With the most important day of the Phoenix Suns’ offseason quickly approaching, the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery on May 15, it’s time to drop off my final mock draft before the ping pong balls finally give us an official order soon.
When diving into more film study on my top 30 prospects — Lottery Big Board 4.0 coming later this week as well, by the way — I continue to come away very impressed with the overall depth. If the Suns keep their pick at No. 16, odds are they will get a high quality prospect with tantalizing upside who slipped outside the lottery.
However, when I was researching on how the past lotteries have gone, especially for teams who went in with top odds, it shows a historical trend. Yes, of course, it’s all random probabilities, but take a look at how the past decade has gone.
On average in the top three, there is at least one change guaranteed but it comes out to 1.5 over the past 10 years. 2016 was the only occurrence in that timeframe to have absolutely no changes occur in their top 14 selections.
Since 2011, the team who owned the worst record heading into the annual May ping pong draw has never dropped out of the top two. Is that about to change or maintain? Take a look at how it’s gone below.
How the long-term futures of teams such as Brooklyn and Sacramento were altered entirely when they missed out on John Wall (2010) and Blake Griffin (2009) respectively. The same could happen to the Suns this year if they miss out on Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic, but luckily there is plenty of prospects with star equity outside of them.
Even though Phoenix won this year’s all-out tank war over 8 others before lottery reform arrives, it would be crushing to have them go 21-61 to end up not near the top. However, it’s time to have bad fortunes hit the Suns again because they were jumped twice in this exercise to become the first team to drop from outside the top two since Brooklyn lost out on Wall.
1. Hawks - Deandre Ayton, Big, Arizona
Like I did in 2.0, Ayton remains the top pick even though Doncic remains at the top of my own board. If Atlanta were to leapfrog up to No. 1, I have no doubts they would take Ayton. It seems like head coach Mike Budenholzer is on his way out sometime soon, so maybe a full on reset around a budding frontcourt including Ayton alongside John Collins and Taurean Prince makes most sense here.
2. Magic - Luka Doncic, Ball Handler, Real Madrid
Orlando is doing backflips, as they finally have someone who will be able to not only their face of the franchise, but also accelerate their path towards a winning future. Pairing Doncic alongside Aaron Gordon sounds like a nightmare for teams to stop in transition. And when you include a high-end prospect with All-Defense upside like Jonathan Isaac, Orlando has something stewing. If Orlando doesn’t jump up to No. 2, I bet they are 100% locked in on Young.
3. Suns - Jaren Jackson Jr., Big, Michigan State
What a backbreaker this would be to Phoenix, but this is how it’s been throughout their rebuild failing to be gifted a top selection. However, after the initial shock wears off, there are still plenty of prospects on the board who could be molded into two-way studs rather quickly.
For me, this pick came down to either Jackson Jr. or Porter Jr., sorry Bagley III fans. Unlike Bagley III, the other two actually fit the versatile two-way mold general manager Ryan McDonough has seemingly built upon since selecting Devin Booker in 2015. This was all about whether I preferred immediate help on defense or offense, and I sided with where Phoenix needs to instill a better identity. That’s what helped further sway me towards Jackson Jr. being the newest Phoenix Sun at No. 3 overall.
JJJ compares favorably to other super freaky bigs like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, who put up nearly identical shooting plus defensive box plus-minus ratings. It was obvious from the get-go that he was not utilized correctly under Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he’s still very moldable at only 18.5 years old. Compare that to Ayton, Bamba, and Bagley who are all about a year or older than him.
Outside of Ayton, JJJ to me also has the highest star quality upside. While Bagley III could turn into a Blake Griffin 20 and 10 type of player, does that win you a title? In today’s league it’s showing more valuable archetypes in the mold of Serge Ibaka or other pterodactyl-like bigs thrive in playoff settings.
Place ample amounts of shooters around Jackson Jr. and we could see a similar situation to Dwight Howard in Orlando, but with way more defensive versatility. JJJ will be able to switch comfortably 3-5 and check ball handlers, I’m very confident in that. By far, Jackson Jr. has shown he can read switches and ball screens seconds ahead, which Ayton barely flashed at Arizona.
I mentioned Davis and Towns are favorable comps from an upside standpoint, because look at how they compared in those categories via sports-reference.com (Davis = top, Towns = middle, Jackson Jr. = bottom):
Hop aboard the JJJ train, because if the Suns suffer a similar fate than Brooklyn and Sacramento on lottery night, then this could indeed be who they end up selecting. With how he fits the Suns’ current model of thinking, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Jackson Jr. maybe slotted in their top three anyways.
