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5x5 Roundtable on the 2018 NBA Draft: How important is this for the Phoenix Suns?

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How important is Thursday for Ryan McDonough’s executive career? We tackled that, and much more.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We are now one day out from the 2018 NBA Draft, arguably one of the most important days in Phoenix’s franchise history as they own picks Nos. 1, 16, 31 and 59. Not only will the Suns add their likely third pillar in Deandre Ayton, but General Manager Ryan McDonough is set up with plenty of assets to stay true to his word about them being aggressive all throughout this summer.

It’s been awhile, but lets bring back the 5-on-5 roundtable for this historic occasion. I invited on Max McCauley and David Nash, hosts of the 7 Seconds or Less Podcast; Gerald Bourguet, Suns reporter over at Hoops Habit; Dave King and myself will represent Bright Side of the Sun here.

Time to buckle in, everybody, because Thursday is about to be absolutely crazy from the Phoenix Suns’ point of view.

1. Ryan McDonough has been hyping up the Suns’ aggressiveness for months. Do you think it starts on draft night with trades? If so, what should we expect?

Max McCauley, 7SOL Podcast Host: I expect McDonough to be fairly aggressive. While McDonough has spent the past few years acquiring future draft assets (the Miami picks, the Milwaukee pick), the presumption is that he has little intention of actually making those picks. At some point, he will cash in by packaging some or all of those picks (and potentially young players) for a bigger prize. That prize could be another lottery pick in this draft. It also could be an established player currently on the trade market (Kemba Walker, maybe?). Either way, I don’t expect McDonough to sit on his hands after making the pick at #1. He’ll be working the phones.

David Nash, 7SOL Podcast Host: I’d be very surprised if it’s draft night. Really, the only ultra aggressive move to make on draft night would be to trade the No. 1 pick for a ready made star and I just don’t see that happening. The Suns could definitely look to move up with a move from 16 (using other assets) but do we class that as aggressive? This is a guy who has not wavered on his stance since being hired, he is collecting assets for a trade for a star, if and when the RIGHT situation arises. He will get a bunch of other opportunities this offseason after the draft and we might finally see him push all in.

Dave King, Bright Side of the Sun: I think McDonough is going to try like hell to make a trade with the 16th and 31st picks, but having experienced on a very small scale the difficulty in getting anything done at draft time, especially while teams are on the clock, I am skeptical he will be able to close any deals. I think he will dabble in trying to trade up anywhere from 4-15 to take the right guys, and then failing that he will try to trade out or down from 16 in exchange for a veteran who can help the team win some games.

Gerald Bourguet, Hoops Habit: I’d say so, especially when you could argue Phoenix emerging from draft night with any more than two new rookies would be an excessive injection of youth onto a roster that needs to start competing next year. I think the Suns ultimately keep the No. 1 pick, but from that point on, it becomes a matter of packaging that No. 16 and No. 31 picks to either move up in the draft or snag a more established player. Maybe an additional pick and taking on Chandler Parsons would entice the Memphis Grizzlies to deal No. 4. Maybe they could package those picks with a young player to snag someone like Kemba Walker. Either way, the Suns have a ton of draft assets and young pieces to dangle. Draft night is the best time to start putting them to good use.

Evan Sidery, Bright Side of the Sun: I believe so, and it seems like Thursday is setting up to be absolutely crazy from a trading point of view. Expect flurries of movement all throughout the evening, with Phoenix likely trying to move up to nab Oklahoma’s Trae Young, if reports of him probably falling past No. 9 are true. Not only is Young slipping, but the medicals are scaring off some teams of Michael Porter Jr. as well. Both are ideal pieces to add alongside Ayton from a pure talent injection standpoint. However, it could be possible for Phoenix to be outbid by an even more aggressive franchise, for example Atlanta with Nos. 19 and 30. If that’s the case, I would swing more towards the Suns acquiring a veteran point guard to help stabilize the roster in either Kemba Walker or Patrick Beverley. Any way you slice it, I see the Suns making at least one move on Thursday.

2. Is Deandre Ayton at No. 1 all but a lock to you? Are the Suns making a mistake with Ayton or are they making the right roster construction move?

Max: Barring a trade, which McDonough has said is unlikely, I’d be surprised at this point if the Suns chose someone other than Deandre Ayton. Unless there is some reason to keep the choice a secret, they likely would have leaked already that they are considering another player. Otherwise, they’d potentially face a public relations nightmare by surprising a fanbase that is set on Ayton with, say, Luka Doncic. Just think: There will be thousands of fans gathered at Talking Stick Resort Arena, eagerly anticipating the Suns’ selection, most of them expecting Ayton to be the pick. That could get ugly.

