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Would you rather: Redo the 2016 or 2017 Suns Draft?

We’ve had time (a bit too much recently) to reflect on the past of the Phoenix Suns’ draft results. As Draft Day 2020 approaches, which draft do you wish we could redo?

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2017 NBA Draft Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler /NBAE via Getty Images

NBA Draft Day 2020 continues to move around.

Once upon a pandemic ago, June 25, 2020 was the date circled on the calendar. It is then we would’ve seen the newest member of the Phoenix Suns don this year’s NBA Draft hat and join the ranks of the one of the youngest teams in the NBA.

Following the league stoppage and eventual restart, October 16, 2020 was the date chosen to change the lives of a few good men. But we couldn’t handle the truth it appears, as the date was once again changed. Son of a Colonel Jessup!

The NBA recently stated that the NBA Draft will occur on November 18, 2020. Fantastic. We can finally stop watching YouTube videos of Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes in anticipation of the Suns #10 draft pick and move forward into next season.

All of this waiting has given me too much time to think about prior drafts for the Phoenix Suns. Ryan McDonough, who came out firing in his first three years as a GM, started overvaluing prospects and plummeted “The Timeline” into a black hole in a matter of two drafts. The 2016 and 2017 choices on draft day would eventually seal his fate as the GM for the Phoenix Suns.

It has been a while since I wrote a “Would You Rather” piece for our loyal readers, so I thought I’d get the thoughts of my fellow Bright Siders on the two drafts that prolonged the Suns’ mediocrity. The question for this one?

Would you rather the Phoenix Suns drafted differently in the 2016 NBA Draft or the 2017 NBA Draft?

The Case for redoing the 2016 NBA Draft:

2016. The Suns were not displaying the growth we all hoped for. Ryan McDonough had successfully navigated the previous two drafts, taking North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren in 2014 at #14 and drafting Kentucky guard Devin Booker at lucky #13 in 2015. The foundation was set for Phoenix to rise from the ashes of the Steve Nash era and (finally) begin a run towards the playoffs for years to come.

Yet the team drastically under performed in the 2015-16 season, posting a record 23-59 record. Was it the coach or was in the players? McDonough made the decision on February 1, 2016 that it was the coach. Jeff Hornacek was terminated mid-season and replaced with assistant coach Earl Watson. The Suns continued to lose, going 9-24 under the interim head coach.

Many viewed the turbulent season as a blip on the radar to the Suns eventual success. Perhaps it was even a blessing in disguise. The team, albeit young, had the veteran presence of Tyson Chandler, a promising young point guard in Eric Bledsoe, and now had a stockpile of appealing draft assets entering the 2016 NBA Draft.

The Suns possessed the #4 overall pick in the draft as well as the #13 pick (a pick acquired when Phoenix sent a disgruntled Markieff Morris to Washington), the #28 pick (originally Cleveland’s pick, acquired from Boston for Isaiah Thomas), and the #34 pick.

The 2016 draft class was a crap shoot and the Suns were faced with some interesting decisions at #4:

  • Do you ignore team needs and go with the best available player who most likely will be a guard like Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield?
  • Do you embrace your team need for a forward, use your assets, and trade up for the likes Brandon Ingram or Jaylen Brown?
  • Do you go international and put your faith in an 18-year-old shooter from Croatia?

I remember exactly where I was when the #4 pick was made that year, driving home from work, exiting the I-10 at Ray Road when I heard the Adam Silver’s voice:

Bender is not the case for redoing the 2016 draft. Did the Suns miss on him? Sure. But the turbulent culture that developed around him and the mismanagement of his development was outside of his control.

I liked Bender. He looked great in Summer League and carried confidence with him into his rookie season. The guy had a looked like American Sniper Chris Pyle when he shot the ball from deep. He was a killer. As time went on, at least from my point of view, he was over-coached. Watson wanted him to go roll to the basket more, to drive to the rim, and to post up on the blocks. This was not his game. He lost his outside confidence and his game crumbled.

I could play the “well, we could have drafted...” game here as well. But I’ll save that for the 2017 NBA Draft debacle. No, the reason for wanting to redo the 2016 NBA Draft comes from how Ryan McDonough handled the remaining assets as his disposal.

