Height Not a Concern for Suns, Draft Prospects

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by Matt Petersen

When it comes to measuring NBA talent, the Suns rely on a lot more than a ruler.

The build-up to the NBA Draft is replete with numeric references, but perhaps the most cited stats involve height.

It’s a potentially crippling handicap to players who have showed the ability to play, but feel they may not get the chance simply because outsiders look at their listed height and shake their heads.

The Suns actively avoid doing that.

“We’re certainly not a team who dismisses guys on the look test if he doesn’t look the part or he’s not big enough,” said Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough. “[We don’t] cross guys off because they’re a little undersized. I think you can make some mistakes that way like most teams did with Isaiah [Thomas].”

McDonough is referring to the 60th and last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, selected by the Sacramento Kings. One of the reasons the Suns’ general manager felt Thomas dropped so far in that draft was his 5-foot-9 stature. With most NBA point guards measuring at least six feet, many teams were reluctant to select him.

Thomas scorched the league for 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game this season.

The Suns showed little concern over losing a few inches in the backcourt last summer when they traded for Eric Bledsoe. The six-foot playmaker tag-teamed with 6-foot-3 Goran Dragic to form one of the smallest backcourts in the league – and one of the most lethal. The duo combined to average 38.0 points, 11.4 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 steals per contest.

“It’s not just, ‘he’s not tall enough, he’s not long enough,’” McDonough said.

The same is true at the forward and center spots, where the Suns have found similarly talented gems that were cast away by other teams. Miles Plumlee morphed into one of the better shot-blocking centers in the league thanks to his athleticism and timing more than his 6-foot-11 frame.

Marcus Morris was bestowed the dreaded “tweener” label coming out of college, but proved the distinction was unnecessary after making the successful transition to small forward in Phoenix.

“That can be a difficult transition going from the power forward to small forward,” McDonough said. “Certain guys can do it. We have one with Marcus Morris. If your stroke is good enough and you have enough length…the challenge is usually developing ball skills.”

When a team is patient enough to see that process through, they’re ultimately rewarded with a multi-positional talent. Instead of being a player with no position, Morris turned into a player that could man two of them. Hornacek used the third-year forward at both forward spots this season, a credit to both his height and jump shot. Consequently, the Suns were able to match up against nearly all of their opponents.

“Obviously that’s one of the things we look for, are interchangeable guys, especially at the wing position who can play some three or some four,” McDonough said.

Wednesday’s pre-draft workout group typified the concept that height isn’t everything. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson measured the smallest at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago (5-11), but sported the best vertical leap (43.5 inches).

McDonough’s first NBA comparison for Carson was a compliment rather than restriction caused by height.

“Nate Robinson comes to mind,” McDonough said. “There’s some guys, six-foot and under, who have that explosive scoring ability off the bench who can come in and certainly have a big impact.”

Stanford’s Josh Huestis is also in the process of convincing NBA front offices he can transition successfully to the pros. An elite shot blocker and rebounder at the college level, the 6-foot-7 prospect will need to show he can man perimeter duties on both ends of the floor as a small forward.

“Once I get to the next level, the three is my natural position,” Huestis said. “I’ve been working really hard on that, trying to get bet better at playing on the perimeter.”