“The switch has flipped to winning.”
Majority owner Robert Sarver uttered this phrase on the Burns & Gambo show less than 24 hours after he fired general manager Ryan McDonough last month.
Well, it looks like the switch is broken because the Suns are right back in the same position they were last season even with more talent assembled on their roster.
At this point 17 games into the 2017-18 campaign, even after firing Earl Watson, interim head coach Jay Triano led Phoenix to a 6-11 record. Now, new head coach Igor Kokoskov has struggled with balancing rotations while the youth on this roster it’s showing itself through way too often, sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 3-14 record.
With that being said, it’s unfortunately time to look ahead towards the crop of prospects headlining the 2019 class. The Suns are only a 0.5 game out of the top spot in the reverse standings, trailing only Cleveland and tied with Atlanta.
Following the latest loss by Phoenix, a 124-116 loss to an even worse roster put together by the Bulls, I asked a simple question on Twitter.
This is going to go down as one of the worst losses of the season so far for Phoenix. I have Lottery Big Board 1.0 ready in the vault. Should I drop it tomorrow, everybody?— Evan Sidery (@esidery) November 22, 2018
Well, the responses I got were definitely leaning towards releasing Lottery Big Board 1.0 out of the vault even earlier this year.
From here on out, every month from November through June, I will be releasing a new updated big board for eight different versions. And now heading into my third draft covering the Suns, I’m starting to trust my eyes and scouting instincts even more.
Without further ado, here’s my first big board with a brief synopsis on each of my top 14 prospects with scouting videos attached from ESPN’s Mike Schmitz. Hope you enjoy — and have a Happy Thanksgiving, Bright Side readers!
No. 1: Zion Williamson, Wing, Duke
If you haven’t had the chance to watch Duke basketball, please make it appointment viewing at least for Williamson. His package of pure strength and athleticism coupled with innate instincts on both ends makes him one of the most unique prospects I’ve ever seen on the college level. I fell for the Andrew Wiggins hype hard in 2014 — that won’t happen again — but Williamson feels way, way different for obvious reasons.
Zion can play any position on the court outside of guard. He’s an ideal fit into a switch-heavy scheme and can even be deployed as a secondary ball handler — and he’s flashed more on that end than I realized. He’s also a freight train on the floor, bulldozing through player in isolation situations.
Even now at this stage of his development, I believe Williamson could be a star in the NBA. He truly seems like the first prospect who could break the mold to superstardom immediately.
No. 2: Nassir Little, Wing, North Carolina
Surprise, surprise. It’s not another Duke player following Williamson. Instead, it’s a prospect who I’ve been monitoring since he came out of nowhere this time a year ago.
Little is the ideal forward in today’s NBA. Not only can he shoot from all three levels — his stroke looks more functional at this stage than someone like Barrett — but his upside on the defensive end is huge.
The North Carolina wing is a late bloomer with a mean streak who can guard four positions while also being an above-average rebounder for his position. Also, as mentioned, his offense is more effective than many realize. Little does well for himself whenever he’s rolling in pick-and-roll and uses his athleticism to soar towards the rim.
With his 7’1’” wingspan and 8’9” standing reach on top of his 6’6”, 215 pound frame, Little’s physical attributes fit right into what is prioritized nowadays by front offices.
From the Suns’ point of view, Little will slide right in as the four flanked by Ayton and Bridges. And by a pure Suns-only board, I believe Little would be No. 2 on their board with what they are currently looking for as well.
Once Little is inserted into the starting lineup soon by head coach Roy Williams, expect this name to buzz even more. Even in limited minutes, Little has impressed big-time. Once he’s unleashed, it wouldn’t surprise me to see others join me in placing Little above the other lottery prospects on Duke’s roster.
No. 3: Cam Reddish, Wing, Duke
If there’s one prospect outside of Williamson who intrigues me to no end, if he ended up in a Kokoskov system, it’s Reddish. The lanky forward with some untapped playmaking potential has one of the smoothest strokes I’ve seen in awhile from a wing prospect. He can effortlessly glide around the court, but, unfortunately, he’s not utilized to his full potential within Duke’s scheme when playing alongside Williamson and Barrett.
