We’re in the heart of Phoenix Suns season. We’re in mock draft season.
If you’ve been a Suns fans for awhile, spending your Spring this way is nothing new. If you’re a new follower of our squad, boy did you pick the wrong decade to get into this thing.
We’re less than three weeks away from the NBA Draft Lottery. By doing everything in their power to achieve the worst record in the league this season, the Suns have been awarded the best odds to win the top overall pick in this Summer’s NBA Draft.
Don’t get excited though. That’s a prize Phoenix has never won. The highest the Suns have ever selected was number two overall. In 1987 they used that selection on Armen Gilliam in 1969 the pick was Neal Walk. Both died young, so if you’re superstitious, there’s another reason we need to finally pick first overall.
There are plenty of people that think the Suns will draft as low as fourth. Maybe. But for the purposes of a pre-lottery mock draft, we have to operate under the assumption that statistical favorites will win. Right? Sure we do.
So when it comes to the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, there are two names that dominate the conversation. DeAndre Ayton from the Arizona Wildcats and Luka Doncic from Real Madrid of the EuroLeague. The debate is fierce. There’s even division in the BSOTS offices.
Here’s a sampling of your local and national blue checkmarks that are on Team Doncic:
Phoenix has top-10 picks at center, power forward, and small forward, but it still doesn’t have a lead offensive initiator or a true star. Doncic can be both of those things. He’s the most accomplished player in this draft, turning into one of Real Madrid’s best players in Europe’s top leagues before he even turned 18 years old. Doncic has a case as the draft’s most skilled player, a 6’8, 230-pound point forward with preternatural court vision and passing skills paired with outside shooting ability. He isn’t an elite athlete, but there are very few holes in his skill set. We’ve had him No. 1 since last June and that isn’t changing even after terrific college seasons from Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, and Trae Young.
Doncic is the crown jewel of a terrific 2018 NBA Draft class, and he checks all the boxes for what Booker needs out of his partner in crime offensively to start doing what Booker wants to do the most: Win.
His 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame is a notable aspect of his projection. He’s well-developed for his age and is very good at finishing with contact to draw fouls while also using strong touch for floaters and more shots farther out. If we factor in Doncic’s off-the-charts feel and craft as a ball-handler, he’s absolutely a three-level scorer.
If the Suns do truly end up with the first overall pick in this year’s draft after next month’s lottery, they will surely benefit from embarking on a coaching search simultaneously with their draft scouting. That is because of the national connection between Doncic and Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov.
Both men took over the spotlight when in 2017 the Slovenian national team, led by Doncic and former Suns guard Goran Dragic and coached by Kokoskov, won the Eurobasket competition. They beat Bogdan Bogdanovic and Serbia in the final, cementing Dragic’s international legacy and propelling Doncic and Kokoskov to greater fame.
Comfort will be a big part of Doncic’s ability to translate his game to the United States. Signing the coach of his national team would be extremely helpful for that process.
From the draft, that’s the player I know the best, seen the most, and I’ve played against. I know him personally. There’s no college kid that would be able to put up those kinds of numbers at the highest levels in Europe, playing against professionals, grown men. And he’s so young with such confidence, it’s unbelievable.
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.
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.
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.
If the Suns are really serious about the idea of optimum versatility, they definitely fulfill that notion by selecting Doncic.
And here are some talking heads who think Ayton is the pick:
There seems to be a growing consensus that most franchises would take Ayton first overall in this draft if given the opportunity. I’m not sure I would. But I’m confident the Suns would in an attempt to turn the Arizona standout into a Phoenix legend. The 7-1 forward averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in 33.5 minutes per game this season while helping the Wildcats win the Pac-12 regular-season title. His physical gifts make him unique and provide an opportunity for superstardom.
Though Ayton has settled in as the likely No. 1 pick, there’s definitely some level of debate within front offices right now, with Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley III in the mix. Phoenix’s need for a center makes Ayton a pretty strong option from a fit standpoint, and his elite physical traits and developing skill set give him both a star ceiling and a bankable floor. It’s imperative he improves defensively to access his full potential. For the Suns, who have a 25% chance at the No. 1 pick, pairing him with Devin Booker would create an inarguably strong foundation.
Phoenix needs a point guard as well, so Slovenia’s Luka Doncic will be part of the conversation. But General Manager Ryan McDonough has said center is a “slightly higher” priority and NBA scouts have compared Ayton to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The Suns can always find guards and wing players in free agency. But a physically dominant center who fits today’s NBA game? How can the Suns pass that up?
Ayton was beginning to answer some of the questions scouts have had about him since high school with a string of dominant performances down the stretch, before finishing the season on a poor note. Physically, he’s one of the most gifted prospects we’ve seen in the draft in the past few years, and he has an impressive skill level, to boot.
Phoenix, the worst defensive team in the NBA, will be right to question Ayton’s impact on that end of the floor, but his sheer productivity and overall talent level makes it difficult to not slot him at the top of this class.
Ayton is a physical specimen. He’s tall and long at 7’1” with at least that much wingspan. He can outreach everyone for rebounds, often tapping the ball gently to himself in traffic which shows a great amount of body control both in his hands as well as his feet.
Defensively, he doesn’t commit dumb fouls, stays on his man, doesn’t get lost ball-watching, and uses his body to deter players from challenging him.
Ayton can pass, shoot, rebound, block shots, doesn’t make dumb fouls. He’s super huge, athletic and naturally talented.
He will be a 20/10 guy in the NBA almost every year of his career.
What does this author think? He thinks that this decision is not nearly as important as some are painting. I know, that’s crazy isn’t it? We’re talking about the number one pick in the draft! Add either one of these guys and they could win fewer games next season than they did last. They could also turn into a playoff team. What I’m sure of though, is that if the Phoenix Suns are going to claw their way back to relevance and escape the worst stretch in franchise history, then there are changes that need to be made that don’t involve putting a round ball in a round hoop.
That answer doesn’t satisfy basketball nerds, though. I know you get it. If pressed give me Ayton, because I’m 36 years old and I still think that the path to ultra-success can be paved through the center position.
Who do you like?