After going through the easiest portion of their schedule, reality has set back in for the Phoenix Suns: a collision course towards once again another top-five pick.
For the third straight season, Phoenix will look to mine a gem to pair alongside their franchise pillar in Devin Booker.
With pressure seemingly on starting this summer to begin making playoff pushes and consistent appearances soon thereafter, general manager Ryan McDonough has his most important summer closing in quickly. Booker’s acceleration towards stardom alongside T.J. Warren becoming a viable No. 2 scoring option averaging nearly 20 points per game, likely great third option on a contender.
Luckily for Phoenix, the 2018 draft class allows them to finally swing for the fences one last acceptable time. And best believe McDonough knows how critical this offseason is to supply a roster ready to win.
Only 1.5 games separate the top five teams in the lottery standings, so odds are strong Phoenix is able to land one of the elite crop in its top seven.
If you are unfamiliar with how I have discussed all of these prospects before, check out Lottery Big Board 1.0 and Lottery Big Board 2.0. In a few weeks, 3.0 will arrive right before conference tournament play begins as I update you all with my thoughts on this year’s impressive class.
I took the current lottery results and ran them through once in Tankathon.com. Here are the results below, as I will relay my quick thoughts on each selection with more analysis with Phoenix’s first selection (Miami’s first rounder won’t be covered, unfortunately).
1. Sacramento Kings - Luka Doncic, Ball Handler, Real Madrid
Doncic is my easy choice if I was Vlade Divac. Doncic would allow positional flexibility between him and De’Aaron Fox, creating one dynamic mismatch. Doncic’s addition also opens the door to seeing variations of lineups including Fox, Buddy Hield, Harry Giles, and Willie Cauley-Stein. That sounds like a lot of fun in of itself. The question is does Sacramento go this route or take a big like Deandre Ayton? It would be a tough debate in their war room but Doncic should ultimately win that argument.
2. Orlando Magic - Trae Young, Ball Handler, Oklahoma
If you are not a fan of the possibility of including Trae Young, the best case scenario for you just occurred. If Sacramento and Orlando are ahead of Phoenix on draft night, odds are both Doncic and Young are off the board leaving them either Collin Sexton or a litany of elite big men to choose from. I can’t envision a scenario where Young isn’t at least op three on their big board. They desperately need perimeter scoring and Young will bring it in spades. A trio of Young, Aaron Gordon, and Jonathan Isaac should give Magic fans hope if this is how it ended up playing out.
3. Phoenix Suns - Deandre Ayton, Big, Arizona
General manager Ryan McDonough has his choice of any big or wing he wants with how the board fell. DeAndre Ayton is the best player available and fits exactly what Phoenix needs from a center. Phoenix has had their chance of seeing Ayton a lot up close, including their front office having noted appearances in Phoenix (Texas A&M) and Tucson (Alabama). I was there for both, and Ayton was dominant. Now, in conference play, he’s rounding into form defensively. Over his past 10 games, he’s averaging nearly three blocks per 36 minutes.
Here’s an interesting comparison is thrown around a lot for Ayton: Joel Embiid. The similarities are obvious as far as offense goes, but Embiid is more refined from a two-way perspective. However, Ayton does have more refinement offensively to counteract that from my eyes. He can stretch it out from all three zones when need be. Outside of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Wendell Carter, no other bigs do that consistently.
Per 36 minutes, here’s how these freaky new-age bigs compare in their college careers.
Embiid: 17.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 4 blocks
Ayton: 21.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2 blocks
Ayton is the best big in this class for me, and it’s not that close. He’s a walking 20-10-2-1 stat line. His passing alongside Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson would be apparent, opening up more driving lanes. Also, it says something Ayton would be the second best Sun on this roster if he was drafted.
Like Embiid, Ayton should immediately translate his skills over to the pro level and likely be utilized much more efficiently than under Wildcats head coach Sean Miller.
In Phoenix, Ayton and Booker could become a Kobe Bryant - Shaquille O’Neal type pairing if the team around them is built right. Phoenix would have to hope Ayton flips the switch on defense, and so far over the past month or so he has taken major steps forward in some respects. However, offensively that is a juggernaut. An inside-out, outside-in attack between them sprinkled in with Jackson and Warren cutting to the rim constantly sounds terrifying to stop.
At that point, the Suns would have to attack free agency how they would have in the first place with spacing and defensive-minded wings.
If the Suns end up anywhere outside of No. 1, they should take Ayton. He’s going to stay No. 2 on my board until the draft unless something drastic happens.
4. Hawks - Michael Porter Jr., Wing, Missouri
I’ll have a piece in February on why Porter Jr. is such an intriguing fit in Phoenix even with their three wings already. Alas, Atlanta capitalizes. He’s a pure scorer who unfortunately wasn’t able to show it at Missouri this season due to a back injury. He grades out much like a Kevin Durant-like wing who can score from any level. Placing Porter with the Hawks allows him to immediately be in the running for Rookie of the Year. He’s going to average 20 plus, watch.
5. Mavericks - Mohamed Bamba, Big, Texas
Bamba and Dennis Smith Jr. is a great foundation to build off for Dallas heading into the post-Dirk Nowitzki era. Bamba has been on a tear of late, and his numbers that I have been correlating scarily resemble Dikembe Mutombo.
Check this out per 36 minutes below.
