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NBA GM survey: Suns most improved? Ayton best in 5 years?

In this year’s survey of the general managers, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, De’Anthony Melton and Trevor Ariza made appearances.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year where the NBA’s 30 general managers are surveyed about countless topics anonymously. Last time of around, we saw Josh Jackson voted as the best player out of his draft class by 2022. Now, there are plenty of options to parse over as plenty of Suns appear this time around as buzz around this roster continues building.

And it’s fair to say, from a local perspective, there hasn’t been this much excitement around the Suns heading into the regular season since the 7 Seconds or Less era.

In total, a member of the Suns was ranked in eight different categories. Below, I’m going to through and analyze each one.

Best shooting guard in NBA?

Devin Booker was featured among the others receiving votes portion, but there was a weird inclusion of Stephen Curry here, so I’m changing this list for the greater good.

If we take Curry out of there, the top five likely reads as follows from the executives: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Victor Oladipo and Booker. Heading into his fourth season, Booker already being in the top five is well deserved with how he’s played on the court.

It’s an easy point to make, but Booker stands out from the other four off the age difference. Booker, who will turn 22 at the end of this month, has years on the likes of Harden (29), Thompson (will turn 29 in February), George (28), and Oladipo (26). At least for the era that will be ruled by the likes of Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, and Karl-Anthony Towns, Booker could be the best perimeter player.

After this season, I will be curious to see where Booker lands and how he ranks up against names like Oladipo, Bradley Beal and C.J. McCollum. For guards 25 and under, NBA GM’s definitely thinking Booker has next.

Most underrated player acquisition?

Trevor Ariza finished tied for 6th in this category with DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas at 7%. Ariza definitely would have been higher up on this list had he gone to an established team, but he picked the challenge of helping build a winning culture instead.

As Brian Windhorst said on The Jump in July, the Golden State Warriors wanted to chase Ariza with the money they ended up using on Cousins.

Ariza’s impact will be felt on the court, but his impact off it for this roster will go a long ways. As Mikal Bridges said on Locked On Suns, Ariza has he and Jackson shoot with him in the mornings before practice. Leadership 101 going into effect with this established veteran forward.

Interestingly enough, De’Anthony Melton also received votes here. Melton was thought by many to be the main prize of the four-player swap with Houston, so he definitely has fans around the league. General Manager Ryan McDonough told me at Media Day that Melton was graded as a first-round prospect and spiked up on their analytics-based board.

Most improved team in 2018-19?

No surprise who led this list, but the Los Angeles Lakers topped it after signing the greatest player of all-time, LeBron James, to a 4-year contract this past offseason. The Suns finished tied for second with the Mavericks.

Both Phoenix and Dallas brought in prized young talent on top of veteran free agent signings. Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan joined Dennis Smith Jr. while Deandre Ayton and Trevor Ariza joined Booker. However, you had those draft picks and signings ranked probably affected the results here, but two more teams are trying to ascend up the Western Conference ladder while it’s the strongest it’s ever been.

McDonough mentioned on Media Day he wants the Suns to be the most improved team in the league, and he believes it for good reason after what happened in June and July. However, the unknown in the backcourt puts a cloud on that for the time being.

Rookie of the Year?

This was a surprising listing, because Ayton wasn’t featured in the top two, let alone top three. Ayton was placed fourth in the preseason ROY rankings behind Doncic, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.

Doncic has been on the top of most rookie rankings, but placing Bagley III and Carter Jr. ahead confused me. Sure, Carter Jr. is seen as one of the safest prospects in the draft and wowed at Summer League, but general managers seem to be betting on Bagley III’s athleticism making him deadly. Ayton stymied him in the preseason opener.

Personally, I see Ayton averaging around 17 points and 12 rebounds per game in his rookie season due to how much opportunity he will see. Also, Igor Kokoskov’s offense will turn him into a very efficient option more times than not, a trend that’s continued for Ayton since his dominant showing at the University of Arizona putting up 20 and 10.

Ayton has a great chance to make First Team All-Rookie, but the Rookie of the Year race might be tight like it was with Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell.

Best player from the 2018 Draft in five years?

Last year, as mentioned, Jackson topped the list at 24%. Now, Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. are atop it with 27% of the votes.

Basing it off just this category, if the GM’s end up correct, that makes Phoenix the brightest future team in the Western Conference. If Jackson and Ayton end up as the best from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes, adding those two in with Booker sets the Suns up well for long-term success for the first time in almost a decade.

The Suns’ young core features Booker, Ayton, Jackson, Bridges, Melton, Elie Okobo, and Dragan Bender. T.J. Warren can also be added in there at age 25, but if the top three prospects on the Suns hit, that changes the entire dynamic.

Biggest steal in the draft?

Even though he was the No. 1 pick, Ayton received one vote as a steal. It would be funny if this was McDonough who did this, but if not that shows you how high some executives think of Ayton.

For what it’s worth, I went back through the previous surveys and found zero No. 1 picks who were voted as the biggest steal so props to Ayton on achieving a first here.

Most promising young core?

Phoenix finished tied for third with Chicago at 7%, but they trailed behind Boston and Philadelphia by wide margins.

With three Eastern Conference teams, Phoenix is viewed out West as having the most promising future, which is very interesting when you see others mention the Lakers, Nuggets and even Kings as rivaling cores. Based off the others results with how many view Ayton and Jackson as the best player’s from their classes, then Phoenix hitting home runs in 2015, 2017 and 2018 would set the future of this franchise.

The Suns swung and missed completely on the 2016 class, with two of the three not around anymore and the other on the verge of having his fourth-year team option declined if no improvement is seen. Outside of that one bump in the road, McDonough has done well for himself the past four drafts but it all hinges on how the development of Ayton and Jackson goes around Booker’s star equity.

It’s nice to see this newfound buzz around the Suns after two forgotten years to people outside of Arizona, but it has to be proven on the court over the next few years before the switch finally flips to sustained success around its young core.

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