Reading the post-deadline scuttlebutt, it appears that teams like the Boston Celtics (who own the Nets’ top pick), Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, who currently occupy the Top 3 overall draft slots, refused to offer their top 2017 pick in any trade offer leading up to the annual trade deadline.
That’s not to say offering their top pick would have sealed the deal for DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler or Paul George, but it’s interesting that no team was willing to roll the dice.
Why keep a potential All-Star in lieu of a right-now All-Star?
Doesn’t it stand to reason that a nightly 20/10/5 center (Cousins) who can score 40+ at any time and is still in his prime - in fact, just approaching it - worth more than a 40% chance that the 2017 Top 5 pick is as good in 2021 as Cousins is right now?
According to some guys who actually did the research, as long as you draft in the Top 5, your chances of getting a solid-to-star player are pretty good.
- 82games.com analyzed 20 years of drafts 1989-2008 to estimate a 70% chance a Top-5 player becomes a “star”
- nba.com analyzed 35 years of drafts from 1980-2015 to estimate the chances of getting an All-Star at each pick slot: 77% chance in the #1 slot, 34% chance in the #2 slot, 49% chance in the #3 slot, 29% in the #4 slot, 31% in the #5 slot, 20% in the #6 or #7 slot and 11% in the #8 slot.
Obviously, the odds get worse the lower you pick.
40% chance of a future All-Star. Take out that #1 pick and the odds of drafting an All-Star drop to 36% if you’re picking between 2-5, which is most likely where the Suns will be drafting in June.
Why not swap that 36% chance for a sure-fire ALREADY All-Star right now?
Per Suns GM Ryan McDonough, some of it has to do with timeline. The cost of acquiring DeMarcus Cousins dropped because of the good chance Cousins could leave in a year. Why sacrifice a potential All-Star draft pick who could be under contract for 5-10 years for a potential one-year rental?
On the new radio station, 1580TheFanatic, right after the deadline, McDonough said that played a big part in the calculus not to trade out of that top 2017 pick.
ICYMI- @Suns GM Ryan McDonough joined @kray1 & @MikeJackBauer to talk about the team's moves @ the #NBATradeDeadlinehttps://t.co/4EX7hxHHj2 pic.twitter.com/XJrzsMSY5J— 1580 The Fanatic (@1580TheFanatic) February 24, 2017
So while there’s little chance (36%) that picking in the 2-5 range produces an All-Star, and the Suns aren’t holding their breath on either Alex Len (#5 in 2013) or Dragan Bender (#4 in 2016) become All-Stars in the next few years, the young player does project to be - at least - a very strong contributor for many years.
Let’s review some of the Top 5 picks and see where they might fit in a Suns rotation - and who on the Suns current roster would have to be jettisoned to make room.
Dave King’s SUNS BIG BOARD
For all of these picks - go to DraftExpress.com for full coverage. These players are listed in my own order. See the DX order at the link.
#1 Markelle Fultz
PG, Washington, 6-4” tall, 6-10” wingspan, 19 years old at draft time
The cream of the crop. If the Suns somehow land the #1 overall pick (15.6% chance), they really have to take Fultz. This kid has every skill you need in a all-everything point guard who can score, pass and defend. His only questions surround a flat facial expression that makes some people think he doesn’t have a killer instinct.
Fit in Phoenix: You have to take him, give him the ball for the next 10-15 years next to Devin Booker, and trade Eric Bledsoe. You have to.
Your core then becomes Fultz/Ulis, Booker, Warren/Jones, Chriss and Bender, all aged 19-24 and you spend the next few years patiently waiting for the light to turn on and the wins to come as the Suns climb out of the abyss.
Likelihood: 15.6% chance. Would be 100% if I could make it, but that’s their lotto chance for #1 overall. Fultz almost immediately replaces Bledsoe’s 21/6 stat line with bigger body, better shooting, better passing and long-term health outlook. You’d then trade Bledsoe for future assets, since your core is now all 19-21 years old.
#2 Josh Jackson
SF, Kansas, 6-8” tall, 6-10” wingspan, 20 years old at draft time
If you’re looking for the next Jimmy Butler or Paul George, this is your guy. Jackson has a hitch in his shot, but he does everything else at a high level - scoring, passing, defending - and he’s making shots anyway. He might be a First-Team All-Defense some day. Remember when rookie Jimmy Butler played 40 minutes a night for Thibs because of his defense? That could be Jackson next year.
Fit in Phoenix: Wonderful, in my opinion. He would have to replace T.J. Warren in the starting lineup. T.J. could move to second team as scorer off the bench, or you could move T.J. and keep Derrick Jones Jr. as a JJ-lite in the second unit. Pairing a defender like Jackson with Booker on the wing would hide Booker from being embarrassed on defense so much.
The drafting of Jackson, IMO, is the quickest way back to the playoffs and sustained success. You can keep Bledsoe as your veteran leader, and the two of them can cover for Booker’s defensive limitations even better than Tucker/Bledsoe did. The lineup of Bledsoe, Booker, Jackson, Chriss, Bender would be a force in the near term with a veteran center/big man in the rotation as well as Ulis. That team can win now AND later. The Suns could then swap Warren (either directly or indirectly) for a big man to replace Alex Len.
Likelihood: Let’s say 30% chance (I have Jackson #2 on my Suns big board behind Fultz).
#3 Jonathan Isaac
SF, Florida State, 6-11” tall, 7-1” wingspan, 19 years old at draft time
Isaac is a small forward in a power forward’s frame. He has some filling out to do, but he’s so fluid and natural in his movements right now that even if he keeps his current frame he’s likely to succeed physically the same way Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett have done. The kid can score, rebound and defend. And he doesn’t need the ball to be effective.
