at the very least he would be a strong defensive presence to protect the rim and intimidate opposing offenses in a bench role.
This is by far my favorite of the three mock drafts, and although the Suns don't address their urgent need of a wing player, they vastly improve the frontcourt with two solid prospects. With one specializing on offense and the other on defense, the Suns would hopefully see improvement on both ends of the court next season.
However, Bennett and Withey is not the best combination for the Suns in the first round. Withey would be a fantastic pick if he falls to 30th overall, but Victor Oladipo is the better prospect to take fourth, as Chad Ford suggested.
With Oladipo and Withey, the Suns draft two defensive specialists to hopefully start becoming the smart, defensive-oriented team that Lindsey Hunter wants to see.
They still would not have a go-to scorer, but that does not necessarily have to be addressed immediately. The Suns could target a new primary scoring option in free agency, going after Monta Ellis or Josh Smith.
Or, they could wait one or two more seasons and hope to find their new clutch scorer in an upcoming draft. If the Suns do not make any major acquisitions in free agency this season, they certainly won't improve enough with just Oladipo and Withey to compete for a playoff spot next season.
They may have another top-five pick, and the 2014 class is expected to be the strongest in years, as it offers fantastic prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle.
Either way, it's now Ryan McDonough's decision of which path to take. But his first test will be the 2013 draft, and if he proves successful in evaluating talent this year, he could potentially make the Phoenix Suns' rebuilding process a relatively short one.