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Suns VP James Jones: ‘It’s refreshing to be on this side of history’

(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

For the first time in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns will be selecting No. 1 in the NBA Draft.

“It’s refreshing to be on this side of history,” said James Jones, vice president of basketball operations, on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo after the lottery.

After two years in a row of drafting at No. 4 overall – even despite having the second-best odds of No. 1 in 2017 – the Suns now have the pick of the pack.

They could go for the 19-year-old point guard who has been stunning Europe since he went pro at age 16, Luke Doncic.

They could go for a generational big man who went to school just a couple hours south of the Valley at Arizona, Deandre Ayton

Or, they could select one of the other talented players in a highly-regarded draft.

Jones said the team isn’t pigeonholed to picking a specific position.

“We look at it as far as being playmakers – you just want to add multiple playmakers on the floor,” he said. “That could be in the traditional sense with a point guard, or it could be a big guy that can draw double teams, that can pass, that can shoot, that can run the floor, that can, you know, command attention.”

Several Suns, including guard Devin Booker and forwards Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and Dragan Bender are playmakers, Jones said.

With the right draft pick, the Suns can implement a system that allows them to spread the floor create plays.

“If coach puts them in the right position, we can play positionless,” Jones said.

That’s been the trend of the NBA.

The 76ers, the poster team for tanking and drafting, picked generational talents Joel Embiid, a center who can shoot the three and is already one of the best defenders in basketball, and guard/forward Ben Simmons, who can guard four positions and is one of the best playmakers in the game.

Philadelphia was in the playoffs this year.

The Boston Celtics, playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, created a system full of wings who can guard multiple position and set each other up for easy baskets.

Both of those teams picked in the top-3 last season. They also both had something going for them coming into the draft – a foundation.

Jones thinks the Suns do, too.

“I think we’re different than a lot of teams that traditionally have the No. 1 pick,” he said. “Very few teams have players the caliber of Josh Jackson and Devin Booker.”

Who will the Suns add to that core? Jones was carefully not to give specifics, but mentioned several bigs including Ayton, Mohamed Bamba (Texas), Jaren Jackson Jr., (Michigan State), Marvin Bagley III (Duke) and Michael Porter Jr., (Missouri).

“All these guys are tremendously talented at a time where versatile big guys are at a premium,” Jones said.

As for Ayton specifically:

“I just see a tremendous player,” Jones said. “I just won’t say athlete, because I think a lot of times, people get caught up in the physicals, just how big, how dominant he is, but he has a great sense of spacing, a good touch, good feel, can pass the ball, reads offenses very well defensively. Knows when to and when not to commit, stays out of foul trouble.

“He’s just a basketball player. That’s what I value more than anything, I think that’s what we value more than anything, is looking at the complete player.”

Doncic, who experts tend to place in the top-2 of mock drafts with Ayton, played in the EuroBasket under new Suns coach Igor Kokoskov.

Kokoskov will get some input into the draft process, but he won’t get the power to decide.

“A coach’s perspective helps,” Jones said. “When you sit upstairs, and you sit kind of out in space and you analyze things, sometimes you can lose track of who the player is and what the player can become. Coaches like igor have a great sense, a great feel for that.”

There will be more than a month to debate and second-guess the merits of each player.

On this night of May 15, 2018, Jones is excited for the Suns fans who had never before risen in the draft, who have only once picked in the top-3, and who lost out on the rights to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a coin flip.

“They’ve been so dedicated, they’ve been consistent, they’ve been amazing when it comes to supporting this team through the ups and downs,” he said. “They deserve to be on top at least for one night, especially on the draft lottery.

“The Suns are on top again.”

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