Fit in Phoenix: Imagine an ultra-long Suns front line of Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Jonathan Isaac. Holy toledo! All three are 6-10” or taller with the ability to defend the perimeter AND the rim on the same possession. All three can slide their feet, a rarity among big men and all have 7-0” or longer wingspans. There would be no set positions. Just a long, stifling, dynamic line of length. My mouth is watering at the thought (well, not literally. That would be weird).
Drafting Isaac allows the Suns to keep Bledsoe AND Warren - at least for now - while they build a core around Booker, Isaac, Chriss and Bender, allowing Bledsoe and Ulis to run the offense. Bledsoe could end up being that veteran influence the team needs to win sooner than later.
Likelihood: Let’s say 30% chance. If the Suns end up with Fultz, Jackson or Isaac I think the core is set for the future.
#4 Jayson Tatum
SF, Duke, 6-8” tall, 6-11” wingspan, 19 years old at draft time
If you want a more offensive-minded small forward, and you’ll sacrifice a bit of athleticism and defense to get it, then go for Jayson Tatum. Some have said he plays like Rudy Gay. Others have used Danny Granger as a comp. Tatum is being profiled as the just a touch below Josh Jackson in many areas, but he might have just as high a ceiling as an NBA player who can score and rebound, and should be able to hold his own on defense if not excel.
Fit in Phoenix: The Suns already have an offensive-minded small forward in T.J. Warren, but Tatum would match that scoring output while rebounding better and defending (a bit) better. Tatum isn’t a superior athlete, but he is a better all-around player than T.J. in the long run.
Tatum would be a marginal improvement over Warren in the short term, and would allow the Suns to keep Bledsoe running show. As mentioned with Jackson and Isaac, the core would now be in place. Though I’m less sold on Tatum as the long-term SF answer over Warren. The gap is narrower. You’d probably keep Warren to see how it all works out.
Defensively, Tatum does not project to be any kind of lockdown defender, so pairing him with Booker 35 minutes a night could be a problem on the wing. They could ultimately be passable together, but it would take some work.
Likelihood: I’d say small chance here. Only if Fultz, Ball, Jackson and Isaac are all off the board.
#5 Lonzo Ball
PG, UCLA, 6-6” tall, 6-7” wingspan, 19 years old at draft time
He can make 30-foot threes on the regular. He’s a wonderful floor general, unselfish, under control, and as a freshman led an otherwise not great UCLA team to a Top-5 ranking in college and into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Lonzo Ball is a unicorn in that people can imagine this incredibly good long-range shooter, Nash-like distributor and stifling defender all in one. Something that just doesn’t exist quite this way in the NBA in its current form. But I honestly don’t see it getting that good for him.
To me, he’s Jason Kidd or Ricky Rubio, but without the defense (doesn’t slide well on D), has zero offensive game besides long threes and layups/dunks. Even and those areas are suspect - some think he’ll have trouble getting the jumper off in the NBA, and in the paint he doesn’t take contact well. This might be harsh, but in my opinion he's more a rich man’s Kendall Marshall.
Fit in Phoenix: Sigh. I think the Suns would be hard-pressed to not take Ball if he’s on the board with their pick, no matter where the pick lands after the lottery. So he might end up next to Booker in one of the most porous back courts in memory.
Like with Fultz, you’d have to trade Eric Bledsoe to fit him in to Phoenix as the starter where he belongs. He’s got star power and the offense would hum. But I personally would pass. I just can’t get on the Ball hype train. His game reminds me way too much of Ricky Rubio, yet Rubio can at least play super defense. I know I’m jaded. I had a bad experience trying to be a fan of Kendall Marshall, who also had supreme confidence in himself, but couldn’t get his shot off in the NBA, couldn’t keep up defensively and had a super-fan dad who didn’t help matters.
Likelihood: I’m going to frustrate some people and say 5% chance, if BSotS has a say in it. I’d only take Ball if Fultz and Josh Jackson are off the board. And I’d take the whole 15 minutes deciding between him, Isaac, Tatum and even D’Aaron Fox.
If both Fultz and Jackson are off the board when the Suns pick - a high likelihood at this point - you have to seriously consider your options.
Do you take Jayson Tatum or Jonathan Isaac? Tatum has the higher floor, while Isaac has a higher ceiling but is a bit more likely to bust out.
Do you take Ball, or do you roll the dice on French point guard Frank Ntilinka, who’s resume looks astoundingly similar to Dragan Bender’s (great in a particular U18 competition but sparse elsewhere. Like Bender, Ntilinka would take a long time to develop in the NBA as he won’t turn 19 until the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.
Or if you’re looking for a point guard, how about D’Aaron Fox? His body type looks a lot like Russell Westbrook, he defends like a mad man and he’s already a floor general on offense unafraid to direct the troops to get into their sets. He was very impressive to me on Sunday to lead the Kentucky Wildcats into the Sweet 16.
Or do you shock everyone and take Creighton’s 6’11” Justin Patton, who burst onto the national scene late this year and now suddenly seems like he could be the next big man unicorn who can defend and dominate offensively as well. Patton has ideal size and length and will probably be one of those that shoots up draft boards as June approaches.
A better option than reaching in the Top 5 for Patton might be buying a late-first round pick to take big man Harry Giles. Giles now has an ugly knee history (3 surgeries already before his college sophomore year) but was once considered the top pick for this draft. If he stays in the draft, he could slide down the board like Skal Labissiere did a year ago.