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The Suns and the Lottery: Their historical best picks in each slot

Who were the best picks in each draft position in the Suns history?

1999 NBA Draft

The NBA Draft Lottery.

It is not a system I have ever been a fan of, although I understand the reasoning behind it’s evolution. I prefer the NFL’s standard system for “rewarding” the crappiest teams in it’s league: base the draft on the reverse order of win/loss records. It is the fairest way to keep the league on a level playing ground, right?

The NBA has been prone to tanking, however, and therefore has to be creative in ways to disincentivize losing. Enter the lottery process.

Since the advent of the NBA Draft Lottery in 1985, the Phoenix Suns have watched the balls bounce (or the Frozen Envelope’s drawn) 17 times. They have moved up in the lottery from their original position a total of twice (1986 up 1 to pick #6, 1987 up 5 to pick #2). The team held their original position 10 times. They have moved down a total of 5 times, most recently dropping 3 slots from #3 to #6 in the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery.

In team history, here is how many times they have drafted from each position (note that this includes pre-lottery picks as well):

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the best player drafted in each position for the Phoenix Suns. Why? Because the Suns history is a lesson. Some of the draft picks worked out tremendously, others led to trades that benefited the franchise, still others flopped. Like every team in the NBA, the draft history of the Suns is littered with busts and could-have’s. I’m not focusing on those. I’m focusing on the good ones. Phoenix is a city of positivity now. Let’s embrace the good vibes and hope for the best.

The criteria for determining who is the best in each draft slot? My opinion and some stats. It’s not that complicated.

On to the list...

Phoenix Suns Top Lottery Picks by Draft Pick

#14 Pick: T.J. Warren

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Other players drafted at #14 for the Suns: Earl Clark (2009). Although the Suns have picked in the #14 slot 4 times, only twice was it considered a lottery pick (Dan Majerle in 1988 and John Roche in 1971 were non-lottery picks due to league size).

Cash considerations or not, T.J. was a player who was considered a steal in the 2014 NBA Draft. His offensive capabilities are something we continue to marvel at. Dave King once noted that, “Warren scored in a variety of ways, with his right hand, with his left hand, with floaters, with pump fakes, with euro steps, whatever it took to get the space to take the shot.”

I always was a fan of Warren, even if he wasn’t the best fit for the Suns. I was always impressed with his offseason growth and the ability to add things to his game. No three point shot? In 2017-18 he shot 0.3 three’s-per-game at a 22.2% clip. By his final season with the Suns in 2018-19, he was jacking up 4.2 per-game and hitting 42.8% of them.

I wish he had focused on defense a bit more. The NBA evolved around him and players like Warren are becoming obsolete, that is, he is not a typical 3-and-D wing. His BBall-Index scores for defense are low: Warren grades at an F for 3PT contests and rim deterrence.

Was I sad to see him go? No. It is what needed to be done to move this team forward.

#13 Pick: Devin Booker

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Other players drafted at #13 for the Suns: Jay Humphries (1984), Markieff Morris (2011), Kendall Marshall (2012), Georgios Papagiannis (2016; traded for Marquese Chriss).

Remember why we liked Ryan McDonough? It is because, following his hiring on May 7, 2013, it appeared that he was going to turn the franchise around. The team drafted Alex Len with the #5 pick shortly thereafter (meh) and won 23 more games the following season, narrowly missing the playoffs.

He then drafted T.J. Warren in 2014, won 39 games, and was granted lucky number 13 in 2015. Who did he take? The future of the franchise, Devin Booker. The Suns were on a roll.

Devin Booker is the crowning achievement of the McDonough Era. The University of Kentucky sixth-man has transformed himself into a deadly scorer, a Phoenix favorite, and the cornerstone of the franchise.

Through 5 seasons with the Suns he finds himself third on the all-time points-per-game list (22.5). Twice (2018-19, 2019-20) he has scored 26.6 points-per-game. He set the franchise record for 30+ point games with 91, surpassing Walter Davis’ previous mark of 90. The difference? It took Davis 747 career games to achieve this feat. It took Devin 340. He is the youngest guard to score 7,000 career points, and 4th youngest overall.

The lists for Devin Booker’s career achievements go on and on. And he’s only 23. Outside of Steve Nash drafted at #15, he is the greatest steal in Suns draft history.