McDonough chose to trade the #13 overall pick, the #28 pick, the draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, and a 2020 2nd round pick for Sacramento’s #8 pick. Sacramento received quite the bounty to move down 5 picks in the draft.

The Suns received Marquese Chriss.

Chriss was a highly touted prospect coming out of the University of Washington. He stood 6’10”, possessed (per DraftExpress) “an exhilarating combination of quickness, explosiveness and body control”, and drew comparisons to Markieff Morris, some Blake Griffin, and Glen Robinson. The Suns needed assistance at power froward, so the pick made sense. The team chose Tyler Ulis at #34.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and I wish McDonough had read The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks’ article on him prior to making his decision. The Suns received a player whose athleticism didn’t translate, whose motor ran barely above idle, and was immature. I believe his air-ball dunk highlight captures all of these aspects perfectly:

What makes all of this unforgivable is the fact that the Suns gave up 3 drafts picks and the draft rights to another player for Chriss. The navigation of assets, which could have set the team up for long term success, was one of Ryan McDonough’s horrible blunders, if not the #1 on the list.

There are countless scenarios that could have played out that were better. I can barely begin to fathom the possibilities. McDonough sold the farm and bet it all on Chriss.

He lost. We lost.

The Case for the 2017 NBA Draft:

The 2016-17 season was disappointing to say the least, finishing just one game better than the previous season, with a 24-58 record. It made some sense, seeing as the Suns were unbelievably young. How young? On March 23, 2017, the Suns fielded the youngest starting lineup in NBA history (Ulis, Booker, Jones, Jr., Chriss, Len).

After all of the hope that the previous season was an anomaly, the exception became the rule. “The Timeline” was in full effect.

Once again the Suns found themselves at the front end of the draft, possessing the #4 pick for the second straight year (although they should’ve been higher...damn Lakers). The team also possessed the #32 pick and #54 pick via Toronto.

The Suns were a team with multiple needs coming into the draft:

  • A long-term PG solution. The often-injured Eric Bledsoe was nearing his end in the desert, disgruntled and disinterested with the franchise, as he would make known prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.
  • Size. Chriss had shown flashes of competence, but an aging Tyson Chandler would need to spend more time on the bench than on the floor.
  • Scoring. Booker was a budding star and T.J. Warren was an able scorer next to him, but a sold tertiary scorer would do wonders for the team.

What made the 2017 NBA Draft unique was the talent. There were numerous players available who could make an instant impact on the team that called their name.

The top 5 prospects included 3 points guards (Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and De’Aaron Fox), with Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. being lottery PG’s as well. Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson were considered legitimate scoring forwards, Jonathan Isaac and Lauri Markkanen were valued as contributing and flexible wings.

So many options...what would McDonough do?!

Our hopes were high when Silver announced Jackson’s name. He was compared by to the likes of Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. He was slated to be an athletic defender and rebounding stud. He had the killer ‘fro. Our own Dave King stated that he possessed, “explosiveness, offensive versatility, defensive impact and NBA readiness”.

Unfortunately for the Phoenix Suns, everyone was wrong.

The case for redoing the 2017 NBA Draft isn’t because Ryan McDonough knowingly made the wrong choice or sold half of our assets to achieve it. It is the classic, “knowing what we know now” case.

Look at all of the other names the Suns could have had. Imagine D’Aaron Fox running point on this team. Picture Bam Adebayo (taken at #14 by the Heat) in a Suns jersey. Contemplate Kyle Kuzma...never mind. Gross.

The Josh Jackson pick personifies the issues the Suns have had over the past decade: we just can’t get it right. There was a time in Suns history in which every move was golden, every transaction worked out, and success was the norm. Jackson, whose personal demons assisted in derailing his Suns career, was another product of an unstable Phoenix culture.

We lost again.

It sure is depressing to research and remember all of the recent history of the Suns. The one thing it makes me appreciate? Monty Williams. I am confident that he is building a culture in Phoenix that will take young players and mold them into men, as well as productive NBA players.

I believe a corner has been turned for the franchise.

But if you had to redo one of the McBlunders, which would it be?


Which draft do you wish the Suns could redo?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    2016 NBA Draft
    (260 votes)
  • 40%
    2017 NBA Draft
    (175 votes)
435 votes total Vote Now

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