Once the Phoenix Suns swung a trade for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, everyone around the league knew they needed to address their point guard situation in short order. Former general manager Ryan McDonough tried to pull off deals during the preseason, but his time ran out as majority owner Robert Sarver replaced him with James Jones filling in as the interim.
Now, three months since that trade went down, their point guard situation is worse off than ever before. Even after Elie Okobo’s strong 19-point performance in his return to the rotation following Isaiah Canaan’s release, Phoenix can’t continue to ignore their backcourt problems any longer.
Devin Booker running the point in his “Point Book” role has been fun to watch, but it’s only a short-term fix.
The Suns reportedly discussed deals for Damian Lillard, Terry Rozier, and Kemba Walker, per Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro. His report was from August, two weeks before their eventual trade of Knight.
Fast-forwarding from August to nearly December shows us Walker has taken the leap and Charlotte is ready to commit long-term to him on a 5-year max contract unless something drastic happens between now and then. Portland is doing well again behind Lillard’s brilliance, further proving why they won’t be moving him soon. This only leaves Rozier available for the right price. Boston might want to retool on the fly as they toil around .500 instead of playing near the other Eastern Conference elite like Toronto and Milwaukee.
Even though Rozier’s value might be at an all-time low around February’s trade deadline, which could help Phoenix, it won’t ever get near the shallow levels Markelle Fultz currently resides in.
Fultz has been an unmitigated disaster during his tenure with Philadelphia. Over 33 career games, Fultz is averaging 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 0.9 steals in 20.6 minutes but his shooting splits are 41.4/26.7/53.4. The 2017 No. 1 overall pick can still play-make when needed while also utilize his 6’3” (6’9” wingspan) frame to his advantage for on-ball defense.
Even though this might be an unpopular opinion, I envision Phoenix as being one of the more favorable spots for Fultz to land at before the deadline. Within head coach Igor Kokoskov’s system, Fultz wouldn’t be asked to shoot the ball often. Instead, he would focus on setting up the likes of Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Josh Jackson to the best of his abilities.
Right away, the former Washington Husky would waltz into the role Canaan left, bringing the ball up half court and then running the corner waiting for catch-and-shoot chances (cutting opportunities for Fultz). Canaan averaged only 7.6 shot attempts per game during his 15 starts before being waived, but he also played 28.3 minutes which would be an ideal minutes situation initially for Fultz too.
Diving even further into the numbers via Cleaning The Glass, Fultz is a career 59.6 percent finisher at the rim (62-for-104). This season, Fultz is 35-for-59 around the basket which places him in the 76th percentile for point guards. Even though this 6’5” prospect is unable to shoot the ball, he at least is an above-average finisher. Fultz’s numbers would place him above Elfrid Payton’s production (53-for-96) when he was around during his short tenure with Phoenix.
On top of his sneaky finishing ability, Fultz also is able to utilize his size well on the defensive end whenever it flashes. So far this season, Fultz has a 1.8 steal percentage and 0.6 block percentage, which places the former No. 1 pick in the 76th and 71st percentiles, respectively, per CTG.
At this point, any team acquiring Fultz would be trying to revive damage goods. There’s a very low chance he ever reaches his consensus top prospect ability he showcased consistently at DeMatha High School and the University of Washington.
The thing is, on the off chance he revives his former abilities, whoever gets him would be set for a few more years to their surprise. That’s why a team who’s destined for the lottery once more in Phoenix should roll the dice on some possible untapped talent.
A league source recently told Bright Side Of The Sun that Fultz was indeed the consensus No. 1 prospect over names like Jackson and Lonzo Ball during the 2017 pre-draft process. Only one person within the Suns’ front office decision-making team at the time didn’t have Fultz ranked at the top.
Phoenix’s long-respected medical staff should play a factor here as well from both sides’ viewpoints. For Fultz’s camp, this would be his best shot to get the best daily treatment around the league led by head trainer Aaron Nelson. If any staff could fix Fultz’s woes with his shoulder, it’s Nelson and Co. There have been plenty of injury success stories out of Phoenix over the past decade — and if they somehow pulled off what seems like the impossible with Fultz over an 18-month period, it would seriously turn into movie worthy material.
Kokoskov also implemented basketball yoga onto the Suns roster upon his arrival in May. Players will go through pre and post-practice routines with stretching and shooting where they will blend together yoga moves while holding the basketball. It was helped put into place by Kokoskov and Steve Nash during the 7 Seconds or Less era, as he told Bright Side Of The Sun this past summer. Not many teams go to the lengths Kokoskov’s crew does with player development, which is another feather in their cap in terms of possibly being the right place to test their rebuilding culture on this Fultz situation.