Reddish has an elite scoring package, but his defensive intensity wanes. If a team is able to tap into his sky high two-way potential, Reddish could turn into the true darling of this draft class when it’s all over with.
Selfishly, I wish Reddish was in his own situation like Trae Young was last season or Kevin Porter Jr. is this season within USC’s fast paced attack. If you construct your team around him, more often than not it pays dividends.
By the way, for the people who are having buyer’s remorse of selecting Josh Jackson over Jayson Tatum, Reddish would solve those issues immediately. He’s more talented than Tatum, and his star equity is even higher. A Devin Booker and Reddish scoring duo is mouth-watering when also placing him next to Deandre Ayton.
No. 4 R.J. Barrett, Ball Handler, Duke
I imagine some places have Barrett at No. 1, probably not falling below No. 2, but I see some early warning signs out of one of the most decorated high school prospects of all-time. Sure, Barrett is a truly gifted scorer who’s an absolute freight train in transition with the ball in his hands, but he’s striking me as someone who will be picked on constantly trying to defend while also not having a consistent jumper to keep opponents honest.
We saw this exact scenario happen on Wednesday versus Gonzaga. The final four possessions, with the game on the line, Barrett isolated and was blocked at the rim. He didn’t try to look off anyone while also failing to create separation on the final attempt, as you can see below.
And the game ends with Barrett doing the exact same thing. Wow. pic.twitter.com/lzGXOWQUME— Evan Sidery (@esidery) November 22, 2018
Bouncing back over the main positives with Barrett, though, again is with his pure scoring. He has the killer mindset we see from Booker. He wants the ball in his hands early and often to try and help the team win. Barrett is a winner, and that usually translates on the next level (see Doncic, Luka).
If the Suns were to not finish with the No. 1 pick but landed inside the top three, I would place an early bet that they go with Barrett to try to fill their backcourt hole alongside Booker.
No. 5: De’Andre Hunter, Wing, Virginia
After Hunter decided to return to school following his wrist injury, it was a big blow to my own personal board as I had him easily in the lottery. Well, with him returning to Virginia, I think it’s boosted his draft stock even more as he tries to crack the top 5-7 picks this time around.
Hunter is a Swiss army knife on defense, while his offensive profile also continues to grow. So far this season, Hunter’s playmaking and self-creation seems to have improved, including more willingness to create for himself off the dribble.
The 6’9” wing also fits the mold perfectly for today’s power forward. He could be an ideal pairing next to Mikal Bridges and Ayton, allowing Ayton and Booker to focus on scoring while Bridges and Hunter create Phoenix’s own version of Clamp City.
No. 6: Bol Bol, Big, Oregon
Bol Bol has all the makings of the next unicorn. He’s an enigma on the basketball court with insane length at 7’2” while also being able to run the floor like a guard and hit NBA range three-pointers. It’s early, but Bol is giving me some eerily similar feelings that Kristaps Porzingis did in 2015.
If you didn’t know, Bol is the son of legend Manute Bol. He plays like his father did, but he does everything nearly better.
Bol actually might be the prospect who’s upside is the highest in this draft class outside of Williamson. If he hits, whoever selects him is going to have a star. If he doesn’t develop, though, he could slip further down my board over the next few months.
Could you imagine Bol next to Trae Young in Atlanta, or even Washington to kickstart their rebuild paired with either Bradley Beal or John Wall? Definitely keep a close eye on Bol, because he’s a unique prospect to say the least.
No. 7: Kevin Porter Jr., Ball Handler, USC
Porter is this year’s version of Young. He picked the perfect system to utilize his immense talents, and it’s paying off early. Porter was off most people’s radars, but after watching a few games featuring USC, he’s quickly soared up my board.
