We roll out the inaugural Bright Side BIG BOARD for the 2017 NBA Draft. The Phoenix Suns have earned the second-most ping pong balls for the Draft Lottery in mid-May, which guarantees them a Top-5 pick in the draft with a 19.9% chance at #1 overall.
Today we pose the five players the Suns SHOULD have on their board for that top pick, in terms of a player who fits most/all of their current young core. Fortunately for the Suns (or by design of the GM maybe?), the top 7-8 players on the board are point guards and small forwards who won’t overlap with the Suns youngest prospects in Devin Booker (SG), Marquese Chriss (PF-C) and Dragan Bender (PF-SF-C)
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.
Consensus Big Board #1 (Suns chance: 19.9%) is...
PG Markelle Fultz
PG, Washington, 6-4” tall, 6-10” wingspan, 19 years old at draft time
Dave King: 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.
Kellan Olson: I’ve been on this train for a while now. He’s the best prospect in this class by a substantial margin. I think he continues to get undervalued as a creator and as someone who is going to make his teammates better.
This terrific profile from Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp has a section on his strengths and weaknesses worth checking out.
Owen Sanborn: My favorite part about Fultz’s game is his demeanor. For such an overwhelming talent, he seems like an easy going guy that meshes well with his teammates, remains humble, but has that competitive streak in him once he gets onto the court.
If the Suns get lucky enough to get the first overall pick, I think Fultz’s mentality (as much as his game) fit perfectly alongside Devin Booker.
Consensus Big Board #2 (Suns chance: 18.8%) is...
SF Josh Jackson
SF, Kansas, 6-8” tall, 6-10” wingspan, 20 years old at draft time
DK: 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.
KO: I also have Josh Jackson second for Phoenix. He is the best “win-now” option and like Jaylen Brown last year, I think he’s getting hurt by critics focusing on the concerns surrounding him as a No. 1 option as opposed to how great he can be as a second or third option offensively. That isn’t to say he couldn’t become that primary scorer either, but to continue a theme of this and last year’s class (Brown, Bender, Poeltl, Maker, Isaac, Ntilikina etc.), he has elite role player potential.
OS: I like Kellan’s comparison to Jaylen Brown — everyone gets their hopes up with these top three picks, immediately comparing their ceilings to elite players at their position. Developing into an elite player can be a five to seven season proposition sometimes, so tampering expectations for Jackson for the time being is best for all parties involved.
That said, he has a nice skill set, length, and elite athleticism. It will be difficult for him to be a bust with how the game is played today.
Big Board #3 (Suns chance 17.1%) is ...
PG Lonzo Ball or PG De’Aaron Fox
DK: De’Aaron Fox had a great post season for Kentucky, especially in a matchup against Lonzo Ball. Fox could be a demon on defense and is the fastest player with the ball in college - and will be one of the fastest players in the NBA the day he takes the court. His athleticism reminds a bit of Russell Westbrook. Fox can’t shoot very well, and is not a high-volume assist man, but can slash, drive, and score while defending at a very high energy level.
KO: I’ve got Ball at No. 3. I was one of the most vocal about his flaws throughout the season, but I can’t deny he is one of the three players in this class with the special sauce that could change a franchise. My ranking of him for a team is also highly dependent on the fit and I like it in Phoenix. Booker is a capable secondary ball-handler that can cover up some of the halfcourt concerns and the weapons in transition are everywhere. Yes, defense would be a concern, but while Ball has a low ceiling, he improved over the course of the year and has good instincts that would probably make him the better of the two in the backcourt.
OS: I was fortunate enough to see Ball live when he came to Tempe to take on ASU. I did not know what to expect as I purposely had avoided watching any highlights/games he had been involved in so that I could develop my own opinion on him. His stat input for that game wasn’t anything to write home about (he hovered around 2 points, 11 boards, and 6 assists the last time I checked the scoreboard), but you could still feel his impact on the game.
And that is the argument for Ball, right? His feel for the game and ability to keep the train moving offensively is next level, and while you would prefer his shot not look like a tantrum come to life, it goes in a respectable percentage of time. His fit in Phoenix would require less movement because he does not need the ball as much as Fultz, but it makes sense why much of the fan base prefers Jackson over him.
Big Board #4 (Suns chance 31.9%) is ...
SF Jonathan Isaac or PG Frank Ntilikina or SF Jayson Tatum
DK: 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.
