The SB Nation folks are having a lot of fun with “What If?” week, including this exercise where we decided to mock out a new reality where every NBA team could re-draft all of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 drafts at once?
You may no longer recall much from those drafts since the Suns only have one pick left on their roster today, but since the Suns had SIX first round picks, it’s clear those should have had a much bigger impact on today’s team.
On the plus side of reality, in the true real-world timeline of events, the Suns did procure All-Star Devin Booker in the 2015 draft (13th overall) and used their otherwise incredibly bad decision making to earn the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 to take Deandre Ayton. If the Suns had done any better in the 2014-16 drafts, no way they get to take a top guy in the all-time vaunted 2018 draftapalooza.
So, reality: Devin Booker and nothing else, which begat the league’s worst record, which ended up in Deandre Ayton (or whoever you’d have taken at No. 1 in 2018).
But what if the Suns had drafted well from 2014-16, and were competitive from that point on?
Using the full benefit of hindsight, with 4-6 years of NBA film to rank players accurately, could the Suns have done better from 2014-16? Sure. But what if ALL the teams had hindsight too?
That’s what Brendon Kleen and I faced the last few days as all the SB Nation blogs took turns re-drafting the 2014, 2015 and 2016 first rounds.
- Final draft order is final (ie. Suns have the 8th pick in 2016, not the 13th and 27th)
- No new trades
- All drafts are simultaneous, so no chance at team building. You’re just taking best available player.
- The Suns have the following six picks: 14th, 18th and 27th in 2014, 13th in 2015, 4th and 8th in 2016
How did our current 2019-20 Suns do?
Well, first, we have to see how the five players on the 2019-20 Suns roster ended up going in a re-draft
- Devin Booker jumped up from No. 13 to No. 2 in the 2015 re-draft, right behind KAT
- Kelly Oubre Jr. jumped up from No. 15 to No. 6 in the 2015 re-draft
- Dario Saric dropped from No. 12 to No. 13 in the 2014 re-draft
- Frank Kaminsky dropped from No. 9 to No. 14 in the 2015 redraft
- Cheick Diallo jumped from No. 33 to No. 16 in the 2016 re-draft
Not great, but not embarrassing either. If you use a bit of arbitrary and woefully inapplicable math, the current Suns from those drafts netted out with a plus-31 spots, mostly led by Booker.
How did the Suns original draft picks do?
Now, let’s look at how the Suns true draft picks fared. We already discussed Booker’s jump above, but here’s how everyone else fared:
- T.J. Warren dropped one spot from No. 14 to No. 15 in the 2014 re-draft
- Tyler Ennis was ignored in the 2014 re-draft (originally No. 18)
- Bogdan Bogdanovic jumped up 13 spots from No. 27 to to No. 14 in the 2014 re-draft
- Dragan Bender was ignored in the 2016 re-draft (orig: 4th)
- Marquese Chriss was taken with the last pick of 2016 re-draft (orig: 8th)
Sure, Booker and Bogdanovic did well in the re-draft, but Bogi never even played for the Suns and THREE of the other four picks from those years were a pu-pu platter. Even Cheick Diallo went 16th in 2016 and the undrafted Danuel House — who had a Jamba Juice with the Suns before making himself a rotation player in Houston in later years — while top-eight picks Bender and Chriss were nowhere to be seen.
What could the Suns have gotten?
Well, certainly not Devin Booker. Nor Kelly Oubre Jr. Heck, not even Dario Saric, who went one spot before the Suns in this re-draft. The Suns did have a chance to take T.J. Warren again at 14 in the 2014 Re-Draft, but that wouldn’t be any fun.
But with the benefit of hindsight, the Suns actually were able to do pretty well. Especially (shock of all shockers!) with the 2016 Draft.
When your highest pick is 14th overall, you are only looking to pick up a couple of rotation pieces. In real life, only seven of the last 17 players taken in that round are real, true rotation players, with another couple hanging as end-of-benchers.
But of course you want to strike it rich and grab a long-term starter, at least at 14. With that in mind, T.J. Warren, Bogi, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Clint Capela were still on the board when the Suns originally picked Warren back in 2014. But in the re-draft, those middle three were already taken, so the best two left were two that the Suns actually DID take.
- We took Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 14th pick in the 2014 re-draft
Yes, we chose Bogi over T.J. Warren in fact, and 13th picks earlier than he was taken in 2014. Sure he didn’t play in the NBA for three more years, but Bogi is a better fit with today’s NBA and I’m anticipating the Suns will need some help at shooting guard by the time this exercise is all over. And this time we are NOT trading him in the 2016 draft. He’s still a Sun, folks.
