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2018 NBA Draft Lottery could serve as latest gut-punch to Suns franchise

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The number four has become a representation, of sorts, for the Phoenix Suns’ current rebuild with regards to the NBA Draft Lottery.

Two years ago, the Suns stuck at No. 4 and wound up selecting Croatian big Dragan Bender.

One year ago, the Suns dropped from No. 2 to four and selected Kansas wing Josh Jackson.

Naturally, with the Suns at No. 1 in this year’s rendition, the meme has become that Phoenix will inevitably slip the farthest it possibly can and pick at No. 4 for the third straight year.

Dropping this year, however, should have much more of an added gravitas and weight to it than years past.

Before getting to the potential the fall that really matters — not getting the No. 1 overall pick — let’s hit on the possibility of falling out of the top-three to support how bad plummeting to No. 4 would be.

In theory, a top-three overall selection in the NBA Draft is the best asset in the NBA that any team can possess.

But for a draft process that is rightfully looked at as a crapshoot, the difference between the Nos. 1-3 pick and other selections is rather startling.

To give prospects a five-year cushion for the sake of development, let’s glance at the past 20 NBA Drafts for a reference point starting in 1994 and going to 2013.

The chance of snagging a player in the top-3 that is, at one point, a top 15-25 player in the league is remarkably high.

Of those 20 No. 1 overall picks, 12 of them made an All-NBA team.

Of those 20 No. 2 overall picks, five of them made an All- NBA team, and that will jump to six if Victor Oladipo makes one this season.

Of those 20 No. 3 overall picks, nine of them made an All-NBA team.

Jam that together and you’ve got a nearly 50 percent hit rate on an All-NBA level talent in the top-3 of the draft.

That’s pretty good!

Drop to the next trio of spots at Nos. 4-6 and you’ve got exactly half than the 26 All-NBA talents in pick Nos. 1-3 — 13 total picks out of 60 made an All-NBA team.

Let’s take it a bit further, though, and look at No. 1.

Putting the spotlight on MVP-caliber players — a player that made First Team All-NBA more than once — and you’ve got five players: Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson.

At spots two through four, that number is also five players: James Harden (No. 3), Russell Westbrook (No. 4), Kevin Durant (No. 2), Chris Paul (No. 4) and Jason Kidd (No. 2).

You drop from a 25 percent rate of hitting on a generational player to an eight percent rate of that level of player comparing No. 1 to Nos. 2-4.

That’s how teams and cities like Cleveland and San Antonio won championships.

Now, this isn’t a flashy showcase to ignore a troubling trend that picking the right guy at No. 1 is difficult. Often, it’s not.

The last time an NBA Draft has featured Nos. 1 and 2 picks that made an All-NBA team was 1992 when Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning went back-to-back. Going back the last 50 drafts, in fact, and it’s only happened three other years: 1990 (Derrick Coleman and Gary Payton), 1982 (James Worthy and Terry Cummings) and 1968 (Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld).

What history has also taught us is that there is almost always usually a bust mixed in the top-3.

Even going from 2004-13 inside the top-3 and you’ve got Anthony Bennett, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani, Adam Morrison, Marvin Williams, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, who all range from bust to not coming close to sniffing an All-NBA nod.

That’s over half of the selections in the top-3 of those 10 drafts and that is terrifying.

A lot of this is ultimately decided by luck in just avoiding the bust or “average” player in the top-3 and selecting the star among the group.

To be fair, that’s the luck the Suns have been lacking to receive a No. 1 overall pick in the history of the franchise.

A year ago, I wrote about how that 2017 lottery was the team’s most important day in years. One of the potential franchise point guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball would be on the board at No. 2 if the Suns stuck.

A year later, and, to be 100 percent honest with you, I am tired and worn out.

I can’t make jokes about the sense of the inevitable with the Suns not getting the No. 1 pick.

I can’t muster up the energy to tell you some of those stats I presented mean falling to two or three is still OK in some twisted half-logical argument to cope with falling in the first place.

I can’t laugh at some of the great tweets, such as this immaculately well-done remake of the Suns’ lottery hype video.

I can’t even begin to imagine how my entire immune system might shut down after watching this god-awful Suns team all season only to see them land the third or fourth pick in a vital offseason.

What I can do is stress the importance of the Suns not only avoiding the No. 4 meme but retaining the top position on draft night and drafting their future superstar, putting a shot of adrenaline square in the center of an exhausted fanbase.

The Suns need this.

If they drop out of the top-two specifically, we can put this right next to the likes of Ron Artest’s putback and Robert Horry’s hip-check for the Seven Seconds or Less era, John Paxson’s dagger and Mario’s Elie’s kiss of death for the Charles Barkley era and have it serve as the Devin Booker era’s biggest gut-punch to date.

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