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2018 Draft Preview: Four names to watch throughout next season

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With the front office taking the long view and building through the draft, 2018 will be a crucial season to cap their roster off with young star power.

2017 McDonald's All American Game Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Even though the 2017 draft class has yet to hit the floor in a regular season game, it’s fair to say the summer of 2018 is even more paramount for the Suns.

General manager Ryan McDonough, who just earned an extension through the 2019-2020 season last week, has said on multiple fronts that building through the draft is the best way to maintain prolonged success in this league. McDonough is trying to re-create his own Oklahoma City or Golden State right here in the Valley, stockpiling young prospects with budding potential to be stars. As he mentioned after selecting Josh Jackson and while introducing new VP of Basketball Operations James Jones, the front office has extensively studied how Sam Presti and Bob Myers built their rosters in positive and negative manners.

With Devin Booker and Josh Jackson already aboard — Phoenix’s main building blocks that they plan to mold around — next year’s draft could put the finishing touches on their core long-term. And capping it off with the 2018 crop is a smart idea with how much star power will be at the top.

Currently, there are four players I consider “star-type” for next June. It could turn into five if current No. 1 prospect in his recruiting class, Marvin Bagley III, who’s originally from Tempe, Arizona, reclassifies anytime before mid-August. If that’s the case and Bagley heads to Duke or USC, the current favorites by a wide margin, then he leapfrogs the rest on my board. However, we’re not going to include Bagley III until he makes that decision, obviously.

Even without that transcendent big, four still stand out to me as building blocks to an NBA franchise. Those names are Michael Porter Jr., Luka Doncic, Mohamed Bamba, and DeAndre Ayton. Start to get familiar with them, because you will hear a lot about them from here on out with how Phoenix is preaching patience while on their timeline to success.

Below are some quick thoughts on each prospect along with how they would fit in Phoenix. (This also counts as my early ranking of this group of four, with Doncic above Porter Jr. for the top spot. I will dive deeper into their games as the 2017-2018 season progresses, with updates on my big board each month.)

Luka Doncic, Ball Handler, Real Madrid

Best case scenario this time next year for the Suns? Luka Doncic is in the purple and orange. Simply put, he’s the best for Phoenix all-around and would cement them as one of, if not the most, promising team in the NBA, in terms of up-and-coming youth.

Doncic, Booker, Jackson, Chriss, Bender versus Fultz, Simmons, Embiid, Saric would be a tough question to answer for many NBA executives, I imagine, if it plays out this way. Another note on the Slovanian mport who was signed by Real Madrid at the age of 12, the likely starting lineup would be all under 22 once the 2018 season began. That’s absolutely insane and would give that group years on end to develop on their timeline.

Anyways, Doncic is the total package for the 2018 draft class. Not only can he excel on-ball as a 6’7 point guard, but he’s more than capable of off-ball production, too. Doncic showed promise as a cutter towards the rim and only improved on that notion this season. Doncic is excellent in transition as a pusher, and Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso allowed him to bring the ball up court out of half-court sets as well.

The 18-year-old already catching many eyes in NBA front offices, including Phoenix, can weave his way through traffic and find the open man, especially out of pick-and-roll situations. Alongside his outstanding vision is a shot that’s already well on its way to show he can contribute at all levels inside and out.

Doncic might not have the pure freakish abilities obtained by others below him on this list, but his craftiness sets him apart. While he’s not able to blow by defenders, he knows how to create contact for himself and finish.

And Doncic is no slouch on the defensive end either. He’s proved that he can handle slower-footed wings and even protect the rim in certain lineups, but he would be best suited to head to a franchise where they could hide him on one of the opposing teams bottom two creators.

Alongside Booker, who’s already a net negative on that end, Doncic would not help that cause but with Jackson and hopefully more development from Chriss and Bender, his collection of positives would outweigh his red flag.

The best, total package fit for the Suns in the upcoming draft is Doncic, and down the line, I will dive deeper into his game once Real Madrid’s season begins. There’s a lot to be excited about with #TheTimeline, but Doncic is the prize that would top it off.

Michael Porter Jr., Wing, Missouri

Porter Jr. is the prototypical wing for today’s NBA. Where you see him have his most success is in transition, getting out in front as a runner to the rim or taking the rebound and pushing. Very similar in that way to Jackson, but both, if on the same roster, would complement each other well.