While I prefer Doncic, I am at peace with picking Ayton. Ayton’s upside is as high as any player’s in this draft. And the Suns would be adding length and athleticism to a roster that desperately needs it. I mean, when is the last time the Suns consistently had the biggest, most athletic player on the floor? Ayton certainly has his question marks, namely defensive awareness and offensive decision making, but his game does not suffer from any inherent weaknesses. I don’t blame the Suns for taking him and thinking they can turn him into a franchise cornerstone.

David: I said on our last podcast that I put Ayton as a 90% chance to be the Suns pick on Thursday. The other 10% I put down to some sort of trade for a player or back in the draft. So I think it’s pretty safe to assume that if the Suns stay at #1, then Ayton is the guy. I don’t think it’s a mistake at all. I prefer Doncic as a prospect but I don’t have all that much daylight between the two and I am willing to back in the Suns if they’ve come to the conclusion that Ayton is the one they need. At a minimum, Ayton is going to immediately fix what has ailed the Suns for quite some time (low post presence + rebounding combo) and the rest will be more of a wait and see. But that’s true of every prospect in this draft.

Dave: I think the Suns are taking Ayton #1 overall, just as everyone outside of Phoenix thinks, including all the NBA players themselves. Ayton is a monster with incredible physical skills, basketball skills and natural talent on a huge frame that won’t get too heavy. Plus, he has a personality that will put Phoenix back on the map, and he actually CARES about playing for the Suns. His family is here. Support system is here. It’s all ready for Ayton to become a Phoenix Sun and put up lifetime averages of 20+ points and 10+ rebounds and 2+ blocks for a winning, perennial playoff team.

Gerald: It’s probably a lock, but it shouldn’t be. The Resistance for Luka Doncic has seen better days, but he’s still the best player in this draft. The question is whether he reaches his ceiling, and whether that ceiling is higher than that of Deandre Ayton or Mohamed Bamba (my dark horse pick). Ayton’s pre-draft workout had an air of inevitability about it, so even though the Suns have done their due diligence on Doncic, Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III, the fact that Ayton hasn’t worked out for anyone else, that he “knows” he’s going No. 1, that he’s hung out with Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and other Suns players, and the fact that he went to Arizona makes this feel pretty straightforward. Maybe Ryan McDonough will surprise us on draft night, but right now the pick feels like Ayton. I’d have Doncic and maybe even Bamba ahead of him on my personal Suns draft board, but I still think he’ll be a great player in this league and a reliable 20-10 guy. A center makes the most sense for this roster right now as the easiest plug-in, and you could definitely make the case Ayton is the most NBA-ready while still possessing one of the highest ceilings.

Evan: After the Suns’ press conference for Ayton earlier this month, it sure seems like this is all but wrapped up. Like Gerald, Max and David, I’m still not hopping off Luka Doncic being the better prospect in the short and long term for Phoenix, but Ayton does immediately fill a crater-sized hole in their front court that’s been sticking out since Amar’e Stoudemire left for New York. For the Suns to get this pick right, they will need to immediately establish an infrastructure around Ayton that focuses squarely on his defensive development. From the onside, fundamentals need to be drilled into him — and how his playing time should be impacted his rookie season should be how he performs defensively. If he’s watching someone blow right by him, take him out and show him how to correct it. With their first No. 1 pick in franchise history, Phoenix can’t afford to screw it up. Ayton is the safest bet with his upside and immediate box score production, but he’s more of a project than many will anticipate, in my opinion.

3. Should the Suns pick at No. 16? If they do stay there, who are your ideal targets to complement the roster?

Max: I’d prefer that the Suns use #16 in a trade either to move up in the draft or acquire an established player (likely a point guard). Although you can never have enough young talent, the Suns are about as close as you can get. Rather than acquire another mid-tier prospect, the Suns would be better served surrounding their existing young talent (especially those who are struggling) with players who know how to consistently execute on offense and defense in a way that translates to winning basketball games. Of course, if the opportunity arises to draft a player who is more than a mid-tier talent (say, Trae Young), you jump on that because, when it comes down to it, the teams with the most talent typically win in the NBA.

If they do use #16, I like De’Anthony Melton, Zhaire Smith, Kevin Huerter, and Landry Shamet (yes, at 16) there.

