Arizona's Johnson, NC State's Warren Make Pre-Draft Marks

Ryan Wolf/
by Matt Petersen

A week after Arizona State star Jahii Carson worked out for the Suns, University of Arizona standout and Pac-12 Player of the year Nick Johnson was getting similar local attention.

Phoenix marked the 6-3 guard’s seventh stop on the pre-draft workout circuit, from which he’ll rest until Monday of next week.

“You have 10 flights and six cities in a week-and-a-half, it’s tough but it’s also fun,” Johnson said.

The slew of workouts is Johnson’s best shot at boosting his draft stock leading up to June 26. The Arizona native is attempting to prove he can successfully man both guard spots, an effort Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough feels shouldn’t make or break his draft status.

“He’s a guard,” he said. “We have two good guards in Bledsoe and Dragic and we really don’t define or label them the way we play. I think it’s a testament to him that there’s some questions about which [guard spot] he plays because I think he plays some of both.”

Head Coach Jeff Hornacek liked what he saw from Johnson, particularly in the latter stages of the workout.

“He’s strong, athletic,” Hornacek said. “He can really shoot the ball. With three-point shooting, he shoots it easy. I think it’s because of his strength. We try to wear the guys out to see how they shoot when they’re tired. He didn’t even look like he got tired.”

Warren Shows Two-Way Game

Johnson wasn’t the only major conference player of the year in attendance on Thursday. North Carolina State’s TJ Warren (24.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8spg, 52.5 FG%) showcased the knack for scoring he exhibited on a regular basis in college.

It also didn’t hurt that his work on the defensive end caught the coaching staff’s attention.

“The question for him isn’t the scoring part of it, it’s the defense,” Hornacek said. “I thought he did a great job defensively, getting his hands on the ball. He was better than I anticipated from watching tape and that kind of stuff.”

At 6-8 and 220 pounds, Warren projects to be a good-sized small forward in the NBA. His particular skill set hearkens to the 1980s and early nineties era small forwards that earned their keep inside the three-point line.

“He’s got that unique skill of scoring,” Hornacek said. “Watching tape, he’s kind of methodical-looking, but because of that he knows the great positions. When he makes a move and he sees the opening, then he explodes. He had a couple finishes today where he got hacked pretty good and still was able to be strong enough to finish it off.”

Payton Scrimmages Well

Phoenix’s effort to simulate game-like workouts paid off for Elfrid Payton, the standout guard from Louisiana Lafayette. The multi-dimensional point guard made the most of 3-on-3 scrimmage situations, particularly from a decision-making standpoint.

“You can tell just from our 3-on-3 stuff he’s got a great knowledge of the game,” Hornacek said. “He makes great passes. His shooting was better, I think, than we anticipated…He showed how he can handle around pick and rolls, make passes out of that.”

Phoneix also worked out big men Roscoe Smith (UNLV), Shawn Jones (Middle Tennessee State) and swingman Melvin Ejim (Iowa State).

The latter’s ISU connection with Hornacek was not lost on the Suns head coach.

“Good for the Iowa State guys,” he said with a smile. “He’s a great kid. I was talking to him a bit. Obviously there’s a lot of connection with the Iowa State background.”

“They competed, they ran hard…a lot of guys get tired and their shots go off,” Hornacek added. “But these guys kept pushing hard through it. We love the effort.”