About five weeks ago, I debuted the first installment of my Lottery Big Board, which featured a lot of the prospects you will see below outside of one, so I’m going to link you 1.0 for a more thorough update on each one.
I think once conference season is through and we are heading towards March Madness, more in-depth breakdowns will be provided. Until then, I’m going to just list them below in the meantime with where each rose or fall over that month-plus timeframe for me ranked 1-20.
Luka Doncic (-)
Deandre Ayton (+1)
Marvin Bagley III (-1)
Trae Young (+10)
Mohamed Bamba (-)
Michael Porter Jr. (-2)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (-1)
Mikal Bridges (+4)
Collin Sexton (-2)
Kevin Knox (-)
Wendell Carter Jr. (+1).
Miles Bridges (-4)
Robert Williams (-4)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (NR)
On the outside looking in: Lonnie Walker IV (-2), Troy Brown, Anfernee Simons, Landry Shamet, Keita Bates-Diop
Big Board Notes:
- I’ve bought in on the Trae Young hype. He moves up 10 (!!) spots on my second edition. I had some hesitation with a small sample size ranking him No. 14 in 1.0, but he’s proven to be a legit top-tier talent. Scoring guards like him don’t grow on trees, especially with his range on him. Outside of Doncic and Ayton, I’m starting to believe Young might be the best win-now fit for this roster.
- Mikal Bridges, not Miles, is the one people need to keep their eyes on for the next few months. At 6’7” with a 7’1” wingspan, including shooting 42% from beyond the arc. As I’ll explain later in this piece, Bridges could be a more ideal fit than we all realize with this roster. If the Suns truly want to build around versatility, Bridges and Jackson alongside Booker and Warren is a scary set of young wings, two capable of being plus scorers and defenders.
- Miles Bridges and Robert Williams tumbled a little in this update because they just are not showing consistent flashes. Outside of their unique, limited skill sets — Bridges as a small-ball 4 and Williams a small-ball rim protector — what can they provide you outside of that? That’s where I’m having questions while others are continuing to impress.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander fits the mold next to Devin Booker. The Suns need a lanky defender who can defend multiple positions. I hope you’re sensing the versatility trend here. Nowadays, outside of shooting, this is the most valuable aspect for prospects, in my opinion. So far at Kentucky, he’s stepped up in Quade Green’s absence and shown a litany of moves for a bigger guard. Those tools alone caught my attention and deserve a bump from the 20’s into the No. 14 slot. He could be a riser come NBA Combine time, too.
- Word is that Suns general manager Ryan McDonough was at the Oregon-Arizona State game to catch Troy Brown in action. Brown again fits that mold of a versatile 3-and-D threat who can also be a secondary ball handler. That role would fill a lot of holes on Phoenix’s roster. If they end up keeping the Miami pick, Brown actually makes a ton of sense. If you want to go the Golden State model and have an endless supply of wings that can cover for your scoring guards, then it’s a solid plan of attack for Phoenix’s front office. As McDonough has mentioned plenty, he has studied the Golden State and OKC rises to legitimacy.
The Suns want to be a team built on versatility
If there was one big sticking point after having a near hour-long chat with Vice President of Basketball Operations James Jones, alongside nearly two dozen readers of our site, was him speaking on their team building plans.
When you look at the Suns’ current roster, specifically their core, what’s their main trait? It’s versatility. Dragan Bender can play 3-5, Marquese Chriss can shuffle between 4-5 and check wings at points, Josh Jackson can handle 1-3, and Booker is showing capable of playing 1-3 as well rather easily. All of these names are also 21-years-old and younger, too. This is a long-term project and once they are ages 25 and 26, they hope to be a long sustaining contender.
Jones responded to a reader’s question about the draft as follows: “Everyone knows our positions of need are the center spot and the point guard spot. Decimated by injury. The tough part is you don’t know how far Devin is going to grow from a point guard standpoint, and you really just don’t know how far Dragan and Marquese are going to grow in the next 40 games. So, because we’re trending toward a versatile team, perimeter oriented, let me just say extremely versatile team. It could go from any one of those top ten (draft eligible prospects) because it’s all built on what we have and what we do with the pick.”
With that response from Jones, let us go further down the Booker at point guard long-term rabbit hole, shall we? Since returning from his strained left adductor on Dec. 26 against Memphis, Booker has averaged 5.9 assists per game. If you shorten it to January 3 on versus Denver, Booker is closer to 6.5. The Harden-type road Booker could go down is there. If he continues to display this while limiting the turnovers, which we have seen over his past two outings, then taking a Houston or Golden State team building approach is something I’m in favor of.
Two names in the upper echelon of the 2018 draft class that fit more towards this path than any are the international phenom in Doncic and Villanova’s late bloomer in Bridges.
