Even though the Phoenix Suns are in a spiral losing 14 straight games, 29 of their last 31, there is hope when looking ahead towards May. With a 2.5 game lead on both Atlanta and Memphis with only 6 games left for the most ping pong balls, Phoenix seems nestled into having the best odds of obtaining their first No. 1 pick in franchise history.
The big question for the Suns if they land that exclusive top choice will be one of historic proportions. With both Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton sitting at the top of the draft boards, which way will general manager Ryan McDonough go? Whichever one he chooses, if Phoenix lands in the top two, to go alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson, Phoenix seems ready to take the next steps towards contention with these three.
If you have followed my draft coverage all season long on Bright Side Of The Sun, you would know Doncic has been at the top of my own board since October. Ayton’s monstrous outing at Arizona placed him into his tier, but the Slovenian phenom continues to prove in the EuroLeague that he is indeed legit.
After sitting out a few weeks with an injury/rest, Doncic hit a step-back three-pointer in one of the most hostile environments internationally with less than a second left. As Real Madrid’s primary ball handler at 6’7”, Doncic tallied up a line of 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists on 7-for-12 field goals.
However, Doncic has been doing this normally not only in 2018 but since he was the age of 15. Madrid has had a lock and key on the child prodigy, but he’s ready to spread his wings towards the NBA this summer.
Walk-off game-winner from Luka Doncic, who finished with 24 PTS (7-for-12 FGs), 9 REBS, 4 AST and 7 TOV in 31 MIN. Not many 19-year-olds in the world comfortable taking and making that shot on the road in an atmosphere like Pionir. Looked every bit of a potential #1 pick tonight. pic.twitter.com/VyFAeuUL0S— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 30, 2018
So, why do I have Doncic not only ahead of Ayton but also prospects like Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr.? The answer is simple: Doncic continues to produce elite numbers in low volume while also displaying super advanced passing ability and savviness to make a two-way impact almost immediately.
Locally, specifically on 98.7 FM, I continue to hear Doncic ignored in considerations alongside Ayton and Bagley and that makes absolutely no sense. Just admit that you have never watched a full game of Doncic and observe why he should be.
If the Suns land at No. 1 and select Doncic, it’s setting up for them to immediately turn on him because they didn't select two local products and that’s not fair one bit to the abilities this prospect possesses.
Let’s not only avoid that propaganda in June but not place Doncic in the same breath as other recent European prospects.
Not only is Doncic nothing like Dragan Bender, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Mirotic, Andrea Bargnani, Milos Teodosic and others but he’s so much more advanced in all facets. Not to mention that all of those prospects were older than Doncic, too.
Below, I’m going to relay why the Suns need to lock in on the versatile 19-year-old in three categories.
Progresses Current Core
If the Suns have not given up on the likes of Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender yet, Doncic might be the hidden element to unlock elements of their game not realized yet in Phoenix.
As we have seen over the last 5 games, Chriss seems to be incrementally improving from a defensive awareness standpoint alongside learning how to finish better near the rim. With a passing savant like Doncic added in, Chriss might be perplexed at first how easy he could be set up for easy looks by him.
I’m on the fence right now about how Bender ever gets over his passiveness, but there’s no reason why the Suns’ front office shouldn’t believe that selecting Doncic could quickly see them see developmental jumps.
Not only would Phoenix’s two top 8 picks in 2016 immediately see improvements, but if they are actually building a roster tailormade to Booker’s strengths (and quickly Jackson has added his name to this conversation lately), the Slovenian ball-handling wizard would fit into their current construction perfectly.
If the Suns landed a coach who ran a system similar to one deployed in San Antonio or Utah where motions and passing are prioritized, the Booker/Doncic/Jackson trio would be a terrifying sight this fall and even more so in a few years.
Also, we can’t forget how much better Doncic would make Phoenix’s speed demons in transition, Jackson and Chriss, look as well. The 19-year-old EuroLeague MVP candidate feeds off assisting players ahead, which will make these two current Suns want to run even more for easier shots at the rim.
It’s easy to say without Doncic in Suns colors, but if he dons them later this summer I’m very confident that they still believe in the likes of Chriss and Bender alongside sticking to their word as far as modern-day roster construction.
Optimum Versatility Reached Offensively
Following along with what McDonough, James Jones (VP of Basketball Operations), and others have said since drafting Jackson, the front office seems to have this studied down to a science.