KO: It’s hard to find a better match of top-10 prospects from one year to the next than Isaac and Bender. Bender’s better defensively and Isaac’s a better rebounder, but other than that, it’s pretty close with what they do on the floor. I love Isaac as a prospect and the idea of loading up the front line, but Bender is already going to struggle getting minutes at his preferred power forward position, and with the selection of Isaac, one of the two pretty much wouldn’t play any minutes until Jared Dudley’s out of the picture (which shouldn’t happen). That is, unless I’m missing something, like the team bringing back one or none of the centers and deciding one of those three would play a majority of their minutes at the five.
This is where I have Frank Ntilikina. If you don’t know me, yup, I’m that guy. Ntilikina has a lot of people nervous and those feeling bold are already writing him off, but a combination of enjoying the fit in Phoenix — Isaac is my personal No. 4 — and not being too much of a believer in the rest of this class outside the top-3 as a top-5 option puts him here for me.
I’ll defer to my buddy Cole Zwicker’s excellent draft frameworks here and point to the “3&D plus initiation” group for Ntilikina. As Cole notes, those guys are often partnered with awesome creators on the wing, and that Devin Booker guy could help with that. It’s a very small group and Ntilikina has the defensive ceiling to be better on that end than any of those guys. Best of all, he’s spent time at both guard positions overseas and could be the project behind Bledsoe while still getting playing time with him, Booker and Ulis in different roles.
OS: I personally have Jayson Tatum in this spot. I seem to be in the minority with my affinity for him, but I talked about what I like about his game (along with Isaac and Jackson) here.
Big Board #5 (Suns chance 12.3%) is ...
PG Ball or PG Fox or SF Isaac
DK: Ball 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 elite-level defense, has zero offensive game besides long threes and layups/dunks. And even 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.
KO: Wow, someone calm down Dave. He sounds so excited about Lonzo! I’ve got Fox here for Phoenix. I’m somewhat sold on his long-term potential as a true two-way point guard. I think unlike Fultz and Ball, however, he’s not the type of guy worth slamming down the hard reset button with authority and trading Bledsoe. This would mean * begins to get things thrown at him * that it would put him at backup point guard and Tyler * now has to start dodging more dangerous projectiles * Ulis would have his role reduced while Fox develo—— * knocked unconscious by brick to head *
If the Suns (or you) are really attached to Ulis as the backup point guard or are more worried about Fox’s shot, then I wouldn’t be upset with going the best player available route here selecting Isaac or, for a team in desperate need of shooting, just drafting Lauri Markkanen and figuring out later how either would fit into the rotation (Bender and Chriss at the 4 handling the rim protection for Markkanen?).
OS: My fifth spot is dependent upon what the Suns do with Bledsoe, and I know that is cheating, but I don’t care. If Bledsoe is shipped away, then you can slide Fox here without any hesitation. He can’t necessarily shoot the lights out, but the Suns love their Kentucky guards, and the way he knifes the lane consistently is the single-most transferrable skill for an NBA offense to function at a high level. That said, it remains to be seen if Fox would be that much of an upgrade over Ulis.
If Bledsoe remains, then I think Isaac becomes the pick. Either way, you would hope that the Suns don’t fall out of the top three so that the choice becomes a no-brainer.
There you have it, Suns fans. The only consensus we have is the top 2 picks being
- Markelle Fultz at #1
- Josh Jackson at #2.
So if the Suns end up with a top-2 pick (better than 1 in 3 chance in the lotto), you should see one of these guys in a Suns uniform next year alongside Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender as a super-young core with no player even 21 years old yet!
But if the Suns drop into the 3-5 range, the class opens up a bit. As many as six players could be considered in that range, according to our staff.
- All three of us mentioned Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox and Jonathan Isaac in some order among picks 3-5, which makes them the most likely Suns targets in that range.
- Kellan named French PG Frank Ntilikina ahead of De’Aaron Fox. Both have high ceilings, but potentially low floors.
- Owen named Duke SF Jayson Tatum in the Top 5. Tatum is a great young player, but seems like a waste of a pick, to me, with T.J. Warren already in the fold. Kellan makes a similar case to drop Isaac off the board because of similarities to Bender.
- Kellan put Lauri Markkanen into the mix at the 5th pick. That’s a bit of a stretch, the Lauri will definitely go in the Top 10 this year so not that much of a stretch after all.
What say you, Bright Side fans?