Rejoice, Phoenix Suns fans. Your favorite team is turning a corner.
Yes the dark days of the worst stretch in franchise history will soon be behind us. That is what we should demand anyway, after the most historic draft in team history.
For the first time the Suns drafted from the number one spot. To the surprise of few, Phoenix used that pick on Deandre Ayton from the University of Arizona.
Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, who did not have the luxury of passively navigating draft night, then orchestrated a trade to move up from #16 to #10 where the Suns drafted Mikal Bridges from Villanova.
How’d the Suns do? Fine, in the opinion of this author. Phoenix drafted the guy most people said they’d draft at #1. Made a trade I don’t have a problem with because the 2021 Miami Heat pick is far enough away that it doesn’t feel real. No one selected at #31 or #59 would evoke a strong emotion from me.
Definitely done celebrating the NBA Draft in any measurable way, though. Very interested in Summer League. I need the Suns to not get beat by 48 on opening night. After that, win some damn games. Then everyone can pat each other on the back.
Here’s what the rest of the nation thought:
It’s tough to mess up the No. 1 pick, and while many people project C Deandre Ayton to be a bust, I think he’s going to be a good player. They also got SF Mikal Bridges (10) from the Sixers, which is a bit of heartbreak. His mom works for the Sixers and he went to Villanova, in Philly, so his homecoming was short lived before he was sent to Phoenix. They also got PG Elie Okobo (31) and SF George King (59), and as long as Ayton comes through, they’re good. And Mikal’s mom can now plan on spending some winter vacation time in Phoenix, as opposed to Philly, which is a win for her. And her kid’s a damn good player. Grade: A
Ayton is the obvious pick. He’s big and strong and has the tools to become a dominant offensive big man. He has the athleticism to become a better defender than he showed in college. He will fit well next to Devin Booker. But he probably doesn’t have the most upside, and he’s not the safest bet, either. And he presents the question of whether you want to build around a big man in today’s NBA. Grade: B+
Bridges to the 76ers was perfect. So of course it got traded. The Suns traded away Zhaire Smith -- a high-upside wing who could grow with the team -- and a 2021 first-rounder (via the Heat) for one of the older players in the class. Bridges could help their defense, though. Grade: C-
Okobo has high upside as a playmaker with size. In the second round, Phoenix will have a lot of options on how it develops him. Grade: A-
Can a college role player become an NBA role player? It works sometimes. Grade: C+
There’s something to be said for not screwing up and taking the safe pick. That’s what the Phoenix Suns did at No. 1 by selecting 7-foot-1 phenom Deandre Ayton. It was a decision that was seemingly made weeks ago, and they never wavered from it. But most importantly, didn’t get cute by trying to turn the top pick into multiple assets via trade. Ayton was the best prospect and they made him their top pick. Simple.
The Suns also went safe with their 16th pick, too. They selected Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith and agreed to trade him to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a more ready-made player in Mikal Bridges, who was the 10th pick in the draft. Then drafting French point guard Elie Okobo at 31 -- a player I had slotted as a late first-round pick -- was icing on top of the cake. Aces all around, Phoenix.