The main buzzword I keep coming back towards is versatility. Not only do the Suns want to mimic a similar roster to what Golden State and Houston have — long, lanky 3-and-D wings plus ample amounts of plus shooters — but expand on that similar vision.
Not only would no other rebuilding team posses the offensive firepower from a playmaking and scoring perspective like Phoenix, but it makes them very unique altogether which I’ll explain further in detail in the next section.
Simply put, outside of maybe Philadelphia if Fultz gets his perimeter shot back more to a consistent level, I’m confident that positionless wing trio would vault the Suns into a spot they haven’t experienced since the 7 Seconds or Less days.
Doncic’s three-point percentage this season of 30.6% is not really the case because almost 20% of those attempts have been on end of quarter heaves after tracking through full games I was able to capture. It’s more realistic to believe that he is a 35% shooter from beyond the arc, which definitely ups the possibilities of how an above-average sniper like Booker could play off of him with ease in the backcourt.
The shooting stroke Doncic has is also very translatable to the NBA. There are no significant issues with mechanics compared to Simmons, Fultz or Ball outside of landing his feet aiming towards the left. That’s a quick fix in the first month of acclimating himself to his franchise.
Slow-motion look at Luka Doncic's shooting mechanics. He's in a bit of a shooting slump -- 3-of-17 from 3 over his last four games -- but still has excellent overall touch. Better shooter than his 30.6% season-long clip suggests. pic.twitter.com/vt1nDVfHIQ— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 30, 2018
Not only that, but it should be noted that Doncic has also taken steps forward athletically over the past two seasons. Once he was placed into pro-level training, he improved by the year naturally. His lack of burst is overblown because we spoke on a lot of the same things when discussing Lonzo in 2017.
Instead of trying to follow the lead, the Suns would innovate ahead of the curve much like Mike D’Antoni did with Steve Nash running the show.
Doncic, Booker, and Jackson would not only naturally allow each other space to operate but also it’s so unique that all three could take turns bringing the ball up next season.
Yeah, nobody in the league can have that idea in their back pocket at the moment, especially with them all age 19-21.
If the Suns are really serious about the idea of optimum versatility, they definitely fulfill that notion by selecting Doncic.
The Hydra Effect
If you cut off the head of the mythical Hydra, it grows back two more in the process. That’s the scary idea for oppositions if the Suns went forward with a core built around Doncic, Booker, and Jackson.
Try to gameplan to take Booker out and all the sudden that’s alright because either Doncic or Jackson can handle the primary ball-handling duties and vice versa.
This idea really comes back to 2015 when McDonough tried his hand at his own Hydra with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas. That didn’t work one bit with all three small in stature and not versatile enough to play against 1s consistently on both ends.
Instead of running into the problems that trio encountered, this one instead would feed off each other. This modern and efficient variation of McDonough’s three-headed monster would allow all three of them to play positions 1-4 without issue (Booker 1-3, Jackson 1-4, Doncic 1-4).
As it relates to defense, when speaking on Doncic I keep coming back towards how other advanced passers entering the league have fared. Doncic is not as physically imposing as Simmons, but he’s instinctual enough on that end like Ball where he’s able to make smart team reads on switches and interrupt passing lanes often.
Ball himself has turned into a great defender on the next level due to his advanced knowledge of the court. Doncic won’t blow you away on that end with a steal into a powerful poster slam but he will be the main instigator in many situations into why his teammate was able to cut off his man for a turnover.
For how a Doncic fit would work in Phoenix, they would be relying heavily on Jackson developing into guarding 1s on a regular basis. After seeing his rapid acceleration on both ends, I’m more confident than I was in January on that notion. Jackson’s speed and length against point guards should be a normal agitator and the backcourt pairing of Doncic and Booker would allow him to save his energy for those moments.
When trying to formulate a comparison for Doncic, I keep coming back towards the two I have mentioned most: Simmons and Ball. Both have the same profile as Doncic relating to his above-average to elite passing with great size including promising scoring touch. Simmons and Ball were top two picks, so Doncic will end up there himself most likely.
With all of these factors, the Suns’ front office should have Doncic at the top of their draft board. If they land at No. 1 and select him, don’t freak out about it just because the local media never really talk about him.
If McDonough and Co. decide upon Doncic to be that final missing piece to their young core, it could open up a world of possibilities with building a competitive roster around their ample versatility.
I’m all the way in on this trio bringing a title contender to the Valley if management constructs pieces around their strengths over the next few seasons. Now, the question is if they stick to their word since selecting Jackson.