4. Grizzlies - Michael Porter Jr., Wing, Missouri
This will be a massive blow to Memphis falling out of the No. 2 slot, but they have the option of picking their power forward of the future here. Do they go more modern with MPJ or go with maybe the better player available in Bagley? Personally, I see a high school version of Porter showing up in draft workouts blowing people away, in turn raising his stock late. When looking at Memphis’ roster, they desperately need more scoring punch and someone who can create off the dribble for himself, which should make Porter the obvious fit here if this is how it really fell.
5. Mavericks - Marvin Bagley III, Big, Duke
Another safe play versus upside debate going on. With Bagley still on the board do they go with him or the gangly long Mo Bamba? This was my toughest choice to make in this mock draft, because this could lean in either direction. While Bamba provides the defensive versatility Dallas might desire, Bagley also would provide a much-needed scoring punch down low as they enter in the post-Dirk era. I’ll slot Dallas Bagley because those pick-and-rolls between him and Dennis Smith Jr. would be pretty awesome to watch.
6. Bulls - Mikal Bridges, Wing, Villanova
Surprise, surprise I’m actually going with a safe pick instead of a gamble for the Bulls. At this stage, Chicago actually has their young nucleus gelling between Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn but they need one dynamic counterpart on the wing. After missing out on Porter Jr., they pick Bridges here who will be an immediate plug-and-play starter at small forward. All of the sudden, Chicago has two way above-average shooters and could quickly make a surprise push for a playoff spot next season, in my opinion.
7. Kings - Mohamed Bamba, Big, Texas
Does owner Vivek Ranadive step in to get his true Stephen Curry clone in Young? No, the Kings play it smart here as they side with need over infatuation. Carter might actually make more sense here because Bamba could flash a lot of red flags Willie Cauley-Stein did in terms of effort and motor, but I think at this point his two-way upside is too hard to ignore. If Bamba hits his ceiling, Sacramento has a formidable 1-2 punch with De’Aaron Fox.
Young’s slip stops here, and it might be in the best spot possible for him. Whether LeBron James bolts to the Western Conference this summer or not, Young will be gifted the keys immediately to their offense. After trading away Kyrie Irving, they try this all over again with Young. Would taking Young also help convince LeBron to possibly stay? Who knows, but that might be a factor. Either way, Young fits the best player available description so he is on his way to Cleveland.
9. Knicks - Wendell Carter Jr., Big, Duke
Outside of maybe Chicago with Markkanen, I love this fit for Carter. He’s versatile enough to create switching lineups around Kristaps Porzingis as both can play the 4 or 5 seamlessly. Carter would also take ample pressure off Porzingis as teams would have to pay attention to this savvy big down low. Sexton is likely in heavy consideration here, too, but I’m not giving up on Frank Ntilikina as a full-time point guard. From the outside looking in, Carter seems to fit the mold of how New York wants to build around their franchise cornerstone anyways with plus shooting and defensive instincts.
As I will let you all know later this week, Smith is my biggest riser in my top portion of the big board. After watching more of him, I’m in the camp that he’s a better upside play in the top 8-10 picks than Bridges. Three years from now, I think he’s a better player than 2018’s version of Bridges, so that tells you how high I am on his shot developing alongside his defense translating on the next level. As only a freshman with absurd athleticism, including a reported vertical leap near 50”, Smith fits the billing of a home run swing for a team like Philadelphia to take. Adding him alongside Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz is a terrifying thought to envision.
11. Hornets - Collin Sexton, Ball Handler, Alabama
After officially hiring Mitch Kupchak as their new general manager, I believe odds increased that Kemba Walker isn’t on there roster after draft night. It seems like Charlotte is getting ready to blow this entire thing up, which they need to anyways after being stuck in neutral the past 7 years. If they plan to move on from Walker, the board broke perfectly for them with their choice of Sexton or Gilgeous-Alexander available. Sexton’s tenacity seems like a turn on to somebody like Michael Jordan and Kupchak, so he gets the nod here if they want to sell this prospect as their point guard of the future. Now, Charlotte begins taking calls on Walker to teams looking for point guard help (cough, Clippers/Suns/Nuggets right below them, cough).