Bamba: 15.5 points, 13 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 5.1 blocks
Mutombo: 16.1 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 5 blocks
If Bamba turns out anywhere near Mutombo, he paired alongside the explosive Smith Jr. sets Dallas up to be a scary team five years from now.
6. Chicago Bulls - Jaren Jackson Jr., Big, Michigan State
You’re asking yourself why did I take JJJ over Bagley? Well, here’s a spoiler for Lottery Big Board 3.0 next month: Marvin Bagley III is going to be my biggest slide. He will still barely be above JJJ, but it’s narrow thin. Jackson Jr. also fits the best between the two alongside Lauri Markannen. Chicago would have Kris Dunn and JJJ as defensive stoppers while Markannen and Zach Lavine carry the scoring load is a team not that far away than many thought. Jackson Jr. has sky-high potential, in my mind, he is a lot like a defensively-refined Karl-Anthony Towns. Stay tuned, because the JJJ hype is about to explode here soon.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets) - Marvin Bagley III, Big/Wing, Duke
Bagley slides to Cleveland where he is immediately tasked to likely replace LeBron James. I don’t know where Bagley would play here either but this is what they hoped for with the Brooklyn pick. Bagley has star potential at either the four, three, or even as a small-ball 5 at points. He will likely be a player who averages 20 and 10 consistently, too. Cleveland moves from the LeBron era to the Bagley era.
8. Memphis Grizzlies - Mikal Bridges, Wing, Villanova
This is such a Memphis pick, isn’t it? Mikal Bridges would immediately start at shooting guard alongside Mike Conley and Marc Gasol if they don’t trade him. Bridges is a plug-and-play junior who has improved each and every season at Villanova. That 3-and-D potential he possesses on top of a 7-1 wingspan makes him a name to watch to surprise as a top-five pick. Bridges also fits the BPA mold here.
9. Philadelphia 76ers - Miles Bridges, Wing, Michigan State
I’m lower on Bridges than most — the last was at No. 12 on 2.0 — but his fit in Philadelphia is a consolation prize if Mikal is off the board. Bridges and Dario Saric could interchange at the 4, while Bridges could also play the 3 at points. The Sixers have a chance to run out a lineup of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, Bridges, and Embiid. That’s a dangerous lineup if Fultz ever finds his shot again.
10. Charlotte Hornets - Collin Sexton, Ball Handler, Alabama
What a predicament Charlotte could be if Kemba Walker is still around in June. Charlotte is shopping Walker right now, but Michael Jordan wants back an All-Star. Nobody is going to bite on that, so unless they pivot he’s going to be around six months from now. This pick here signals the end of Kemba, though. Sexton and Malik Monk signals them hitting the reset button while trying to fetch value out of Walker. Phoenix should make a move for Kemba at this point if they selected Ayton.
Trading Warren or Jackson with picks or one of Chriss/Bender could be an idea if Ayton and Booker are already locked in. Add Kemba into that equation and that has the possibilities of pushing for the playoffs next season.
Add in the Miami 1st and a draft night deal could be done for the Suns’ point guard of the future if Collin Sexton ends up in Charlotte.
11. Utah Jazz - Wendell Carter Jr., Big, Duke
Wendell Carter will move up a few spots in 3.0 because he has shown a knack for displaying key traits that unlike Bagley I know he’s capable of. He’s a great passer and shooter from mid-range. Those Al Horford comparisons are warranted, plus Carter is a better rebounder than he was at this stage of his career. Utah also goes BPA, adding Carter at power forward alongside Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell is a trio capable of making noise if general manager Dennis Lindsey properly constructs it over the next few seasons.
12. New York Knicks - Kevin Knox, Wing, Kentucky
With Frank Ntilikina and Kristaps Porzingis already in place, New York needs to find a wing who can take some of the scoring burdens off of them. Kevin Knox is the ideal prototype, and he’s by far what they are looking for to gamble on. If Knox hits his full two-way potential, he could become an 18-7-3 type of player while shooting 38% from 3. That’s a valuable commodity. Let that core of Knox, Frank, and Kristaps stew and watch that develop into a perennial playoff contender.
13. Los Angeles Clippers - Robert Williams, Big, Texas A&M
Isn’t it ideal for Jerry West that Robert Williams is available? After likely selling off DeAndre Jordan here in the next week at the trade deadline, Williams slides right into his spot. He’s also a lot cheaper and brings more to the table on offense. If he develops a consistent jumper, that makes it even better for the Clippers. When comparing Williams and Jordan per 36 minutes during their times at Texas A&M, Williams is awfully similar. Smart move to get Jordan 2.0 in Robert Williams by Los Angeles.
14. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit Pistons) - Troy Brown, Wing, Oregon
After acquiring this pick in the Blake Griffin trade, Troy Brown is a 3-tool wing who can do it all. Brown could also turn into a primary ball handler down the line depending on his trajectory. If the Clippers are able to find a trade for Danilo Gallinari over the summer, they are in line to have a team flush with young assets and boatloads of cap space for the next three summers. That’s what you call rebuilding on the fly, and Brown also fits their long-term identity.
Lottery Big Board 3.0 will release in February alongside more draft content featuring how Porter, Sexton, and Bagley would fit in a roster built around Booker.
The 2018 draft is setting up to be critical in capping off their core. Wherever they actually land in the draft after those lottery balls finalize, their pick needs to hit and be a long-term contributor in Phoenix.