On SB Nation today, we are conducting a mock expansion draft after commissioner Adam Silver’s recent comments. In an interview with Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, Silver said that expansion was “inevitable” with Seattle making the short list. There’s no precise timeline for when this will occur, but with the seed already planted now, the noise could get louder and louder as we edge toward 2020.
Devin Booker - Easy choice here to use my first of eight protected roster spots on Booker here. Before he even turns 21, Booker is already the face of the Suns and looks to build upon his sophomore season as the roster begins to take shape around his strengths. Whenever you can drop 70 points in a game, that automatically saves you anyway.
Josh Jackson - The Suns have been starved for a wing with primary defender abilities since Shawn Marion left town. Jackson, who both general manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Earl Watson have said will draw opposing team’s top option, is set to walk into a large role in the Valley on both ends. Alongside Booker, Jackson plays a major role in the direction Phoenix will take the next 5-10 years.
Phoenix has kept Jackson out of trade talks for Kyrie Irving, and for good reason. Why shed possibly the brightest prospect out of the core four — McDonough had Jackson No. 1 on their big board before he was selected — for maybe just two years of Irving? Where Irving only brings offensive firepower, Jackson, if he reaches his ceiling, could eventually be a force with how the Suns love to get up and down.
Eric Bledsoe - The vet of the protected group, Bledsoe has shown year-in and year-out he’s a top-flight point guard in the Association. Coming off last season where he averaged a career best 21.1 points per game while avoiding injury, Bledsoe still has some productive years ahead of him with two years remaining on his current deal with Phoenix.
Dragan Bender - 2016’s No. 4 overall pick finally comes into a season where he will see extended playing time, but also play in a more comfortable spot this time around. After a foot injury dampened his rookie year alongside inconsistent minutes at the three spot, Bender looks poised to break out and show much more flashes in year two.
As I spoke of on the Limited Upside podcast with Mike Prada, Bender is the one I’m really looking forward to seeing take steps in 2017-2018 with his special passing ability and defensive awareness he shows for a still 19-year-old big man.
Bender's passing impact on full display here: pic.twitter.com/LG16yNF3Lb— Evan Sidery (@esidery) July 5, 2017
Marquese Chriss - Out of the core four taking shape for the Suns, Chriss is at four but it’s close between him and Bender at the moment. Chriss showed a bunch of offensive potential last season, including his rim running in transition. He’s been working on his mid-range and outside shot more heading into next season, but he also has been developing a post game, too.
In Las Vegas, Chriss showed a thicker frame and more back-to-the-basket mentality than we saw from him at any point in 2016-2017. However, Chriss also showed he’s still coming along on defense as many times he had multiple simple mental lapses on PnR coverage. Chriss’ numbers should continue to go up with another year under his belt, but he will be someone I keep a close eye on throughout a crucial season for McDonough’s Timeline squad.
T.J. Warren - Warren is an offensive dynamo, someone who will put up consistent numbers, scoring-wise, even when they are not the focal point of an offense. Also, McDonough sees Warren as someone who will be in their plans for the extended future, as he hopes to talk to his camp about an extension before training camp.
When the P.J. Tucker trade was swung at the deadline, that freed up a lot of additional minutes for Warren to take advantage of. The plan is for Warren to play at the three in the second unit while trying to mesh with Jackson as a small-ball four when inserted with the starters.
Before Warren’s mysterious head injury, he was showing great signs early on of taking that next step. Now, in what looks to be a sixth man role, Warren will look to take advantage of his top role of scoring buckets at a consistent clip throughout next season.
Tyler Ulis - What a pleasant surprise Ulis was last season. He carved out a role as the second unit point guard and took control of it firmly after Bledsoe and Brandon Knight were shut down. In a starters role, Ulis flourished and showed innate playmaking ability.
After the All-Star break, Ulis averaged 12.7 points and 7.4 assists per game. He developed great chemistry in the second unit with Alan Williams, something that will continue to blossom as both continue to see increased minutes.
