Nobody expected the Suns’ lottery curse to end. When it was supposed to be Ben Simmons, it ended with Dragan Bender. That all changed last May when Phoenix finally snatched their first No. 1 pick in franchise history. Former general manager Ryan McDonough had to take a moment to himself once the Kings’ logo was pulled out of the envelope instead of the Suns. Finally, the rebuild was supposed to be smooth sailing from there.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s gone for Phoenix since this jubilant moment nine months ago.
Instead of progress, the Suns have regressed in the win-loss column to the tune of 11 wins at the All-Star break. At this time last season, even with two different voices in the head coaching position and multiple 40-point blowouts behind them, Phoenix had an 18-41 record.
So much for that attempt of flipping the switch immediately once McDonough was fired, because this season has still been filled with inexcusable sequences of porous basketball being played.
Even with top young talent put together on this roster from Deandre Ayton to Devin Booker to Mikal Bridges and even Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre Jr., how they are in an even worse spot is puzzling.
With that being said, Phoenix is going to have to run back to the draft lottery well trying to rid themselves of this parched felling of defeat. Every season since Booker’s rookie campaign, it’s been like clockwork relying on the lottery balls to inevitably fall the Suns’ way. It happened with Ayton, but now they will have to truly rely on it again with even weaker odds following smoothing of the percentages for this year and beyond.
Enter in Zion Williamson, the true 6’7”, 270 pound detective who would step inside Talking Stick Resort Arena and immediately help solve longstanding organizational problems with his talent. Williamson’s arrival would mask the recent stretch of clumsiness by the franchise while serving as the newfound backbone to the near-decade long rebuilding effort.
This statement will sound hot-takey to some, but after watching more tape the past few weeks of Williamson, I have no real qualms in saying he’s the best college prospect of the modern era.
Yes, I think he’s already surpassed Anthony Davis’ level of elite that we witnessed at Kentucky. Why that is revolves around how easy it looks for Williamson to take over games like a monster time after time. That area in and of itself is a true skill, one not many players have when entering the professional level.
Put together a list of what the Suns are in desperate need of to drastically improve next season. While you are crafting together your list, I came up with secondary rim protection, potent transition scoring and improving the overall rebounding differential. Williamson has all of these qualities in spades.
Williamson is really like a chameleon. Whatever role you need him to play, he’ll do it with no issue like we’re seeing right now at Duke alongside high usage wings in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.
Need Williamson to be your No. 1 option on both ends? No problem. How about be a secondary playmaker who can ignite easy transition buckets? Check. Want him to compliment your other pieces? Sure, he can do that easily.
These are just a few of the mouthwatering qualities Williamson would provide a franchise soon. And for a roster like Phoenix, Williamson would fit it like a glove with all the holes that need plugged.
The 18-year-old out of South Carolina would aid Ayton defensively while allowing him an outlet to have more space to operate with around the restricted area. For Booker, Williamson steps in from Day One as his true sidekick complimenting him with the Suns’ scoring load while helping create and space the floor even more.
Many like to garner up comparisons for prospects. I fall into the category as well, but when trying to find the most ideal one, there are few and far between. I mean, it’s not often you see a player who could be an All-Pro tight end or linebacker in the National Football League play basketball instead. (By the way, Williamson was reportedly offered a scholarship by LSU to play football in the vaunted SEC.)
Williamson has been put in the same stratosphere as LeBron James, and he really might be based off hype alone, but the three realistic ones I’ve noticed are Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson and Blake Griffin. All three except Griffin were undersized for their power forward position but made up for it with a unique package of athleticism and energy.
Personally, I believe the Griffin comparison has legit legs, as do Johnson and Barkley. Both Williamson and Griffin were in a different class to their counterparts in terms of playing the game of basketball. At Oklahoma during his sophomore season, Griffin was sky walking on people while gobbling up rebounds like dessert. It simply wasn’t fair, and Griffin proved immediately with the Clippers why he was such a polarizing prospect.
The thing is, I believe Griffin is Williamson’s floor. I repeat: Griffin is Williamson’s floor. He’s a more supercharged version of Griffin on defense while maintaining the effortless ability to embarrass people on a possession-by-possession basis.
For this exercise, let’s compare Williamson’s freshman production spread over 36 minutes to Griffin, Johnson and Barkley.
Note: Heads up, Williamson is over a year younger than Griffin and Johnson while almost two and a half years less than the former Suns legend was during his junior season at Auburn. That makes it even more absurd, doesn't it?
Zion Williamson per 36 minutes: 27.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.8 steals, 2.4 blocks; 70.5 TS%, 16.3 REB%, 16 AST%, 28.4 USG%, 6.7 WS
Blake Griffin per 36 minutes: 24.5 points, 15.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks; 64.8 TS%, 24 REB%, 16.3 AST%, 30.8 USG%, 9.7 WS
Larry Johnson per 36 minutes: 25.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, 71.1 TS%
Charles Barkley per 36 minutes: 19.2 points, 12 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.2 blocks, 65.5 TS%
From the moment Williamson walks across the stage in New York and shakes Adam Silver’s hand on draft night, pressure on him will be gigantic for good reasons. No freshman in NCAA history is producing at this clip while showcasing his All-NBA potential on both ends of the floor.
Seriously, from what I’ve seen watching countless hours of Duke games, Williamson could waltz into the league and become a yearly contender for not only All-Star appearances but also receive votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Not very often do you see a prospect who averages over 2.5 steals and blocks per 36 minutes while fouling at an even less rate.
Don’t believe me? No problem, check out this two and a half minute highlight reel of Williamson’s defense without even examining his combination of scoring the basketball so effortlessly. In these five games against Notre Dame, Wake Forest, St. John’s, Syracuse and Virginia, Williamson had 14 steals and 14 blocks.
You just shake your head at those numbers when sifting through endless possessions of plus defensive reads on top of it all.
Williamson is beginning to turn into an enigma on the college basketball circuit, but his consistent outings of easily laying waste to opponents isn’t going unnoticed obviously. Expectations are that wherever Williamson lands in June, he will singlehandedly change the fortunes of one lucky team.
If that team were to be Phoenix and he was put on the floor with Booker, Ayton, Bridges and other under-23 talent, there’s no denying the switch instantly flips. Right away, national media will be saying the Suns have one of the most promising young cores led by Williamson.
And frankly, planting Williamson within the talent ecosystem currently taking shape in the Valley, that would be a much-needed change of pace from the onslaught of blowout losses and noncompetitive stretches currently encountered on a weekly basis.
Who knows, maybe I won’t look too crazy after I said this Suns team could eventually mimic the team building path Oklahoma City went through led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Honestly, if all went well around them, the big three of Booker, Ayton and Williamson could give that aforementioned trio a run for its money.
As Suns fans continuously refresh Tankathon, the new tradition around the Phoenix area, take solace in knowing that shouldn’t happen again if they landed the golden ticket of Williamson on May 14.
There’s an 86 percent it doesn’t happen, but this franchise needs to hope for the greatest possible outcome when analyzing how urgent it is for them to take a much-needed leap forward in 2020.