The versatility Porter Jr. would offer a team is immense. You could play him 2-4 on the floor and he would be able to adjust with his quickness and overall scoring prowess. He has range from all three levels of the floor and explodes toward the rim when going for rebounds, usually finishing them with dunks on the EYBL circuit. Porter Jr.’s creation ability still leaves areas to be desired, especially when showing off his lateral quickness, but he’s a demon in transition, again, which would slot him very nicely into a lineup in the Valley.

In terms of a fit in Phoenix, Porter Jr. would slot in as the four with his 6’10 frame, and at that spot he would offer tons of mismatches. Especially if you allow him to play alongside a sharpshooter like Booker and two above-average passers in Jackson and Dragan Bender, Porter Jr. would not have to carry the load of this offense. Eric Bledsoe (if he’s still around), Booker, Jackson, Porter Jr., and Bender are a formidable starting five that oozes immense potential from an offensive perspective. However, on the defensive end, it has its flaws.

With Phoenix wanted to get back more towards “West Coast basketball,” though, as Jones mentioned last week, look no further for a better fit to that than Porter Jr.

Mohamed Bamba, Big, Texas

Surprise, I have Bamba ranked ahead of DeAndre Ayton in my initial rankings. The reason is why is due to Bamba’s immense upside on the defensive end of the floor. With a 7’9 wingspan, he would walk right into the league and become the longest big out there.

Bamba is a fluid runner and would fit into Phoenix’s transition-based offense and allow for a lot of possibilities as a flexible rim protector. He’s able to switch onto guards on the perimeter with his foot speed, and force either the pass out or swallow up a shot attempt with his length.

If Bamba is able to show constant energy and commitment — he recently came out and said he wasn’t dedicated fully until he was 16, so something to keep an eye on from a scouting perspective — he will be a dominant force and an All-NBA Defensive nomination regularly. Alongside that, Bamba’s per-40 numbers suggest he will be a high-end rebounder on the next level, as he finished with 16.2 with his huge catch radius to gobble it up.

An underrated area of this now Texas Longhorns’ arsenal is his passing ability. He knows how to set up cutters to the rim when in post-up situations and can also see over the top and find the spot-up shooters in the corners.

From a Phoenix perspective, Bamba would be the icing on the cake in helping build out a team revolving around defense. Adding Bamba as a rim protector alongside Jackson to guard against team’s top scorers gives them inside-out flexibility, that’s for sure.

Even though it would begin to be a logjam with Chriss and Bender, Bamba’s prowess on defense would slide him in at the 5. He’s a better option for the Suns than bulking up Chriss to the point of him losing some of his explosion. Also, the frame of Bamba can hold another 25-30 pounds of muscle (currently only 216) to help him fill out into a serviceable five night-in and night-out.

DeAndre Ayton, Big, Arizona

Compared to Bamba, Ayton is much more polished on offense. Ayton is a stretch-five who can also bang inside if he has to.

Ayton has shown on the circuit and at local Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix that he can utilize his speed and get out in front in transition. However, Ayton has yet to show a full repertoire of moves from the inside, and many times he settles for the outside shot instead of attacking. When watching Bamba and Ayton battle earlier this year, this was something that really stood out especially. Ayton, however, can stretch his game out and make the perimeter shot regularly, which makes him such a unique prospect to look at.

It will take a lot of development with an inconsistent shot release, but as Arizona head coach Sean Miller used Lauri Markkanen for the Wildcats in 2017, he plans to allow Ayton to stretch out in 2018. Likely not to the extremes of Markkanen, but it will definitely be shown off throughout his one year in Tuscon. Compared from his junior to senior seasons, Ayton continued to use the perimeter more than the inside when creating for himself, so this will be something to keep track of throughout the college season.

If Ayton were to be selected by the Suns come next June, he would be slotted as the big of the future in the Valley. He would not offer the same flexibility Bamba would on defense, but he brings much more on the other side in spades. Behind Booker, I believe Ayton would be the team’s second option on offense and allow for him to utilize both his inside and outside moves.

Ayton has many fans around the Association already, so he could steadily climb up my rankings, too, if he shows a more developed all-around collection of skills. I’m lower on Ayton than most, but the gap between him and Bamba is razor thin.

I plan on going to the University of Arizona multiple times in the fall and spring to catch him in action, so this will be a prospect I see the most in a top-heavy 2018 draft class.

Poll

Who’s your top prospect?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Luka Doncic
    (208 votes)
  • 15%
    Michael Porter Jr.
    (87 votes)
  • 18%
    Mohamed Bamba
    (103 votes)
  • 27%
    DeAndre Ayton
    (148 votes)
546 votes total Vote Now