The late-season tank job orchestrated by the front office has put the Phoenix Suns in position to possess a coveted top-three pick in what is being diagnosed as “one of the most loaded draft classes of the last decade.” (I am pretty sure that this is the third time I have heard this proclamation over the last decade. Remember when the 2014 class was supposed to solve every basement-level team’s problems? Me too.)
With that said, tanking has provided a pathway for the fan base to potentially see what lies ahead with youngsters such as Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, and Marquese Chriss taking center stage and balling out against elite competition. The losses have been piling up, but there is a palpable energy circulating while the young guns share the floor, and that will be something to continue to build off of going forward.
No matter where the Suns’ pick lands, they will almost definitely be in position to select a highly touted point guard or small forward. As you can see from the headline, we are going to be touching on some point guards today — which one fits best with what the Suns are building, and who do they project to be in the pros?
Let’s do this.
Markelle Fultz — The Consensus #1 Pick
It is difficult to find a draft board that does not showcase Fultz as the top player of the 2017 class. Although his team struggled to string together wins on a consistent basis, Fultz put on a show during his one-and-done campaign, averaging 23.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game on 47 percent shooting from the field. That last part is the most important to me — given the responsibility that Fultz was tasked with on a nightly basis, shooting a fairly efficient percentage shows his points are not empty and he knows when to pick his spots.
Fultz needs to be the fulcrum of the team he gets drafted to in order to be fully unleashed as an offensive weapon. Similar to James Harden in Houston, is it easy to envision Fultz spearheading a spread pick-and-roll offense with his ability to shake his defender, blast past a screen, and slide into the painted area. An army of shooters to provide spacing and playmaking opportunities would be ideal, but he is capable of making do within tight corridors.
In all honesty, I see a lot of Eric Bledsoe in Fultz’s game. He is much smoother with his handle and pulling up off the dribble than Bledsoe was at his age, but the player that Bledsoe has morphed into is what I see Fultz doing at the next level. Both players have a knack for pulling up for 3-pointers in a jiffy when their defender slips under a screen, and each has a unique ability to pull of swirling finishes in the lane under duress.
Much like Bledsoe, Fultz is more lethal when he has the ball in his hands, but as his 41% mark from 3-point land illustrates, he can pull enough gravity to keep the lane open for the likes of Devin Booker and company.
Fultz is a dynamite prospect, and the Suns would surely be ecstatic at the prospect (didn’t think I could utilize two versions of prospect in the same sentence did ya??) of adding him to their line of young studs. However, Fultz’s presence in Phoenix would likely lead to the end of the Bledsoe era, and that would sadden me greatly.
Lonzo Ball — Michael Jordan meets Steph Curry meets LeBron James?
(At least Lavar Ball would make you think so.)
Ball throws the crispiest chest pass I have ever seen for a player of his age, and it is pretty apparent early on when you watch his tape that he takes a certain joy in involving all of his teammates. There is a certain “feel for the game” that Ball exhibits on the court, he is always thinking half a step or more ahead of both the defender in front of him and the help side defender lurking in the shadows. He excels most in a fastbreak setting — he uncorks outlet passes that would make Minnesota Kevin Love blush — and that play style is seemingly perfect for how the Suns wish to play.
I was fortunate to see Ball in person when he came out to Tempe to take on ASU, and three things immediately jumped out to me: he is far more athletic than you anticipate, he can have a real effect on the game without scoring (I think he had more rebounds than points that night), and hot damn is his shooting stroke tough to watch.
Tossing up shots off the dribble could be a struggle for Ball at the next level — he is only able to shoot going to his left because of the structure of his shot mechanics, and defensive maniacs are going to force him to beat them in some other way. Despite this “hitch” in his game, Ball will look to capitalize on his elite size and sneaky athleticism for a point guard, and he projects to be a solid shooter percentage wise when given space. As long as he can knock down enough threes to warrant attention from help defenders when he is not handling the ball, he will not cripple your offense.
Ball will make his money by contributing in an assorted amount of areas, and they will all not show up in the stat sheet. He makes more sense for the roster that the Suns already have in place (it would pretty incredible if Earl Watson had the huevos to play Ulis, Bledsoe, Booker and Ball together for short stints of time). Comparisons to former Sun Jason Kidd are en vogue, but to me, Ball is his own being.
As Michael Jordan once said, the roof is the ceiling.