The NCAA Tournament pits great players against other great players, sometimes for the first time all year. It also gets teams out of their comfort zones, playing against teams they’re not used to seeing.
Great talents like De’Andre Hunter, Brandon Clarke, Tyler Herro, Tre Jones and Carsen Edwards have leveled up during the second weekend, changing the calculus of the 2019 Draft. We have no idea how aggressively the Suns plan to attack this draft, and the whispers have been there for a while regarding their lack of aggressiveness scouting, but we have to at least assume the Suns will have some idea of their rankings in the lottery.
Unless Phoenix can find a slam-dunk trade at the top of the draft, they will be bringing on another top-five pick. As always, it’s important to do the homework and make all the losing hurt a little less by bringing in a great player in the draft.
The Suns could reasonably use their top pick to simply trade back, acquire a veteran, and still end up picking in the back of the lottery. New Orleans, a team which has been connected to the Suns for a while because of point guard Jrue Holiday’s uncertain future, is likely to have the ninth pick.
As an example, the Suns could trade No. 2 and a few other pieces for No. 9 and Holiday. The crazy circumstances of draft day mean the Suns have to be thorough about the entire 2019 class.
Here’s how I would organize my draft board if I were in the Suns’ front office:
1. Zion Williamson, F/C, Duke
Williamson’s tournament performance is one of the greatest in recent memory. He fills so many of the specific holes in the Suns’ roster (secondary playmaking, rim protection/team defense, rebounding) and has the chance to become the best player on the team.
2. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Morant is not a perfect fit with Devin Booker considering Booker’s developments as a playmaker this year, but the Murray State guard does fit nicely in Igor Kokoskov’s up-tempo system. If Morant can start shooting like he did in the second round against Florida State, his NBA ceiling is even higher, and his fit in Phoenix better.
3. Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga
Clarke is an eerily similar player to Williamson in many ways, making it quite remarkable that they will sit together atop so many college leaderboards after this season. Clarke’s defensive versatility and playmaking at the forward spot make him a nice partner in the frontcourt for Deandre Ayton.
4. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Hunter is nearly a perfect fit at the four next to Ayton — he can put the ball on the floor, make open 3s, switch on defense and has good size. However, Hunter’s rebounding has fallen off this year in a larger role and he struggles as a finisher.
5. RJ Barrett, G/F, Duke
Barrett almost made me rethink this with his incredible weekend as a playmaker. Against Michigan State, Barrett made several patient, pretty passes off the pick-and-roll to big man Javin DeLaurier. He’s also gotten much better as a spot-up shooter over the course of the season. His mentality, however, is overaggressive and he doesn’t make much of an impact on defense. There’s a scary floor here of a Brandon Ingram or Year Two Jayson Tatum-type inefficient, positionless player.
6. Jarrett Culver, G/F, Texas Tech
Culver just isn’t a very smooth fit in Phoenix. He’s surely good enough to get on the court over some of the wings currently on the roster but doesn’t project to be a significant upgrade over Mikal Bridges or Kelly Oubre Jr. If Bridges or Ayton improved as a playmaker, Culver could be an interesting piece for the Suns to really go big and positionless, but that’s unlikely.
7. Cam Reddish, F, Duke
A bizarre season from a bizarre prospect is complete, and I feel almost as if I have no better read on Reddish than I did when the year started. If he can add weight and improve his team defense discipline, maybe he makes sense as a four in Phoenix. That’s probably not his best NBA role, though, and the Suns would shock me if they took a player as raw as Reddish.
8. Coby White, G, North Carolina
White is everybody’s favorite dark horse to crash the top ten. With legit size, pull-up shooting ability and explosiveness in transition, the freshman exudes modernity. But is he actually good at all of those things?
9. Romeo Langford, G, Indiana
Langford is quietly one of my favorite fits for Booker in this draft. He plays harder on defense than most freshmen in his situation as the only star on a Power 5 team and can shoot. The numbers like him more than you would think given Indiana’s disappointing season.
10. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Garland will need the ball in his hands to be successful, and it’s unlikely the Suns’ small scouting outfit take the chance on a guy with a torn meniscus as their primary playmaker next season.
11. PJ Washington, F/C, Kentucky
Washington was my favorite non-Williamson player in the country to watch this year. He got a ton better over the course of the year, much like his former teammate and current Clipper Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Washington peaked in time for the Elite Eight and looks like a legit NBA four.
12. Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
Williams is the advanced stats darling of the draft and will benefit from a changing league. Think a better playmaking P.J. Tucker.
13. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker could play for any team right now. He’s big and he can shoot. Sold.
14. Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC
Concerns about his attitude and buy-in continue to plague the freshman, but his non-conference performance was incredible. Think Caris LeVert or Terrence Ross.
Several players whom I like very much, including Jaxson Hayes, Tyler Herro and Sekou Doumbouya, don’t make sense either due to positional overlap (Hayes, Herro) or age (Doumbouya). Phoenix doesn’t seem to want to rebuild anymore, regardless of what opportunities come their way.
So, this board is constructed based upon the needs at point guard and power forward, with some guys’ (Morant, Barrett, Culver, Garland) talent pushing them above the pack. In reality, some teams completely disregard players they believe don’t fit with their group.
Taking “best player available” is a lot easier to say than to do, particularly heading into the first year of Devin Booker’s maximum contract and Year 10 without the playoffs. Phoenix might see Barrett or Culver as an impossible fit with Booker and look elsewhere.
Another quality the Suns should be targeting is work ethic. Chaos is this team’s standard operating procedure, and they need players who can both persevere in spite of that and help change that culture. Booker is the best example of this — a low-lottery pick whose hard work and positivity superseded the crappy circumstances around him.
Can a front office — cobbled together during training camp whose views on the draft are already being questioned — find the next Booker? It may take that level of scouting and intuition to find great players in a shallow 2019 class.