The top of the 2017 NBA Draft, unlike any other in recent memory, has a group of players that matches specifically the positional needs of the teams with high picks. The worst teams in the league, from New York to Los Angeles to Philadelphia, all need ball-handlers. The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, will benefit from the flexibility that roster transience has allotted them, and can afford to consider any number of players. Though De’Aaron Fox may not seem like a natural fit on this roster for a number of reasons, his talent and physical gifts may be too great for the Suns to look away.
From 2008-2011, three of the four top overall selections in the draft were point guards. But as that group of guards (along with older stars whose styles changed to align with the young guys) entered their primes and unleashed a pick-and-roll fury on the league, wing defenders and versatile big men became more valuable, and the top of the draft reflected that value. Every number one pick since 2012 has been one of those types of players, from Anthony Davis to Andrew Wiggins and between.
This year’s lottery figures to be another quarter-turn of the draft kaleidoscope; there are six guys who will be taken in the top 14 who can at least call themselves combo guards. Though the Suns community may be praying that they have the opportunity to grab one of the consensus top two of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, there’s always a higher chance of falling in the lottery than rising. Fox’s presence as a high-upside backup plan should inspire hope to teams picking outside the top three, including the Suns.
You can already see Fox’s outline in the Phoenix history books, the next in a long line of dazzling point guard leading high-octane offensive attacks. You can also see him as a smooth puzzle piece, snugly aligned next to the untouchable core of Dragan Bender, Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss. His speed and scoring ability could unlock the best in the team’s up-tempo attack.
Fox feasted at the rim this year with a young Kentucky team. Almost half of his shots were taken from close range, and he made over 60 percent of them. He slithers his way into the paint on almost every possession, finishes through contact extremely well and uses that ability to get extra free throws. Fox averaged 7.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes this year, and the package he offers as a finisher is alone enough to entice some team needing more out of its point guards on offense.
However, his defensive potential is also pretty enticing. He has to add weight to his 6-3 frame, but matches that height with a 6-6 wingspan and incredibly quick hands and feet. Fox already looks like a player who will be able to aggressively defend the pick and roll, showing and recovering as the system and matchup require.
He brings to mind another quick Kentucky freshman, John Wall, whose defense has come and gone in the NBA as injury and offensive workload have taken their toll on his energy. Bring Fox in, though, and you’re getting a young, energetic player who likely won’t be asked to carry an offense immediately. With how much guards handle the ball in most modern systems, including the Suns’ up-tempo attack, defense is usually a secondary job.
In Phoenix, Fox would be able to devote more attention and energy to the defensive end, as Booker continues to tick up his usage rate and improve as a playmaker. This idea (putting Booker next to a Patrick Beverley type) is one that our own Kellan Olson discussed with The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks in a recent episode of Locked On Suns.
Great transition scorers set up their own opportunities, and Fox will be able to put pressure on opposing ball-handlers immediately. Imagine the young guard stabbing at a steal and bolting down the court to initiate quick offense, and you get a picture of what his potential looks like. He stole two passes per 40 minutes with Kentucky, leading an offense that used a third of its possessions in transition. The Wildcats posted a 56.6 effective field goal percentage this year, and could dazzle in the open court. Fox will bring that style and explosiveness to whichever team drafts him.
Purely from a narrative and aesthetic standpoint, the Suns landing Fox would be a fitting start to an important summer. However, it wouldn’t make sense to draft him unless the team falls a fair bit on lottery night. DraftExpress currently has him going fifth, and other sites have him around the same spot. Even as a consolation prize for Ball and Fultz, some team is going to make one heck of a new point guard out of De’Aaron Fox. Don’t be disappointed if that team ends up being the Suns.