David: The Suns should be going into the draft with an open mind on what might happen. There is a bit of a drop off in the draft around 16 though, so it really comes down to who is left on the board. You don’t want to get too cute trading back and then missing out on your guy, so it’s better to just take a guy at 16 if you want him. Having said that, if it’s a guy like Holiday I will be very disappointed. Particularly if Ayton is taken at the top, I’d like to see the Suns take one of the following guys directly at 16 or by moving up or back; SGA, Thomas, Milton, Melton, Shamet, Brunson & Carter. That is my “Booker Board” - guys who bring some combination of defense, shooting and playmaking ability, whilst being a decent fit next to Booker in the backcourt.

Dave: No, the Suns should not pick at 16. But if they do, they should look at a tough wing who can shoot and defend, like Zhaire Smith, Donte Divincenzo, Troy Brown, or even Lonnie Walker.

Gerald: I’m of the opinion they should be packaging No. 16, No. 31 and next year’s Milwaukee’s pick to move back into the top 10, especially if someone like Trae Young starts to slip (or if they take Doncic No. 1 and still need a big man). This all depends on what unfolds on draft night, of course, but I’m not as high on the point guards that would be available in that 16 range. If they do keep and use the pick, guards like Donte DiVincenzo, Lonnie Walker IV, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Zhaire Smith or even Elie Okobo could be good fits. I’m not sold on Aaron Holiday, but he’d be in the mix there too.

Evan: Once Phoenix is back on the clock after likely going Ayton, I can’t see them staying in this slot unless they are completely satisfied with how their board fell. Names who make sense at No. 16 include Zhaire Smith and Troy Brown Jr., but I could also see a scenario where they already promised Aaron Holiday (only prospect who worked out multiple times with the Suns). If that’s the case, Phoenix should immediately be trying to move up for a better option at point guard like Young or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If that doesn’t work, dial up Charlotte and see if they are willing to do a similar package that Chicago and Minnesota crafted this time last year for Jimmy Butler. Either way, I doubt Phoenix ends up making this pick. I will put the odds at 40%.

4. Just how important is Thursday night for the long term security of Ryan McDonough? Does he need to hit this out of the park?

Max: Drafting a bust at #1 will cost McDonough his job. That said, even if he hits a single or a double with the #1 pick (i.e., a good starter but not a star), he probably can save his job by maximizing the rest of the Suns’ assets in a way that allows the Suns to reach playoff contention sooner rather than later. But it’s fair to say that McDonough’s margin for error will be directly correlated with how impactful the #1 pick is over the next couple of seasons. It is by far the most important decision he has made in his tenure as the Phoenix Suns’ General Manager.

David: In short, yes. He has two years to keep his job and this is very likely the biggest call he has to make in that timeframe. Nailing the No. 1 pick is a big part of that and is a huge reason why I don’t buy into the outside pressures some are placing upon him to take certain guys. It is his job to make the pick with all the information available to him and with his job on the line, he’s going to go with the guy he wants. So if the Suns draft Ayton, Ryan was on board with that pick. If he preferred someone else, then the next BSOTS story published will be McDonough resigning because there is no way he is being forced to take a guy he doesn’t want at this juncture. The rest of the draft is talked about less but is arguably just as important. How McD tinkers with this roster for next season, will have a large bearing on how the team performs next season. Perhaps even having more of an impact on winning than whoever is taken at No. 1.

Dave: McDonough has it easy in the draft. If he takes Ayton, he will never lose his job because of that pick. If he takes anyone else, he might. But as long as he takes Ayton, then it’s only all the OTHER moves that will get him fired. Ayton alone doesn’t save his job. He has to succeed with his other moves to clearly put the Suns on the road to recovery. Without any additional veterans, a Suns team running with Knight-Booker-Jackson-Ayton-Chriss/Bender won’t win more than 30 games. Add the right veterans, and maybe that’s 35-40 wins.

Gerald: This is make-or-break time. Not only does he need to nail the first No. 1 pick in the Suns’ 50 years as an NBA franchise, but he’s got to prove to ownership — and Devin Booker — that he knows how to turn all these assets into a competent roster. Right now, Phoenix is in a similar position to where the Boston Celtics were a few years back. They’re the underpants gnomes of the NBA, with step one being “collect assets,” step two being a complete blank, and step three being “profit.” The 2018 NBA Draft represents step two, and with glaring needs at center and point guard, he has to find the right guy to build a contender alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. Then, he has to find a way to turn picks at No. 16 and No. 31 into another established player or promising young rookie who can contribute to The Timeline. The Suns have assets, but they have yet to land a big fish via trade. That may not happen on draft night, and he’ll still have free agency to make moves, but the pressure is very much on for McDonough in the most important summer in franchise history. The journey begins Thursday night.

