ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz details Suns’ ‘mockery’ of NBA Draft scouting

The Phoenix Suns have had two of their most successful seasons over the last two years, making their first NBA Finals since 1993 and breaking the franchise record for wins in route to the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed in 2022.

Although things have seemed bright on the court as of late in the Valley, ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz explained Wednesday that the Suns do not care as much about the NBA Draft like the other teams in the association.

“One team that’s had mixed results in recent years — like most NBA teams — is the Phoenix Suns. Unlike most NBA teams, the Suns have determined that the best way to value the NBA draft might be to not value it at all. In a league where teams spend millions of dollars and employ an ever-growing number of scouts in a year-round pursuit to nail the June draft, the Suns, under the current leadership of general manager James Jones, are taking the inverse approach.”

Zach Amundson, the current senior analyst of personnel and team evaluation, was told in 2019 by Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones that his reports on 200-300 different players for the NBA Draft was not going to be read and that Jones would “welcome macro-level conversations about the kinds of prospects the Suns should be monitoring, or even a holistic discussion about a specific college player’s career.”

“Our draft board would be a mockery to other teams,” said Amundson. “By the time we were done, we had only five to seven guys on our draft board.”

Although, he points out the pros and cons of the “conventional” route that the rest of the NBA has taken. Teams like the Golden State Warriors have found franchise players such as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green while also adding role players like Jordan Poole and Kevon Looney in the draft.

On the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings have failed to find franchise players despite consistently being toward the top of the draft order.

Arnovitz points out that in 1992, 53 of the 54 players selected were college players, while today’s draft comes with the G-League, European pro ball and international prospects.

He also says Jones devalues the idea of watching an 18-year-old college prospect play in one of his first career games in a Thanksgiving tournament.

Jones never played on an NBA team with a losing record during his playing career and emphasizes the word ‘capacity’ instead of ‘potential’ when coming to prospects, Arnovitz writes. He points out Jones’ quote of looking for “players, not prospects” when looking toward the future.

While the Suns do not have a pick in Thursday’s draft, Jones compared the Oklahoma City Thunder and their strategy of stockpiling draft picks to the situation in Phoenix.

“I respect what OKC does,” Jones says when asked if he has an appreciation for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s more deliberate strategy. “That’s what they’ve chosen to be, I guess. Everything’s a choice. I don’t judge. I respect it. It’s just not for me.”

The article mentions how the Suns have 14 employees in basketball operations, including Jones while the Los Angeles Clippers have 14 in their scouting department alone. Jones said the decision is not financial and that he wants everyone’s voice to be included.

Two scouts for the Suns, Danny Gomez and Drew Mastin, were tasked with scouting the Pac-12 and other conference tournaments. The way they handle business is considered unconventional.

The Suns don’t have a formal reporting system for Gomez or Mastin to feed after each game they see, or conversation they have with a college coach. Jones prefers that his scouts stay as close to the team in Phoenix as possible. Consequently, Gomez — the Suns’ lead international scout — will spend far more time over the course of the basketball season in Phoenix than his counterparts in Europe will at their motherships, if they return at all. Whereas most NBA teams do exhaustive work to draw up their “draft board” ranking dozens of prospects, the Suns have sworn off the practice the past three years.

The GM thinks, on most days, the scouts would be better watching Monty Williams coach a practice than observing “raw talent.” He thinks that the draft comes with ta lot of excitement and is glorified the most, but it is just one way of acquisition.

In the Jones era, the team was highly criticized for selecting Cam Johnson No. 11 overall, which turned out to be a big success. In contract, the team failed on lottery pick Jalen Smith and traded away first-round draft capital for guard Landry Shamet, who underwhelmed in his first season in Phoenix.

Jones points to the fact that it is rare for plug-and-play players like Curry or Dwyane Wade to come out of the draft immediately and help a Suns team that is in win-now mode.

Arnovitz adds that Jones confessed had he been the GM in 2015, the team would have been uncertain on guard Devin Booker.

“It all depends on what your goal is,” says Jones. “Devin is great, but there are 50 skeletons tied to that swing for the star. It wasn’t until winning was imported — Chris, Jae Crowder, drafting a three-year guy who could help right away like Mikal — that it translated to success. And if you don’t import winning around him, there are even more skeletons. So if you want to find the guy with the highest potential to be the future star, then it makes sense to draft him — if you’re willing to navigate the landmines.”

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