#10 Pick: Ed Pinckney

Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Other players drafted at #10 for the Suns: Greg Howard (1970), Ron Lee (1976).

I could put Mikal Bridges here, but seeing as he was drafted by Philly at #10 then traded to Phoenix, he does not qualify in my book. It’s a thin book with a plenty of pictures. But still, I have standards.

I don’t remember Ed Pinckney much. Do you? “E-Z Ed” was named the Most Outstanding Player in the 1985 NCAA Tournament as he led the #8 seeded Villanova Wildcats to a national title over Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas. The Suns took him at #10 in 1985, which was the first year of the NBA Lottery.

He played a mere two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, averaging 9.5 points-per-game in 160 games at SF/PF. He didn’t have much of an impact on the franchise and was traded in 1987.

So why is he on my list, besting Ron Lee (who holds the Suns record for career steals-per-game at 2.2)? Because the Suns traded him to the Sacramento Kings for one Eddie Johnson. Had the Suns not drafted Pinckney, we would not have the desired asset to obtain one of the best sixth-men in NBA history.

Could you imagine a Suns broadcast without EJ dropping insightful quips and knowledge? This sums up my answer.

#9 Pick: Shawn Marion

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Other players drafted at #9 for the Suns: Amare Stoudemire (2002).

The Suns built an era at #9, obtaining Marion in 1999 and Amare in 2002. Both would be an intricate part of the Seven Seconds or Less Era and lead the Suns to two Western Conference Finals (Amare would play in three).

It is hard to choose which is better when it comes to these two. It’s like asking which of your kids you love more. I mean, you love them all the same, although you may like one more than the other.

Marion spent 9 seasons with the Suns to Amare’s 8. In the time Marion played with the Suns, he vaulted himself to the following career Suns stats:

  • #2 in minutes played
  • #3 in FGM
  • #4 in total points
  • #4 in rebounds-per-game
  • #4 in steals-per-game
  • #9 in blocks-per-game

The 7SOL Suns couldn’t have existed without Steve Nash. They couldn’t have flourished without Shawn Marion. His unique skillset was a blueprint for modern wings. I’m not saying that you could find another Amare-esque to fit the system; I am saying you couldn’t find another wing who could.

And he is my favorite Phoenix Suns of all-time.

#8 Pick: Gary Gregor

Other players drafted at #8 for the Suns: Mike Bantom (1973).

Gary Gregor. Know the name? The 6’7” forward from South Carolina spent 1 season with Phoenix, averaging 11.1 points-per-game. Nothing spectacular. He averaged 8.9 rebounds-per-game in 27.3 minutes played. Decent, I guess.

Greg’s claim to fame? He was the first ever draft pick in Phoenix Suns history. Someday when you’re allowed to go to Majerle’s for trivia night again, you’ll thank me for that nugget of knowledge.

The Suns traded Gregor at the end of their inaugural season. Who did they receive in return from the Atlanta Hawks? Paul Silas. More Suns trivia.

#7 Pick: Tim Perry

Other players drafted at #7 for the Suns: Luol Deng (2004, traded to Chicago).

Tim Perry was one of two first round picks for the Suns in 1988 (the other being Thunder Dan at #14). The big man from Temple was the last player to wear jersey number #34 prior to Charles Barkley. In fact, he was part of the trade (along with Jeff Hornacek and Andrew Lang) that brought Sir Charles to the Valley.

Per Wikipedia:

Charles Barkley claims in Sir Charles: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley that the Suns had to trade Perry to Philadelphia in 1992 because he was #34, Barkley’s number.

Allow me to LOL for a second.

Perry was part of the late-80’s Suns run that saw they team become relevant following the cocaine scandal. He spent his Suns career primarily coming off the bench, averaging 6.8 points-per-game and 4.0 rebounds-per-game.

#6 Pick: Traded to Minnesota

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Other players drafted at #6 for the Suns: William Bedford (1986).

Following a 19 win season for the Suns in 2018-19, the team has a shot at the #2 overall pick. Pysche! After another lost coin flip (see 1969) they were slotted at #3, with a 40.1% chance of staying in the top 3. But alas, the balls went against the Suns and they dropped to #6.