Alan Williams - Coming off signing a three-year extension, the last two which are not guaranteed, Williams makes the cut for being protected here for many reasons. As McDonough told me at Summer League, Williams took complete advantage when they decided to rest Tyson Chandler alongside Bledsoe and Knight. He was efficient around the rim and a high-end rebounder off the bench who would have finished near the top if he saw consistent play all season.
This quote from McDonough stood out when discussing Williams, too.
“Then, off the floor, I think if you asked our guys one through fifteen who their favorite teammate is more of them would say Alan than anybody else,” McDonough said. “He’s great in the locker room, organizationally we love having him around the front office staff, coaching staff, the players. The fact that he’s from Phoenix makes it a little bit unique. He’s got great ties to the community and he’s really embraced that role as well.”
Jared Dudley - Dudley barely missed the protected list, but he lands the No. 9 spot on the list. He’s embraced #TheTimeline full-on and has been currently the only veteran training with the youth out at UCLA this week.
Tyson Chandler - At this point, Chandler will likely be slated as the starting center, but at this point, it is unknown if he will be on the roster by opening night. Chandler stated that he wanted to see more veterans added to the roster, but it’s been the exact opposite with this youth movement in full effect.
There were talks of sending Chandler to San Antonio for Jonathan Simmons, but those talks broke down after the Spurs backed out. Chandler will provide rebounding and someone to lob to, but this is one of the dominoes yet to fall for Phoenix yet.
Davon Reed - I was this close to already protecting Reed, but Phoenix’s first of two second rounders are unprotected here. Reed showed in Vegas that he’s ready for consistent playing time right off the bat, and his numbers and demeanor showed it.
Reed, who is already 22 (old compared to some of this roster already), took the leadership role by the horns at Summer League and ran with it, which was really impressive to watch in-person.
Coming out of Miami (FL), Reed was graded as one of the better spot-up shooters and off the catch. He showed that in spades up in Summer League, and with Knight’s season-ending ACL injury, the door for getting 15-20 plus minutes a game is now open for him.
Derrick Jones Jr. - Airplane Mode is still a project, but the signs in his development so far are promising. He’s the prototypical wing to run the floor in Earl Watson’s offense, and he’s shown an ability to defend out on the perimeter. If he’s able to lock in more on defense and continue to improve his jump shot, then we could be in for a surprise year from Jones Jr.
Like Reed, he will see increased minutes now in this year’s rotation after Knight’s injury.
Alec Peters - The Suns’ No. 54 pick in this year’s draft, Peters slipped down there due to his foot injury he suffered, but he’s one of the better natural shooters in the draft class. It will be interesting to see what Peters’ role will be, but I imagine we see him in Prescott Valley with the NAZ Suns from time to time for consistent minutes.
Coming out of Valparaiso, Peters was a dead-eye shooter from the outside and that’s what he will look to bring as a floor spacer when he sees the court.
Brandon Knight - What a bummer for Knight tearing his ACL in what was arguably his most important season coming up. The Suns were clearing the way for Knight to get extended minutes as the second unit’s two-guard alongside Ulis, but now he will have to wait another full year for redemption.
Speaking of Knight, it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds a year from now. Will he be on the roster or given another shot elsewhere via release or trade? It’s safe to say the Suns-Knight marriage hasn’t been as promised from the beginning.
Mike James - James signed in July to be the team’s third point guard on the depth chart, but he brings explosion and scoring ability, which he showed off again in Las Vegas two years later. With Knight’s injury, it wouldn’t surprise me to see James on the opening night roster and maintain his spot all season.
Elijah Millsap - Millsap signed with the Suns on April 9 to a two-year deal, but his future on the roster is still to be determined. He came via the NAZ Suns and led them in scoring before the call-up. In Prescott Valley, Millsap averaged almost 20 points per game (19.7).
Note: Alex Len was offered his QO by the Suns at the start of free agency, but there’s been no movement on that. Len is off the list due to him not being officially under contract, but he would fall into the not protected side of the list as well.