He’s not James Harden, but he certainly plays like him. His mannerisms and overall moves with the ball in his hands make him look like a carbon copy. Porter also knows how to change speeds on a dime while being versatile enough to play on and off the ball.
This statement may surprise you, but Porter has the chance to be my top ball handler on my board once June rolls around. Yes, I truly believe he has a shot at challenging Barrett for that spot.
If Porter is able to tap into his defense more, it’s been promising early on a small sample size, he could actually slide right in next to Booker and create Kokoskov’s new backcourt tandem.
No. 8: Quentin Grimes, Ball Handler, Kansas
If you are looking for another smooth combo guard who has great instincts as a playmaker, Grimes might be your best bet. Grimes also has the three-level scoring you look for in guards who can create for themselves in the NBA.
Where Grimes lacks, though, is on defense. So far, he’s been subpar on that end for Kansas but he’s also shown in multiple outings already how he can flip the switch whenever he wants between scoring and playmaking.
If the Suns were to get a winning streak going and not finish in the cellar of the lottery once more, Grimes would be an interesting option as the long-term answer next to Booker. Grimes could also rise up my board depending upon how he fares in conference play.
No. 9: Romeo Langford, Ball Handler, Indiana
I’ve followed Langford closely for awhile, since we’re both from Indiana. Trust me, if you get the chance to watch this prospect, please do because he’s so fun to watch. On the far east side of the state, Langford laid waste to easy competition within the IHSAA. However, it was hard to ignore how easily he could put the ball in the basket.
Langford became a hometown hero when he chose the Hoosiers over Kansas and Vanderbilt. It was the best decision for him, because he’s able to showcase way more than he would have elsewhere to scouts.
The smoothness in which Langford operates with is special, but that also relegates itself to some pretty bad defense. He seems to save his energy for the other end, which isn’t surprising for most gifted scorers, but he will need to show he can do it consistently before Langford rises.
Indiana vs. Duke is next week at Cameron Indoor. You all better tune in for that star-studded matchup, because I definitely will be.
No. 10: Sekou Doumboya, Wing, France
Say hello the mystery man of this year’s draft and his name is Sekou Doumboya. He’s such a gifted athlete with super long arms that are more reminiscent of Inspector Go-Go Gadget.
Doumboya also has shown the creativity to put the ball on the floor and create for himself or others even with his lanky 6’9” frame. The French product also has flashed on defense with some crazy-good help defense and secondary rim protection, but it’s super inconsistent.
When Doumboya makes one good play, he tends to make two bad ones to counteract it. Even though they are not close in length and physical profile, Doumboya could give Suns fans some Jackson-like flashbacks with his maddening inconsistency.
If he’s placed on the right development track and not rushed, the upside is gigantic with Doumboya. The hope is it eventually clicks for him and he becomes a poor man’s version of Giannis Antetokounmpo. I don’t see that happening, but he’s a home run swing that many executives should take when given the chance.
No. 11: Keldon Johnson, Wing, Kentucky
Johnson is rated higher on some boards, and he’s clearly proven his worth so far with some awesome performances. He’s right outside the top 10 on my board at the moment due to me being higher on names like Hunter, Porter Jr., and Doumboya.
The Kentucky wing is a load to handle in transition, and he’s an aggressive attacker with the ball in his hands. His mean streak and 8’8” standing reach make him a prospect who’s going to try to dunk absolutely everything. Similar to Bridges last season, he’s a high motor prospect who will lift up all the boats around him.
Jonson is also one of the better defenders in this class outside of Little and Hunter. He tends to swipe the ball away or force turnovers with his frame alone when ball handlers try to go around him. Johnson will be able to guard 1-3 on the next level, in my opinion. And if he’s able to grow more into his already pro-ready body, he could be a future All-NBA defender.
Outside of his defense, Johnson also gets to the free throw line and takes a lot of three-pointers, a great combination to have when entering the pros. I think it’s easy to say Johnson will rise on my board the more I watch him with Kentucky this season, but I’m going to be cautious at the moment because I’ve been duped by these similar prospect profiles before.