From an on-court standpoint, Fultz fits right in next to high usage scorers like Booker, T.J. Warren, Ayton, and even Jackson whenever he’s out there. As mentioned earlier, he wouldn’t be asked to do much on offense instead of helping divvy out solid scoring opportunities for the Suns’ primary options. Who knows, maybe possibly playing alongside high energy wings like Bridges and Jackson could help boost Fultz’s confidence on the defensive end to produce even further in a new change of scenery.
Overall, Fultz does indeed pass ‘The Booker Compatibility Test’ with flying colors outside of his major shooting concerns. The worst-case scenario that could go down upon trading for Fultz would be he regresses even further between December and April. Well, in that situation, the Suns would luckily be able to get out from under his contract with no problem in the summer after a four month test trail. Fultz’s $9.8 million expiring price tag, if his fourth-year option wasn’t picked up before October, would fetch value on the trade market if attached with an additional piece from Phoenix’s roster during June or July.
With that being said, what would it take to get Fultz right now? Well, I don’t think it would take much at all actually. Multiple reports have already mentioned Philadelphia might not even obtain a future first round-pick in any trade. It also has been said by Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Gambadoro that both sides have discussed Fultz.
The easiest scenario we can go to revolves around Trevor Ariza. His trade restriction is lifted on December 15 after being signed by the Suns on July 1. Both Philadelphia and Phoenix could be waiting around until then before striking more engaging conversations.
Below, I will go through some trade scenarios revolving around Fultz that could happen before or after Ariza’s restricted is wiped away.
Trevor Ariza, 2019 2nd for Markelle Fultz and Furkan Korkmaz or Justin Patton
Once the clock strikes December 15, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened shortly thereafter. Ariza is the perfect fit between Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler in the Sixers’ front court. There’s a huge hole there following the departure of Dario Saric, which Ariza would fill while also supplying much-needed defense.
If it’s Korkmaz included with Fultz, that would mean this deals happens in December. However, if it’s Patton, this means it wouldn’t have happened until mid-January. Following Patton being included in the Butler trade from Minnesota, he can’t be thrown in multi-player trades until January 11.
Trevor Ariza, Troy Daniels, 2019 2nd for Markelle Fultz and Mike Muscala
Philadelphia was a place I thought Kyle Korver would land. Well, after he was traded to Utah for Alec Burks, that won’t be happening. The Sixers now need to address their shooting woes with multiple acquisitions in the near future. Why not kill two birds with one stone by getting both Ariza and Daniels to fill their needs?
Phoenix would get their point guard in Fultz, while also receiving a big who could play minutes alongside Ayton as a productive stretch four who can provide defense from time to time.
It should be noted in any Fultz deal, Philadelphia is looking to shed long-term salary. They won’t to not only be able to re-sign Jimmy Butler to a 5-year contract, but also try to recruit another big name to join them. All it takes is a Fultz trade to accomplish this feat.
Troy Daniels, Dragan Bender, 2020 Bucks 1st for Markelle Fultz
Depending on how desperate Jones or Sixers general manager Elton Brand are to wash their hands of the current situation, could this get it done? I actually believe so. Both Daniels and Bender are receiving DNP-CD’s. Daniels would be useful for Philadelphia, while Bender is a shot in the dark to see if he works alongside Embiid to fill the void left by Saric.
Compared to other deals mentioned, though, Phoenix would be giving up a future first-round pick. Milwaukee’s renaissance under head coach Mike Budenholzer with MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo has made that pick from last year’s Eric Bledsoe trade hold little value league-wide.
In this scenario, Phoenix would be giving up a future top-30 selection in the 2020 draft for a player selected No. 1 less than 18 months ago. Neither Daniels or Bender will be around past this season anyways, so why not try to see if Fultz is compatible with the Suns’ young core?
Sitting a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season, Phoenix is right back in the same situation they were one year ago. They are right in the midst of the reverse standings, and this time they are actually leading it earlier than expected at 4-17.
Playing the upside game with Fultz — again, a former No. 1 pick less than two years ago — seems like the perfect player to try this out on. If the Suns are able to pull off a correct mulligan to their 2018 offseason, it could lead to a rejuvenated Fultz paired with a top-five pick like Zion Williamson, Nassir Little, or Cam Reddish.
On paper, a 11-man rotation like this wouldn’t be so bad for the Suns to at least gamble on in 2019-20 before deciding on whether to retool even further around Booker and Ayton:
Guards - Booker, Fultz, Okobo, Melton, Free Agent
Wings - Bridges, Warren, Jackson, Pick
Bigs - Ayton, Holmes
For a team currently going nowhere at the moment, at least from a win-loss perspective in the near future, banking on a Fultz revival with the league’s best medical staff and an ambitious coach with a renowned player development focus seems like a worthy one.