On Tuesday, there will be more on the line for the Phoenix Suns than there has been since Steve Nash last donned the purple and orange.
The NBA Draft Lottery will determine where the Suns pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Whether that’s first overall or fifth — their worst possible outcome — will have long-term effects on the course of the franchise.
With the second-best odds to win the lottery, the Suns could have a chance to draft two potentially franchise-changing point guards in Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball.
Fultz is a complete point guard prospect and one of the best the draft has seen in the last decade. He’s a terrific shot creator with a keen awareness of how to change speeds to set up himself and his teammates. His severely underrated ability as a passer makes him more than fit to run a team, and his jumper should be a weapon from day one. Pair him with Devin Booker and you’ve got the best young perimeter duo in the NBA, period.
Ball is a mess in the pick-and-roll and can’t create much for himself, but he has the type of court vision and ability as a passer you tell your grandkids about. The Suns have both the athletes in place to make Ball’s transition dreams come true and the secondary ball-handler in Booker to offset some of the major concerns surrounding Ball’s halfcourt tendencies.
Picking either would give the Suns the best young backcourt under the age of 25 in the NBA, and none of Fultz, Ball or Booker would even be 21 until Booker’s birthday the day before Halloween.
Even if the Suns were to miss out on Fultz and Ball, Kansas’ small forward Josh Jackson is a fine consolation prize.
When’s the last time Phoenix had a perimeter defensive stopper who could guard three to four positions effectively? What about a player who can be a secondary shot-blocker and playmaker?
That’s the type of talent package Jackson has at his disposal. Partnered with Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, he would give the Suns a versatile set of defensive options in the future.
After those three mouthwatering prospects comes the reason Tuesday marks a monumental day in the Suns’ last seven seasons.
A very good draft class doesn’t necessarily die out after those three players, but there’s a drop-off, especially from the Suns’ perspective. Landing outside of the top-three of this draft would be a disaster, especially after the extra effort to tank the last 20-plus games of the season.
Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox and Frank Ntilikina are all enticing point guard prospects, but none of those three would bring the promise of Ball or Fultz. While those two college stars would likely be the last push needed for Phoenix to complete the resetting process by trading Eric Bledsoe, that’s not the case for the next three point guards, all of whom could be top-10 picks and further complicate the neverending carousel at point guard in the Valley.
Malik Monk’s offense as a combo guard was electric for Kentucky and could be in the NBA, but a player that projects to play more shooting guard with not much defense is not the player to put around Booker.
Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is the best 7-foot freshman shooter in the history of college basketball. He also doesn’t have much of a profile defensively, and despite the Suns being desperate for some shooters, the last thing the Suns need is another interior player to carve out a role with Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss already in the mix.
Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac might be the darkhorse pick outside the top-3 as a unique defensive prospect to play with Bender and Chriss, but Bender is already having to play out of position to get enough playing time and at one point, giving him playing time required benching Jared Dudley. Even though Isaac has more perimeter versatility than Bender, he would further clog the depth chart unless the Suns were to play a majority of his minutes out of position at small forward. Sound familiar?
There are good reasons to not have confidence in the future of the Suns’ center position, but if they want to draft one, they picked the wrong draft class to have a top-five pick in. Gonzaga’s Zach Collins is the best center in the class and he’s projected to be drafted in the late lottery.
Anyway you spin it — unless you believe Fultz, Ball or Jackson will fall out of the top-three — picking later than third it’s not a great situation for the Suns to be in.
A top-three pick either gives the Suns their next potential franchise point guard as option 1A or 1B next to Booker or a potentially terrific role player in Jackson who could help a Bledsoe-led team make a playoff push for the next three-to-four years.
Every prospect beyond that doesn’t snap into place naturally with Phoenix, and besides obviously getting the worse prospects, a selection past No. 3 keeps the vision muddled. The team remains in limbo with an unclear timeline toward playoff contention.
Most lottery teams won’t call it a tragedy if they fall a spot or two in the lottery or don’t get the top pick. But for the sake of a franchise that’s about to go a half-century without an NBA Championship or the No. 1 overall pick, and is threatening to go nearly a decade without a playoff appearance, it’s different.
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