PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns selected forward Jalen Smith with the No. 10 overall pick in the NBA draft Wednesday night, opting for a defensive-minded frontcourt player to help them build around their newly formed All-Star backcourt duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The 20-year-old Smith played two seasons at Maryland and averaged 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last season. His selection was a bit of a surprise considering prospects like guard Tyrese Haliburton were still on the board.
But Smith does have an intriguing mix of defense, rebounding and shooting. At 6-foot-10, he was the only Division I player to have 60 blocks and 30 3-pointers last season and was a third-team AP All-American.
“Pretty much what I bring to the Phoenix Suns is that defensive versatility,” Smith said. “Every team has tremendous scorers. We’ve got Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton. So I think where I can impact the most is the defensive end, to help them focus on their offense.”
Smith joins a team that’s trying to push for the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after acquiring Paul in a blockbuster trade with Oklahoma City on Monday that reshaped the roster.
The Suns received the 10-time All-Star and forward Abdel Nader, while sending Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a protected 2022 first-round pick back to the Thunder.
It was a bold move for the Suns, who have substantial momentum after going 8-0 to finish the regular season in the NBA’s restart bubble in Florida, which left them just shy of a playoff berth.
The Suns now have three high-profile players in Paul, Booker and Ayton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. They also have young role players like guard Cameron Johnson and forward Mikal Bridges, who both can play multiple positions.
Smith could play a supporting role for Ayton, who averaged 18.2 points and 11.5 rebounds last season. Smith said he’s used to playing with a dominant big man after teaming with Bruno Fernando during his freshman season at Maryland. Fernando was taken by the Atlanta Hawks with the 34th overall pick last season.
The No. 10 pick was the Suns’ only scheduled selection on Wednesday night.
Booker has grown into one of the league’s best young scorers in Phoenix. The 24-year-old averaged 26.6 points per game last season and made his first All-Star appearance.
Paul is owed about $41 million in the upcoming season and has a player option for $44 million in 2021-22, so it’s imperative the Suns find some younger, inexpensive talent to fill out the roster.