Evan: Draft night is the first domino into the most important offseason not only for the Suns in recent memory, but easily that’s the case for McDonough. After sitting on his hands the past three seasons outside of trying to sign LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, he has carefully sat back and watched chaos occur around him. It was planned with how poorly they have played to set themselves up to draft Josh Jackson and Ayton, but now it needs to flip. McDonough has alluded to it before, but after the third season losing tends to seep into the rebuilding foundation of the franchise. With that being said, it sure sounds like 35-40 wins is the realistic goal for next season. I don't agree with Dave’s point of view that Ayton saves McDonough’s job, because even if he’s a bust that will cost him his job, too. After the draft, McDonough is still on the clock in free agency to vastly improve this roster towards making playoff pushes. If McDonough falls flat on his face this summer, it could be the perfect recipe for disaster with #TheTimeline rebuild.

5. Overall draft question: Who do you see as the overall studs from this class? How does this compare to you versus 2017’s class, or even further back over the years?

Max: I consider this to be one of the best draft classes in recent memory. To compare it with 2017 (just viewing these guys as prospects--I am not considering Donovan Mitchell’s or Jayson Tatum’s incredible rookie seasons), I would have taken Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ayton, and Trae Young first overall last season. Mohamed Bamba and Marvin Bagley also would have been in consideration for me. And last year’s class was great!

Also worth noting is the impressive guard/wing depth that this draft features in the mid-first round through the early 30s. There are more than a couple players whom Phoenix could nab at #16 or #31 on Thursday who could contribute to the next great Suns team. It should be a fun night!

David: I’ve grouped this draft into three sections for a while now. 1-8 is where the top level talent lies, then the rest of the lottery is strong and then you could throw a blanket over everyone from 15-35. It’s a big reason what the Suns are doing at 16 and 31 is so interesting and for the wider NBA, it has the potential to create chaos the more you get deep into the first round. The top tier of talent is better than 2017 but is weirdly very top heavy, with the rest of the first round then littered with wings and guards. I think Doncic is the stud from group 1, with Bamba my sneaky pick to be better than them all in five years time. From the second group, I have SGA as the real stud but it wouldn’t surprise me if one (or both) of the Bridges’ carve out a long NBA career as a top level starter. If I were to pick a more unknown possible stud from later in the draft, I’d take Khyri Thomas. He has the potential to be a two-way threat and a Beverley/Smart/Westbrook type who just wills his team to winning basketball with ridiculous effort.

Dave: I’ve got a column coming on draft morning, ranking the top-5 picks from each of the last 2 drafts to make a composite Top-10. I think both Ayton and Luka are better than any top players since Karl-Anthony Towns, so that includes last year. Then you’ve got a pre-head-case Markelle Fultz before getting to the rest of the bigs this year and Jackson/Ball/Tatum from last year.

Gerald: For all the nitpicking over the top prospects in this year’s draft, it feels like the top is pretty loaded and there’s considerable depth without much of a gap between prospects in the mid-first round and early second round. For me, the showstoppers are (in this order): Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III. Wendell Carter Jr., Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges are sure things too, and though I have questions about Trae Young and Michael Porter Jr., they could very easily become NBA stars as well. I’m not sure how it compares to last year’s loaded draft class just yet, but if could very well match -- or possibly even exceed -- that very high bar. I typically try to abstain from comparing anything to the prestigious 2003 NBA Draft class or the legendary 1984 NBA Draft class, but both 2017 and 2018 are looking like loaded classes that could produce multiple All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers down the road.

Evan: Overall, I think the top portion of this class resembles way closer to 2003 than many envision. Personally, I see seven guys (Doncic, Ayton, JJJ, Bamba, MPJ, Bagley, Young) being future stars, if they wind up in the ideal development spot. Those seven have maintained separation all season for me. If I had to pick only three out of that group, though, I would go Doncic, Ayton and Bamba. The former are two prospects with by far the safest floors, while Bamba’s work with Drew Hanlen completely overhauling his shot in this short amount of time is already answering questions about his future. If I had to only pick three future All-NBA players out of the 2018 Draft, it would be those three for sure. Once out of the lottery portion, it closely resembles 2017 with it’s lack of immediate contributors, but there is plenty of wing depth in the 16-45 range compared to years past. What an ideal year for the Suns to land No. 1, isn't it?