He has averaged 13/3/3 per game coming off the Kings bench the last two years and will be a free agent this summer, likely to command $15-20 million per year (in a normal market).
- We took Dwight Powell with the 18th pick in the 2014 re-draft
By the 18th pick in a full-hindsight re-draft, the cupboard is fairly bare. In any one year, probably only about 20 players make an NBA rotation long-term. And now we’re six years later, so potential doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Of all who were left in the re-draft, Dwight Powell is by far the most productive. We also considered guys like Maxi Kleber, Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Anderson. But Powell’s pure production as a rotational big could not be ignored. He signed his second significant contract with the Mavericks last summer, paying him $10-plus million per year through 2023.
- We took Maxi Kleber with the 27th pick in the 2014 re-draft
Maxi originally was draft eligible in 2014 but went undrafted and did not play in the NBA until 2018, when he signed off the street with Dallas. Since then, Maxi has been and excellent rotation piece, earning a 4-year, $36 contract last summer.
- We took Norman Powell with the 13th pick in the 2015 re-draft
This is where we just gotta shrug and punt. The Suns struck gold with Booker in 2015 and that might be the reason you would NOT want any kind of re-draft. Norman Powell was the best player left this time when everyone applied their hindsight, though I’m sure that’s in the eye of the beholder. There were no sure-fire starters left in the re-draft, but a number of very good rotation players who will have long NBA careers to come.
After years in the Raptors guard rotation averaging 5-8 PPG, Powell broke out in 2019-20 with 16 points and hit 40 percent of his threes for the second year in a row. He’s in the middle of a 4-year, $42 million extension signed in 2017 after being taken in the second round in 2015.
After getting one starter (Bogi) and three other solid rotation players in the 2014 and 2015 re-drafts, we finally struck gold in 2016!
Yes, yes, I know it’s a shock that hindsight is better than foresight. In the re-draft, we actually got to take a pair of long-term starters for the Suns, including a 2020 All-Star starter!
- We took Pascal Siakam with the 4th pick in the 2016 re-draft
After the first three picks in the re-draft went the same (Simmons, Ingram, Brown), Bright Side was able to re-write history and take Pascal Siakam with our first pick in 2016.
He was a raw 22-year old in 2015, starting slow in his career with only 4.2 points per game as a rookie. But you all have seen him absolutely blossom to the point that he’s an All-Star now with MVP potential. Siakam fits perfectly into the mold of modern NBA player with his ability to spot at all five positions on both ends and make clutch shots to close out games.
With this pick, the re-draft Suns finally have their pillar. Siakam signed a max extension last fall, for $129 million over the next four years.
- We took Malcolm Brogdon with the 8th pick in the 2016 re-draft
By the time we got to the eighth pick, Brendon and I were excited to see that Brogdon — the actual ROY from that class — was still available. Brogdon started his career as a backup in Milwaukee behind Eric Bledsoe, but quickly proved to be worth starter minutes and money.
As you recall, Brogdon was a key Suns target last summer and ultimately ended up in Indiana, where he proved his optimists right as a starter. He put up 16.3 points and 7.1 assists as a starter this past year, after signing a $85 million contract over 4 years.
There you have it, folks.
The original picks gave us an All-Star (Booker), a long-term starter (Warren) and a bad enough team to end up with Ayton in 2018.
The new re-draft picks gave us an All-Star (Pascal), two long-term starters (Bogdanovic and Brogdon) and three long-term rotation pieces (Norman, Dwight and Maxi).
There’s lots of shooting, some good rim protection and good defense. Lots of two-way talent here.
How many games would a lineup of Brogdon, Bogi/Norm, Siakam, Kleber, Dwight win in 2017-18? Certainly better than worst in the league right? Probably better than bottom five.
And there’s the rub.
With a better rotation, the Suns would never have been able to draft in the top five of the vaunted 2018 draft. Sure, they might have added some really nice pieces anyway since 2016, including someone useful in 2017, maybe Bridges in 2018 and probably Cam and Ty in the 2019.
But no more All-Stars, probably. And certainly no Deandre Ayton, or even Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. or Trae Young.
Does getting Ayton, in the Suns case, make all the pain of the 2016 and 2017 Drafts worth it?
Or would you rather have been competent the whole time, and hope for a potential All-Star some other way than the 2018 Draft?