Empire of the Suns has been bringing you an updated big board of the top NBA Draft prospects leading to the June 22 draft. After projecting where prospects ranked before and after the NCAA Tournament, Kellan’s last big board follows his mock draft and will now take the Phoenix Suns’ roster needs into consideration, unlike the first two editions.
“Take the best available player regardless of if they fit on the roster or not.”
This is something you hear in every draft for professional sports, but context is really important in the NBA Draft.
The Boston Celtics should and probably will take point guard Markelle Fultz No. 1 even with Isaiah Thomas on the roster. That’s because Fultz is the best prospect by a comfortable margin, has a very good chance of being better than Thomas and is 13 years younger than the overlord and supreme leader of the Eastern Conference, LeBron James.
With that in mind, fit should still be heavily considered with every selection. If the Suns are at No. 4 and really believe Malik Monk is the best player available, should they take him even though he plays the same position as the franchise cornerstone and would form a defensive disaster in a backcourt with him?
This is especially the case with this year’s class, as there’s no consensus agreement on how the prospects rank from two to 10.
Let’s rank the 10 best prospects for the Suns, taking fit into heavy account.
1. Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington (19 years old)
2. Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA (19 years old)
Our potential franchise point guards tier. For all the noise surrounding Ball, he is a terrific point guard prospect and the Suns are one of the most favorable positions for him in terms of style and roster. With Fultz, it’s self-explanatory. Both would allow the Suns to finally push down the lever on the TNT and set off the rebuild by trading Eric Bledsoe and give them option 1A or 1B next to Devin Booker.
3. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas (20 years old)
Jackson’s not as simple of a fit as it’s made out to be. His jumper is a big question mark and there’s also the off-the-court incidents. Like any selection at forward or center, he will also potentially block playing time for Dragan Bender, who is getting unjustly slammed for being a raw No. 4 pick that played under 600 minutes, or Jared Dudley. There’s still his defensive potential on the perimeter, though, and that’s why he’s so good for Phoenix. This puts an end to our “emphatic fist pumps in the draft room if he’s taken by the team” tiers.
4. Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Florida State (19 years old)
5. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, North Carolina State (19 years old)
Both of these prospects have the high upside at positions the team is looking to upgrade long-term.
Isaac forms a trio of terrifying long and versatile athletes at power forward that are all under the age of 20. His defense and rebounding would both check boxes for the team. Unlike Jackson, he’s best at power forward, so unless the Suns are planning on Bender or Marquese Chriss playing some center, it’s difficult to see a rotation pleasing everyone.
Smith has top-3 upside in this draft, and if the Suns agree, it’s difficult to see how they pass on him if he’s on the board. His well-rounded offensive game and jumper have him NBA ready. He doesn’t have the required detonation of the rebuild like Fultz or Ball, though, and could improve his point guard skills playing behind Bledsoe.
6. Frank Ntilikina, PG, France (18 years old)
There is no better fit for the Suns in this draft than Ntilikina. They need perimeter defense and shooting and those are the two skills Ntilikina will focus on as a 3-and-D combo guard. He can play shooting guard while he develops his primary initiator skills and Bledsoe plays out his prime. Once he’s ready, he’s the ideal partner for Booker as a defensive specialist who is reliable on catch-and-shoot jumpers. He needs to get a step faster and isn’t a sure thing to run an offense, but what he could be is exactly what the Suns need.
7. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky (19 years old)
The cliff notes version of Fox playing alongside Devin Booker is great. He can attack and finish like Bledsoe, gives the Suns a much-needed plus-defender at guard and is a good overall point guard who will improve as a decision maker.
However sold you are on the shot getting better, though, is where you will wind up ranking him for Phoenix. If you are confident that he will become an average NBA shooter from both midrange and deep, go ahead and bump him up a few spots.
The bottom line is he was at 24.6 percent from three-point range at Kentucky. That’s especially important for the Suns because they only have one above-average three-point shooter under 30 years old in Booker, and technically Booker has been a below-average shooter for his career at 35 percent. It would be unwise to take a gamble on a player’s jumper at point guard when there are other prospects available at his position who project as better shooters.
There’s also the chance his frame holds him back. He weighs 169 pounds and has an average 6-foot-6.5 wingspan when his two biggest strengths are getting to the rim and playing aggressive defense. The possibility of him adding more weight and being a somewhat consistent shooter, however, is why he has a high ceiling.
8. Lauri Markkanen, PF/C, Arizona (20 years old)
We’ve discussed Markkanen’s fit extensively on the Empire of the Suns podcast. He needs the right type of power forward defensively in order for him to start and the players Bender and Chriss project to be are just that. Like Isaac, it’s more about the idea of forming a consistently rotating trio that compliments each other in many different ways over where players start. For Markkanen, it’s being a sharpshooter and spacing the floor. The same emphasis placed on the Suns’ lack of shooting for a negative in Fox’s ranking is a positive for Markkanen’s ranking.
9. Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke (19 years old)
I covered the reasons the Suns should not entertain the idea of Tatum at No. 4 and him ending up at the end of this board has a lot to do with myself personally having him ranked eighth overall. Every player ranked above him presents something the team currently doesn’t have for the future.
The difference between what Tatum and T.J. Warren could bring is not huge, and that’s beside the fact they are both essentially offensive-minded small forwards on this roster. Simple as that. The only way Tatum is more if he’s a solid defender and shooter, which he could very well be, and if the Suns are sold, they should factor him in at No. 4.
10. Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky (19 years old)
Like we do with Tatum, we arrive at a certain point where fit is overridden by how promising the prospect is. Monk’s going to be an awesome scorer in this league, flying off screens and wreaking havoc in transition as a shooter you have to focus on for every second he’s on the floor. Even if he’s projected to come off the bench both short-term and long-term in this scenario, the value of his shooting would be immense.