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Why landing a top pick in the 2018 draft is such a tantalizing idea for the Suns

If Phoenix really wants to “grow the core together,” the final foundational piece could be found this summer.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

While many Suns fans have considered whether they should make a deadline move for a name like Kemba Walker, the original plan of #TheTimeline was to grow and develop a core together. The main pillar is in place with Devin Booker — which includes vital pieces like Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, and Dragan Bender — but one final secondary piece is needed to push the consistent victories forward into the 2020s.

Before this season even began, general manager Ryan McDonough was preaching patience alongside newly minted VP of Basketball Operations James Jones and majority partner Robert Sarver at his press conference announcing a contract extension through 2019-2020.

As McDonough mentioned in July, the roster needs several elite players in their primes alongside many other facets, to make the Suns a championship contender consistently.

“Doing what we’re trying to do and what I think we’re on the path to doing requires some patience, it does for sure,” McDonough said. “It’s hard to win with young players in this league, we all understand that, but Robert (Sarver) touched on it a little bit, building a championship team is not easy and there’s no perfect way to do it. At the end of the day, what you need are elite players in their prime, you need several of them playing well and playing together. To me, other things as well. You need great coaching, great role players, you need a lot of health, you need a lot of luck.

So, what we’re trying to do, Robert again touched on the importance of the draft. We’re trying to primarily bring players in through the draft, not only through the draft but primarily through it and develop them together and grow the core of the team together. .. There are going to be some growing pains along the way, and we know that. When you hear Robert speak and especially James coming in with a fresh set of eyes to the situation, you kind of see the excitement and the opportunity that presents itself.”

Well, the Suns are in luck if the league’s hardest schedule begins to take its toll on their surprising start, 16-27, over the final three or so months.

Through the first six weeks of the season, the 2018 class in college basketball has taken the sports world by storm. Not only is Oklahoma’s Trae Young leading the league in points and assists per game, but other top-flight prospects such as Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Collin Sexton have made noise themselves. This also doesn’t even include Missouri wing Michael Porter Jr., who is likely out for the season after only playing 2 minutes in their season opener against Iowa State (back surgery) and international phenomenon Luka Doncic.

Safe to say, there’s at least six, possibly eight, can’t-miss prospects in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft. That’s a great sign for McDonough and Co. if they want to continue with their vision, possibly adding the final piece that could cause the proverbial switch to be flipped in terms of wins and losses.

Also, another area that falls in Phoenix’s favor is team needs. The Suns need to find a long-term answer either at point guard or center. Luckily, Doncic, Young, Sexton, Bamba, Ayton, Bagley, and Jackson are all right there to scour over. Another note: the only other teams likely in need of a possible PG in front currently are Orlando and Atlanta.

As the standings show at the moment, the Suns sit at No. 8 in the draft, but only 4.5 games separate them from No. 1. It’s likely the Suns end up somewhere between 27-32 wins by the end of the season, which places them in the 5-10 range most likely. With the amount of young talent assembled on this roster spearheaded by Booker taking his star leap in Year 3, that projection seems more on the realistic side.

Below, I’m going to do a quick overview of two prospects: Young and Bagley III. (Check out my in-person scouting reports on Ayton and Sexton plus Lottery Big Board 1.0 for my initial, more thorough thoughts on the top prospects.)

Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

Ever since Thanksgiving, Young has taken the country by storm. Especially since the PK80 in Oregon, nobody has come close to matching his per game production.

32 points, 10.1 assists, 1.9 steals

Simply put, the numbers are staggering when you realize that he’s also attempting 10.3 three-pointers on average, too.

He’s the first mold it seems of the Stephen Curry era revolving around 3s + pace and space. For today’s NBA, Young is the absolute perfect fit, especially when thinking about placing Young either alongside Aaron Gordon in Orlando or Booker in Phoenix.

Against the then top 10 TCU Horned Frogs, Young ended up tallying a 43-11-8 line on Saturday afternoon while finishing 10-18 from 3PT. Even though he’s entered conference tilts on a nightly basis, Young is still throwing flamethrowers all over the court that nobody can put out. It’s literally Curry range on almost every other three-point attempt from Young, including some pro-style ball handling.

From a Suns perspective, Young could be a splendid fit alongside Booker. Both are score-firsts guards, but unlike the Curry / Klay Thompson duo (Klay is a great on-ball defender), there would need to be a ton of defensive support around them. Whether it’s rim protection or wings that can take off the heavier burden defensively — Jackson, Bender, and Chriss could possibly fill these molds down the line — you need to properly construct a roster around that possible duo.

However, it might not even matter in terms of scoring. How fun covering both of them if they are together. If you leave one with just a little space, they can pull up from anywhere. The comparisons are almost a little too cliche if they joined forces, but the Splash Brothers backcourt with Golden State in terms of overall offensive potential isn’t that far off.

Ironically enough, I asked Booker about Young’s hot start earlier this week. Here’s what he had to say below, which actually mentions how they have shared a backcourt together previously.

“He’s been playing unbelievable. He’s must-see TV right now,” Booker said of Young. “Everybody’s been tuning in and watching him. I know him a little bit personally. He’s texted me a little bit during the season so we’ve texted a little back-and-forth. Not saying, “I want you to be a Phoenix Sun,” but keep doing what you do, chase greatness. That’s what he’s doing. I’m really proud of him.

Just being around AAU circuits, things like that. Nike camps. I was on one of his teams at a Nike camp when I was entering the NBA, he was still in high school. I went back and played and I was on his team. So, ever since then, I’ve followed him through his senior year of high school. Obviously, he was a McDonald’s All-American and things like that. He ended up going to Oklahoma, wish he would’ve went to Kentucky, but I’m happy to see him doing what he’s doing.”

Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, Duke

Even though Young has become the new must-watch prospect, Bagley III has been dominant himself. Over the past 7 weeks, he is putting up simply eye-popping numbers for a big man: 24.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1 steal per game.

If you are looking to find a possible star big man, look no further than Bagley III. (Note: I had Bagley III ranked No. 2 in 1.0, but Ayton has leapfrogged him in 2.0, which releases next week.)

The Tempe, Arizona native has shown early and often that staying another year at Sierra Canyon High School would’ve been a massive mistake. He reclassified and he’s still exuding his dominance down in the paint on the college level.

One area that I have taken notice of, outside of his scoring prowess, is his ability to get in a second jump before many others can even do one. Bagley III is an elite rebounder, I found that out very early, especially in terms of getting his own miss. He is averaging over six offensive rebounds per 40 minutes (!!).

Bagley III has a ton of bounce and spring in his step, which allows him to be a continual mismatch against slow-footed post defenders or smaller wing-type on-ball players.

When comparing Bagley III to another big like Ayton, the difference is sheer strength and shooting. Ayton has a mammoth frame and a promising outside shot while Bagley III is more spindly and has more refinement ahead from the outside.

As far as a fit in Phoenix goes, Bagley III would have to play as a small-ball 5 unless they traded one of Chriss or Bender this summer. Compared to others bigs in Ayton and even Bamba, there isn’t an issue on the depth chart including them. However, just based off of talent and projecting it forward, Bagley III likely will be a better player than both Chriss and Bender.

These are the risks and rewards that McDonough and the rest of the Suns’ front office will have to weigh over the next 6 months. Until then, they will have to plan around possibly the most important offseason the Suns have faced in over a decade.

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