No. 12: Rui Hachimura, Wing/Big, Gonzaga
Did any of you watch Gonzaga versus Duke on Wednesday night in the Maui Invitational? Hachimura led the Zags to a surprising win over the Blue Devils. And guess what? Hachimura also held his own against Williamson, which is a great sign moving forward.
Hachimura really bursted onto the scene after leading Japan during the FIBA tournaments. He showed more scoring from the perimeter along with aggressive drives to the rim where he feasted consistently.
From a Suns fit perspective, I’m probably higher than most on how Hachimura would fit next to Ayton. The Gonzaga forward’s instincts are lacking, but he makes a lot of winning plays where it seems to counteract it.
Hachimura seems to be all over the place with his draft stock, but I don’t see how he’s not at least a late lottery selection eight months from now. And after his impressive night versus Duke in front of scouts and general managers in Maui, he could rise up even further.
No. 13: Darius Garland, Ball Handler, Vanderbilt
Garland is one name to watch where could really soar up my board once we get into the midst of draft season. From a pure point guard perspective, he’s the best in the class when considering everyone else in front of him classifies more as combos.
Even with his slight frame, Garland can create for himself off pull-up 3s and maneuver around pick-and-rolls with ease. His efficiency isn’t there at the moment, which includes struggling to finish near the rim, but his scoring profile and ball handling ability will allow him to get to almost all spots on the floor.
Garland is one of the more creative passers in the lottery. He can make basic reads while also not having many mental errors in that area. From that standpoint, Garland would raise some eyebrows as he could be the easiest guard to slide into the Suns’ young core.
Similarly to Elie Okobo, Garland is still evolving into a point guard. He was a shooting guard originally, which gives him great catch-and-shoot upside.
The Vanderbilt point guard is right around where Young was in Big Board 1.0 for the 2018 class. From there, Young went on to take over the national stage. Garland might be able to do that, but I don’t expect him to become a national sensation.
Either way, Garland could go from the bottom of the lottery up into my top 10 easily before it’s all set and done.
No. 14: Daniel Gafford, Big, Arkansas
Another familiar name returns from last year, with Gafford joining Hunter as the two sophomores who rejoin my lottery right away. I was higher on Gafford than most, but he decided to return to Arkansas in order to revive his stock. Overall, I don’t think Gafford will be able to do much in order to rise significantly, but his ability to be an above-average rim runner makes him appealing on the next level.
Gafford is cut in a similar cloth to Clint Capela, and most recently Mitchell Robinson. Both could quickly become one of the NBA’s leaders in blocked shots while also converting shots at the rim at an elite efficiency clip.
So far this season, Gafford has had some monstrous outings, including another 20 and 10 game against Langford’s Hoosiers. He’s already had multiple 20 and 10 performances already as he’s definitely taken over as the Razorbacks’ alpha dog.
Gafford won’t be a name to watch when it comes to the Suns due to Ayton’s presence, but he’s a name who could still make noise once we get near March Madness and everyone starts to turn their attention towards the 2019 Draft.
Outside looking in: Luguentz Dort, Wing, Arizona State; Ja Morant, Ball Handler, Murray State; Jarrett Culver, Wing, Texas Tech
Well, that will do it for my first installment of the 2019 lottery big board. What are your thoughts on these prospects, and which ones would you want donning the purple and orange once June rolls around?
With the Suns once again at the bottom of the standings, near the top of the reverse ones, it’s time to pivot to more draft discussion. I held off as long as I could, but Phoenix’s latest loss against a Bulls squad led by Ryan Arcidiacono and Justin Holiday proves that this team has a long ways to go before they are not in the lottery.
After the Suns have swung and missed on almost all of their top lottery selections (example being Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss from 2016), sans T.J. Warren and Booker in the later portions, it will be paramount for them not to mess this year up as well.
Start getting familiar with names in the 2019 class, because it sure looks like it will be another long season for the Suns without ever sniffing playoff appearances.