James Jones, in his first ever NBA Draft as a GM, chose not to follow through will that pick. He traded the pick to the Minnesota, receiving the draft rights to Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric.

Time will tell if the move was the right one, but early returns appear that James made a solid decision.

#5 Pick: Walter Davis

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Other players drafted at #5 for the Suns: Alex Len (2013).

Alex “Brick Hands” Len or the Sun who scored the most points in franchise history? Oy, this is tough. Enter Wayne and Garth saying, “Not!” here.

Walter Davis was a majestic player from North Carolina with a silky smooth jumpshot and the grace of a greyhound. That is why Sweet D had nicknames like “The Man with the Velvet Touch” and “The Greyhound”.

I don’t know if Jerry Colangelo knew that when he took Davis #5 in 1977 that he would win Rookie of the Year honors, be a part of the franchise for the next 11 seasons, become a 6-time All-Star, and garner one All-NBA 2nd Team (1978-79). Walter was a scoring machine, averaging over 20 points-per-game 6 different times.

Unfortunately his time in Phoenix was marred by drug issues and scandal, but his jersey still hangs in the rafters and is considered one of the best Suns of all-time.

#4 Pick: Alvan Adams

Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Other players drafted at #4 for the Suns: John Shumate (1974), Dragan Bender (2016), Josh Jackson (2017).

The Suns were coming off of back-to-back 50+ loss seasons in 1975 and in need of scoring and defense. They ranked at the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive rating. The team, who had the #4 pick the year prior, missed on their pick. John Schumate, a PF from Notre Dame, sat out the season with blood clots in his lungs. Yikes.

Jerry Colangelo found himself near the top of the draft once again, and his decision would change the course of Suns history. Enter Alvan Adams. Double A. The Oklahoma Kid. The addition of the 6’9” PF/C to the lineup would pay off instatnyl. He won Rookie of the Yeat honors and made his only All-Star appearance in his rookie season. Adams would assist the team in making a Cinderella run to the NBA Finals in 1976.

Adams, who is the career leader in minutes played, total rebounds, and personal fouls, would play his entire 13-year career in the purple and orange.

#2 Pick: Neal Walk

Photo by Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images

Other players drafted at #2 for the Suns: Armen Gilliam (1987).

Neal Walk: the ultimate consolation prize.

It was tough trying to navigate who to take here. The 1987 draft was the last time the Suns moved up in draft position in the lottery. Armen Gilliam was an outstanding talent from UNLV who was a part of the All-Rookie team. But his time in Phoenix was short.

Neal Walk, however, is quite the story. It is the encapsulation of the Phoenix franchise. So close. Almost. What if?

When the Suns lost the infamous coin flip in 1969, losing out on UCLA stud and future Hall of Famer Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), they chose to draft the 6’10” big man from the University of Florida. He had led the NCAA in rebounds his junior year and to this day is the only Gator to have his jersey retired.

Walk was a solid contributor to the Phoenix Suns during his 5 seasons. He averaged 14.7 points-per-game and 7.7 rebounds-per-game, peaking in 1972-73 when he went for 20.2 and 12.4.

#1 Pick: Deandre Ayton

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Other players drafted at #1 for the Suns: Lodi-dodi-nobody.

Does DA get this honor by default? Yes. But he continues to display why he was the #1 overall pick for the Phoenix Suns. His athletic ability is off the chart. His defensive prowess continues to grow. He is developing a three-point shot, understanding spacing better, and casually posting 17 and 11.

Ayton has continued to grow, yet his talent is continually discounted by Suns fans. Why? “Because we could’ve drafted Luka Doncic”. HashtagGetOverIt.

I find myself tired of the argument. Move on. Every draft you could have had someone else. In 1985 we could drafted Karl Malone or Joe Dumars instead of Ed Pinckney. In 1987 we could have drafted Scottie Pippen or Reggie Miller in stead of Armen Gilliam. In 2004 we could have had Andre Iguodala instead of trading the Deng pick away. Let it go.

Deandre Ayton is a top-tier talent who is continuing the develop into a cornerstone of the Suns franchise. If he doesn’t get tagged for a 25-game suspension at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the Suns are in the playoffs. In his second season. Give him some credit.

And appreciate the journey.

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