The Phoenix Suns haven’t had a whole lot to celebrate in recent memory. It’s been nine years since Phoenix last featured in the playoffs. The Suns have had one winning season since 2009. Additionally, Phoenix has a combined record of 68-178 over the last three seasons.
However this past Tuesday, the basketball Gods worked their magic — and ultimately enabled the Suns to win the 2018 NBA Draft lottery. Never before has the franchise been equipped with the No. 1 Overall pick.
With Phoenix in the top draft slot, the rest of the lottery unfolded in this way:
2. Sacramento Kings
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Orlando Magic
7. Chicago Bulls
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
9. New York Knicks
10. Philadelphia 76ers
11. Charlotte Hornets
12. Los Angeles Clippers
13. Los Angeles Clippers
14. Denver Nuggets
The talent pool for this year’s draft has long been praised as one of the best in the last 10 years. Franchise-altering prospects (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III) sit at the top. There’s also plenty of depth both in the lottery and throughout (what should be) the first 35-to-40 picks.
Phoenix holds all the cards in this scenario. On the surface, taking Ayton seems like a no-brainer. The Bahamian big man starred right down the road at the University of Arizona. Agile and powerful, Ayton has a plethora of impressive post moves. Duly, he can run the floor exceptionally well for his size — and even spot up from beyond the arc. He’s far from a finished product, though his upside is through the roof. Many compare him to a young David Robinson. If he’s anywhere close to this good, Suns’ front office personnel will be doing cartwheels.
The Suns already have a perimeter scorer (Devin Booker) and a perceived 3-and-D guy (Josh Jackson) within its young core. The most natural piece missing from this puzzle is a dominant post player. A troika of Booker-Jackson-Ayton could be highly intriguing.
With that said, the presence of Doncic throws a bit of a wrinkle into this equation. Phoenix recently appointed Utah Jazz assistant coach Igor Kokoskov coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team last summer.
When asked about his opinion of Doncic last week, Kokoskov was immensely effusive in his praise of the young player:
“I can’t compare those two guys because I lived with Luka. I coached Luka. I’ve watched highlights of the other kid. I don’t ever run away from my opinion, but other guys have seen him play a lot more than me. We call him wunderkind. He’s an upcoming, rising star. Luka is a very talented player. His ability to pass, that’s the hardest part of the game, the most difficult part to teach.
To be a good passer you have to understand the game. It’s basketball IQ. He’s really unique and special at that age to understand the game well and to be a team player. He’s not necessarily playing point guard but he’s a playmaker who makes everybody else better on the court.”
It’s pretty safe to say that Kokoskov has an undeniable attraction towards Doncic as a player. Couple that with the preexisting familiarity, and Ayton may not be the slam dunk choice many perceive him to be.
Sacramento can be aptly described as a disjointed mess. A multitude of recent first-round picks haven’t worked out for one way or another. There seems to be a philosophical disconnect in terms of fostering a solidified culture. Either way, it certainly is not a big-time destination for free agents or even players coming into the league.
Executives Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic certainly have a geographical connection with Doncic. Though it’s not been publicly admitted, one would think they’re fans of the way Doncic plays — particularly since Divac and Stojakovic were also players relying more on skill and acumen rather than raw athletic ability.
Similarly to how Boston fleeced Philadelphia in last year’s draft, one shouldn’t be surprised by the potential of Sacramento adding an extra future pick to trade up with Phoenix for the first overall spot. In this scenario, the Suns would still be able to get one of the two perceived best players in the draft.
One report does indicate Doncic’s apprehension about potentially entering this year’s NBA Draft. Does this have to do with potentially being selected by Sacramento? Only Doncic’s camp knows for sure. Regardless, Sacramento is poised to pick up a very talented player.
Three of the bigger losers in this lottery process include Memphis, Orlando, and Dallas. Memphis is starved for a younger player with ability. When looking at virtually every other team in the NBA, the Grizzlies perhaps have the worst collection of young players. With an aging Marc Gasol and an always-injured Mike Conley, nabbing a guy like Ayton, Doncic, or even Marvin Bagley III would’ve been ideal.
Now, Memphis faces the task of drafting a project in (Jaren Jackson Jr.), a player coming off of a somewhat severe back injury (Michael Porter), a rail-thin center (Mo Bomba) or potentially a polarizing guard with plenty of questions (Trae Young). Even then, both Bomba and Young play at what one would assume to be the most solidified two positions in the starting line-up.
Dallas would’ve loved to have seen Doncic as the igniter in Rick Carlisle’s motion offense. Ayton would’ve also filled a massive need up front. Orlando frankly needs talents in all spots. Ayton could’ve followed in the footsteps of Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. As it currently stands, the Magic will select a young player to join an already uber-young group of misfit toys.
As for the remainder of the lottery, Philadelphia could pick up another nice piece — perhaps Mikal Bridges — to strengthen their burgeoning group. The Clippers could use both of their picks to move up in the draft. Chicago could nab a center (Bomba, Wendell Carter) to pair next to rising star Lauri Markkanen. The Knicks may be in position to grab the aggressive point guard (Collin Sexton) that it passed on last year (Dennis Smith Jr.).
Lastly, Cleveland may have to begin the rebuilding process with the No. 8 Overall pick. Had it been in the top two or three, it may have been a trade chip to appease a re-signing of LeBron James. As currently constituted, look for the Cavs to keep the pick — and hope that it ultimately turns to gold.
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