There was no reason to overthink this. In my eyes, Ayton has been the top prospect in this draft dating back to October, and his clean fit in Phoenix, freakish athletic traits and developing skill level make him more than worthy for this selection. He will be one of the most athletic 7-footers in the league from the outset, and the key for him will be settling in as a defender to access his full potential. Ayton has all the talent necessary to become a star. The Suns made the easiest choice here, and can begin to build firmly around Ayton and Devin Booker, hoping they form a killer inside-out tandem to lift the franchise back to relevance. Grade: A
The 76ers picked for the Suns here after moving Bridges to Phoenix in exchange for Zhaire Smith, and this grade has been updated to reflect that. Bridges is a quality player, but lacks a ton of upside, and the Suns are surrendering a quality asset with Miami’s 2021 first-rounder. It might be a whole lot to give up if Phoenix doesn’t get their rebuild into gear quickly, as Bridges is older than all of the Suns’ other core pieces (though he certainly fits). While the player is solid, giving up that pick despite being in full rebuild mode wasn’t the most sensible choice for Phoenix. Grade: C+
The Suns went with the conventional wisdom, drafting the gargantuan big man who had been pegged as the front-runner for the no. 1 overall pick for most of the season. Ayton is a local product who will instantly step into a role as Phoenix’s starting center and one of its primary options on offense. It won’t take long for him to put up numbers. The question is how long it will take for his defense to catch up. Grade: A
The Suns are going all in now, trading away an unprotected first-round pick in 2021 (which may be one of the best trade assets in the league right now) to move up six picks to grab Bridges. His ability to defend either backcourt position should make him an excellent complement to Devin Booker, who is now flanked by defense-first players Bridges and Josh Jackson on the perimeter. Phoenix clearly wants to end its rebuilding effort, and Bridges should help the Suns shore up the biggest holes in their roster. Grade: B
The “Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant 2.0″ comparisons are a bit premature, because those two actually played defense, but Ayton projects to have NBA 3-point range, is a rim-running threat, and is a physical specimen who can bang bodies down low with anyone from day one.
Doncic would’ve been the more forward-thinking pick, but Ayton should be great too. With his size, strength, skill-set and yes, the Arizona Wildcats connection that will bring local fans out to more Suns games, it’s hard to fault Phoenix for going in this unsurprising direction. Grade: A-
The small-ball possibilities with Booker, Bridges, Josh Jackson and even T.J. Warren are tantalizing. Though his arrival calls Warren’s future into question, and though he’s already 22, Bridges is an accomplished, NBA-ready rookie who can help this team win ball games in the interim and for years to come.
Losing this Miami pick could hurt years down the road, but the whole point of having assets to put them to good use. By snagging one of the surer things in the draft in Bridges, the Suns did exactly that, bolstering their young core in the process. Grade: A-
Okobo is a good finisher with a surprising amount of bounce, he can work the pick-and-roll, and at worst, he could be a turbo-charged scorer off the bench for a team that badly needs someone reliable in the backcourt to help Booker.
With developing passing ability, court vision and decent promise on the defensive end when he’s engaged, Okobo is a terrific selection at a spot where he probably shouldn’t have been available. Even if he never pans out as the Suns’ long-term solution to the point guard spot, he should be considered a part of a tantalizing young core moving forward. Grade: A-
As one of the oldest players in this draft, the 24-year-old King knocked down 40.1 percent of his 3-point attempts during his time at Colorado, taking 3.6 shot per game from downtown in the process.
At 6’6, his ability to play either the 2 or 3 is what enticed McDonough, and he’s a stout rebounder for either position. He’ll have to fight to even make Phoenix’s active roster, but at this point in the night, with draft-and-stash options like Isaac Bonga and Arnoldas Kulboka off the board, why not? Grade: C
Ayton is going to put up huge numbers, there is no doubt. He has an elite combination of size and athleticism, and is also blessed with soft touch around the rim and a developing face-up game. He’s going to score and rebound from day one.
The question is how much of an impact he’ll have on the defensive end. He showed poor instincts and at times a low-motor defensively during his freshman year at Arizona. He has every physical tool to eventually grow into a quality defender, but he’ll have to grasp the nuances of the game on that end of the floor. That could take some time.
The ideal pick for Phoenix would have been Luka Doncic. Jaren Jackson Jr. is my pick for the best big man in the draft. Those players just fit better into today’s NBA than Ayton does, and for that reason the Suns can’t get anything higher than a B. Doncic and Jackson simply project to have a greater impact on winning games at a high level. Ayton isn’t a bad pick, just not the perfect one. Grade: B
A pure 3-and-D guy. Bridges spent four years at Villanova growing into one of the best shooters in this draft. Now he’s ready to thrive spotting up off Ayton. Bridges is also a pesky defender who lacks strength but can smother opposing ball handlers with his 7’1 wingspan.
Bridges struggles to create his own shot, which is the biggest hole in his game. Phoenix really needs to find a young point guard to get these guys the ball. Is that player Elfrid Payton? Grade: B