I’ve been thinking on this fit more and I very much would enjoy this scenario. If Milos Teodosic opts out, Gilgeous-Alexander would immediately become the starter in LA under Doc Rivers learning under the same coach who developed Rajon Rondo. Rivers and Jerry West could easily see a newer version of Rondo, but with a 6’6” frame alongside a 7’ wingspan. I’m buying Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot improving on the next level, so he’s someone to keep an eye on who might even crack the top 10 come draft night. Someone like the Clippers even moving up for him wouldn’t be that surprising to me as his stock has caught fire recently.
13. Clippers - Robert Williams, Big, Texas A&M
After letting DeAndre Jordan presumably walk into unrestricted free agency this summer, why not just take a younger version of him for way cheaper? Williams fits right into the current wave of rim-running bigs who have above-average speed to get out ahead in transition. This type of prospect likely also ups his value in the process due to that reason just with the way this league is heading. Either way, Williams is no prospect to scoff at when you look at his consistent production as a rebounder and rim protector over the past two seasons at Texas A&M. Los Angeles would be the big winners of the draft if they nabbed both Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams.
14. Nuggets - Miles Bridges, Wing, Michigan State
The slide of Bridges finally ends, as many peg him to be closer to the top 10 but I’m not exactly there. I’m having a hard time figuring out what role he will fit into this summer, plus if his perimeter shot will ever become consistent enough to stay on the floor for long stretches. At this stage, though, Denver definitely rolls the dice on a more seasoned product with still enormous upside in Bridges. He would immediately jump into the role Wilson Chandler and Will Barton are currently in as a two-way player who fills in their gaps 20-30 minutes a night. From a pure prospect to team standpoint, this is one of the stronger fits on both sides for how this could work out 3-5 years from now.
15. Wizards - Jontay Porter, Big, Missouri
If Washington employed a single modern-day big on their roster, they might be better suited to upset Toronto in a 7-game series. However, Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi are not those at all. Expect the Wizards to take the best big man available, maybe even move up for one if they lock in on somebody like Carter or Bamba (no clue how they could do that, but there needs to be sweeping changes in D.C.). In this scenario, they are left with Porter or Mitchell Robinson, an unknown from the high school ranks who never even enrolled at Western Kentucky this past season. Porter has the better passing skills plus offensive upside, so the Wizards take him and immediately improve their big man depth.
16. Suns (via Heat) - Kevin Knox, Wing, Kentucky
Plot twist: The Suns are making this pick for someone else. That’s right, after dropping out of the top two Phoenix pulls an aggressive tactic. They select Knox, who fits their versatile two-way profile, but they ship him off to Charlotte in a deal for Kemba Walker.
What’s the package? Well, here it is.
Suns receive: Kemba Walker
Hornets receive: Marquese Chriss, Troy Daniels, No. 16 pick (rights to Kevin Knox), No. 31, 2019 1st round pick (top-five protected)
When looking around the trade landscape for possible deals for Walker this summer, only a few other teams really stand out. The two main ones that immediately popped into my head are New York and Indiana who could put together similar packages.
However, is a team like New York ready to give up on Ntilikina so soon? Is Indiana willing to pay Walker huge money long-term to play alongside Victor Oladipo? Those are harder for me to answer, because Phoenix has a crater-sized need at point guard over those other two.
Meanwhile, Phoenix would be able to send them a prospect in Chriss who is still only 21 at the start of this season alongside presumably two mid-first rounders in consecutive seasons to help retool (Knox + ?). For Charlotte to bite, Phoenix might need to throw in just one of those second round picks but I threw in No. 31 just in case.
At this point, Phoenix needs to empty out some of their asset artillery if they are actually serious about moving up the Western Conference standings.
This is a huge gamble for the Suns, but if they lost their chance at Doncic they might have to pull off these types of moves to meet their ambitious goals.
If the Suns were to walk out of draft night with Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 3 alongside swinging for the fences with a Kemba Walker trade, here’s how a possible 10-man rotation could look for Phoenix if they attacked free agency with shooting and versatility in mind:
Starters - Walker, Booker, Jackson, Favors, Jackson Jr.
Second Unit - Knight, Ellington/Green/Barton, Warren, Bender, Chandler/Williams
That’s significant progress from how the roster looked at times this past season, that’s for sure.
If the lottery balls are unlucky to Phoenix once more, this could easily set off a domino effect that leads to more aggressive, forward-thinking moves to improve this roster if they can’t rein in their heavily desired selection at the top.