A pair of former buddies at ESPN have teamed up to re-do some recent NBA drafts. This week, they focused on 2018, the year the Suns came away with two of the top three players on their roster, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, in the top 10.
If you could re-do 2018 today, knowing everything you know from their nearly two seasons in the league, how would the draft break down this time?
You can listen to it here.
Chad Ford used to be the draft guru at ESPN, while John Hollinger was the company’s main NBA stats guy who invented the widely-used PER stat all by himself.
Ford is now a podcaster with the Locked On network after a few years out of the game, while Hollinger is with The Athletic these days after a few years in the Grizzlies front office.
Here’s how their re-do went for the 2018 Draft compared to the original picks.
The Suns’ picks both fell down the board in the re-draft, with Ayton dropping all the way from first to fifth and Bridges from 10th to 12th.
Of course, we can all agree with Luka Doncic has been better than even his most ardent supporters could have hoped. Dude almost averaged a 30-point triple-double as a 20 year old sophomore and led the Mavericks into solid playoff position.
And Jaren Jackson Jr. led his young Grizzlies squad into playoff contention in year two with his long-range shooting (42% on high volume threes) and defensive talents.
Those two are arguable to take over Ayton.
But Michael Porter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ahead of Ayton too?
Said Ford on taking Porter Jr. third: “In those 670 minutes, you see why he was projected coming out of high school being the number one pick in this draft [before his injury].”
Hollinger on SGA at No. 4: “We loved this kid [in Memphis]. Still do. He has the potential to be a two-way guard, multi-positional. Want to see the shot-release and shooting pick up a little bit probably to really get to the highest levels. Going contrarian here because I’ve left two very talented players on the board, but I’m gonna go with him.”
“This is gonna be our most controversial re-draft,” Ford said at that point. “Part of it is because we are so new into this that we’re still doing a ton of projection.”
Certainly, that applies to taking Porter at No. 3 overall. Porter really has only a few minutes of NBA time, and they agree he’s got major defensive issues and tunnel vision. But he’s long and athletic and smooth, so Ford still loves him as the third best player in the draft.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a strong pick here at No. 4, though I wouldn’t pick him ahead of Ayton. In his second year, he helped lead the Thunder into a strong playoff team averaging almost 20 per game and showing really good defense.
Ayton at 5
Now we get to Ayton at five, who admittedly is not the kind of player that either Ford or Hollinger really like. On previous draft re-dos, Hollinger has openly admitted he doesn’t love centers at all.
For on Ayton at No. 5: “Who... I... think has been... good?”
“For as maligned as this pick has been,” Hollinger piped in. “The guy [Phoenix] picked, in his first two seasons in the NBA is averaging 17 and 10 on 57% shooting. He’s a good player. I think he will be able to stretch that shot out at some point.”
“Ayton has been terrific in his first two years in the league,” Ford said. “And I think he will continue to be terrific. So far, all indications have been really good with him. He’s actually been a bit better than I thought he would be in his first two years in the league.”
Hollinger and Ford then rambled through the rest of the lottery, leaving me to wonder where they would slot Mikal Bridges. As they snaked their way down, some picks got really into the questionable sphere.
“We’ve got a lot of eye-of-the-beholder types here, since it’s so early in their careers,” Hollinger admitted.
Hollinger still has a lot of affinity to the way the Grizzlies operate, so it’s no surprise he went with a projection pick at 10th.
On De’Anthony Melton at #10: “Had a really good year in Memphis as a 21 year old combo,” Hollinger said. “There’s some questions with the shot. I think if he gets a little more advanced in his skill level, he’s a long term starter in the league who makes winning plays.”
“Am I being a Grizzlies homer here?” Hollinger with a laugh, after Ford calls it a controversial selection.
On Mohamed Bamba at #11: “The narrative on his first two seasons has been disappointing,” Hollinger said. “His second half of this season in particular was actually pretty decent. He’s kind of quietly come along a little bit.”
Bridges at 12
Then we get to Mikal Bridges at #12, who was taken by Hollinger.
“I really believe in his defensive ability,” Hollinger said. “I’m a little puzzled why he keeps turning down shots, but I think he’s a capable shooter. He can get to another level offensively and become the 3-and-D wing that we imagined when he came out of Villanova.”
They crapped on the Suns taking him, but loved him for Philly as a wing who was a little bit more mature and could help them win right away.
Like, why would the Suns want a winning player, amirite?
Mikal ends up going ahead of fellow lottery picks Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Collin Sexton and Kevin Knox, who originally went 6-9 in the Draft.
But he also goes behind some players still on the board last year at #10, including SGA (who the Suns reportedly liked), MPJ, Mitchell Robinson, Donte DeVincenzo (who the Suns reportedly liked) and De’Anthony Melton (who the Suns did like and acquired, but then traded away).
What do you think, Suns fans? Were they taken about right, given our hindsight?