As you know, Doncic is my No. 1 overall prospect and in his own tier. Ayton and Bagley III are in the tier below him. Doncic’s per 36 minute numbers in the league many consider the second toughest below where he’s about to enter is absurd. Especially for an 18-year-old to be doing this, too.
Doncic is averaging 22.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists when typing in those numbers on 47-33-85 shooting splits.
Many have said Doncic’s lack of athleticism should knock him down a peg, but he makes up for it with his on-court smarts. There’s a reason why many consider him the best prospect even in such a loaded draft class like 2018 is setting up to be.
As far as why Doncic would make the Suns more versatile, and in turn better overnight, the answer is simple. Selecting Doncic, whether it is through lottery ball luck or trading up using picks and possibly a player or two, would allow for him alongside Booker to share on-ball responsibilities. This, in turn, allows for a more positionless look as Doncic (6’7) and Booker (6’6) create a mismatch for almost every backcourt.
In Phoenix, Doncic would take over the point guard spot and allow for names such as Bender, Jackson, and Chriss to blossom. As I have said many of times on Locked On Suns, if Doncic paired next to Booker that brings championships to Phoenix and the league’s best backcourt soon enough if constructed right by McDonough and Co.
With today’s keyword being versatility, especially where the league is going nowadays after the Golden State boom, Doncic on the offensive end allows for an infinite amount of it. His addition would result in improvements for the Suns’ other pieces in their core.
Now, when you flip it over to defense and shooting into its own category, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges fits it like a glove. His frame allows him to play multiple positions, another near-must in today’s NBA.
Bridges is in his third season at Villanova, but he has been on many people’s radars since early last year. With him taking over the primary role and seeing increased usage each of his campaigns there, Bridges could be a prospect that skyrockets boards.
Just check out his numbers in his junior year taking place currently: 17.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 31.9 minutes per game.
Bridges can stuff up that stat sheet, that’s for sure.
How Bridges fits into the Suns’ plans might seem confusing on the surface with their wings already on the roster, but he brings a dimension none have displayed as of yet. Who knows if Jackson or Warren develop three-pointers consistently. If not, the fit with them is dicey.
Enter Bridges and then, all of the sudden, it’s not a pressing issue. Bridges has improved every year from beyond the arc, making 42.9% in 2017-2018. At only 191 pounds, the Wildcats’ junior forward fits more into the shooting guard role at the moment, which is perfectly okay from Phoenix’s perspective with depth already there.
If Booker continues his natural progression into a primary ball handler a la Harden, adding a piece around him like Bridges could result in immediate success. As an older prospect, Bridges also fits the billing of a non-project, which many Suns fans would love to hear after Bender and Chriss in 2016.
Realistically, if Bridges was the selection lets say with the No. 7 pick, he could become an immediate starter at shooting guard. Booker slides over to primary initiator and scorer while Jackson fills in at the 3 spot. From there, the frontcourt solves itself as floor spacers in Bender and Chriss provide what’s needed alongside plus defensive developments.
From the outside looking in, a lineup of Booker-Bridges-Jackson-Chriss-Bender (Clint Capela in FA anyone?) and including this second unit of Ulis-Reed-Warren-?-Len offers intrigue. That not only is a young nucleus but one that covers for Booker’s defensive weaknesses splendidly.
In this scenario, Bridges and Jackson take the two toughest perimeter assignments allowing Booker to conserve his energy against their non-threat. This is very similar to what Houston currently pulls with Harden when he’s on the floor. For a player who uses so much energy drawing contact and shooting from beyond the arc (Curry/Harden mold Booker seemingly is heading towards), this is a safe idea to deploy.
If Phoenix’s original core around Booker then takes steps forward in 2019, that’s the recipe to attract some frontcourt talent alongside much-needed veteran bench pieces to make a playoff run starting then.
Bridges isn’t being talked about enough within Suns draft circles as a possible target. A comparison I keep landing on with him is Robert Covington. As we saw on New Year’s Eve when Covington only allowed Booker to go 4-13 when matched up, he’s a valuable commodity on a championship dreaming roster.
Placing Bridges alongside Jackson gives the Suns possibly two of those prototypes, including two young frontcourt pieces in Bender and Chriss who allow for even more defensive versatility with their traits. When analyzing other wing corps around the Association, a roster including Booker, Jackson, Bridges, Warren, and Davon Reed emulates a lot of what’s successful in today’s league.
Shooting the three-pointer and being able to defend it on a high value is at a premium. This would also seemingly kill two birds with one stone, allowing for Booker to have more spacing offensively in the process.
Whether it is Doncic, Bridges, or any of these other fascinating prospects that fit the versatile trend, Phoenix is set to construct a team down a similar competing path if McDonough, Jones, and the front office so desires this June.
If you want some 2018 free agent targets to surround Booker and how they can construct a title contender around him as their No. 1 option, check out how I would do it here.