EOTS’ college tipoff NBA Draft Big Board, Part III: Doncic, bigs on top
It’s never too early to start talking NBA Draft with the direction the Phoenix Suns’ season is heading.
Empire of the Suns is rolling out its first edition of a big board with the top-10 players as college basketball gets underway. You’ll find brief scouting reports on each player followed by how they could fit in Phoenix.
Throughout the season leading all the way up to June, we will bring new versions of the board and plenty of NBA Draft coverage along the way.
In part three, it’s the top three players in the class, and all three would be a good fit with the Suns.
3. Deandre Ayton, PF/C, Arizona (19 years old)
Ayton has the most pop of any prospect in this group of top players.
Physically, he looks like the next Joel Embiid or Dwight Howard, a monstrous big man who will simply overwhelm even spectacular athletes with his strength and size. More in the form of Embiid, Ayton has terrific agility and light feet for someone 7-foot with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and a bulky 250-pound frame.
Ayton’s offensive game is more about finesse at this point. While it comes off like a line-drive, Ayton’s jump shot is money with good form and a quick release. His go-to move is a face-up jumper, one he can hit from anywhere, and he has flirted with the college three-point range as well.
The next step for Ayton to take with some added muscle is playing more physical inside. With his size starting at power forward for the Wildcats, Ayton should take a dribble or two in the post to bully opposing fours, pushing them under the basket and slamming the ball down on their face. Sometimes, Ayton appears to not know how to go about how strong he is in the post. Bully ball has to be something in his arsenal with his fantastic frame.
If we go past that, what about attacking closeouts and getting to the rim? There’s more to see with him this season offensively.
His quickness, nicely enough, extends laterally, where he has one of the highest defensive ceilings. The trouble is, watching Ayton, you can see he doesn’t have a top understanding and want of how to go about it. He spends lots of time reacting late, not making crisp rotations and doesn’t have a great feel for boxing guys out on the glass. That doesn’t make him an ideal rim protector, either. The hope is this will be fixed — it can be — under Sean Miller.
Fit in Phoenix: Ayton might be the best “overall fit” of the five in Phoenix. He gives them what they desperately lack with Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender: An interior scoring option.
Even better, play him at center and have teams figure out how to defend him in ball screens for Devin Booker. Deny both of them? Here comes the swing pass to either Chriss, Bender or Josh Jackson, who are all capable of making the extra pass or hitting an open shot.
Defensively, Ayton has the ability to hold his own, and the potential to be a true difference-maker. If his complete offensive game comes together throughout Arizona’s season, it’s difficult to see how he isn’t top-2 on the Suns’ draft board.
2. Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas (19 years old)
Bamba’s potential skill-set is the type that can change the course of a franchise.
At 7-foot with a ginormous 7-foot-9 wingspan, Bamba is anything but clunky. The word I see associated with him constantly is “coordination.” Bamba has a great knack for getting blocks and steals by having his body, arms and hands in the right spots. That’s a critical component for a prospect of his size, and that’s also because it extends to two other parts of his game.
He can do a bit of defending on the perimeter, where he gets more out his frame by getting low and moving very well for his size. Secondly, the tantalizing aspect of his prospect evaluation is his jumper, which, yes, extends out to the three-point line. The outlook on him throughout his year at Texas is going to depend on his percentage from deep.
Where he really needs to focus and push toward being the No. 1 guy is his effort. When turning down the lights on the rest of the court and projecting a spotlight on him for a full game, his work-rate leaves something to be desired on both ends. He’s not engaged in every aspect, and for an impact player like him, that’s a crucial piece missing.
If he continues to show these lapses, he won’t last long in the top-3 and possibly even the top-5.
Fit in Phoenix: Bamba would be the defensive anchor that would make the Suns one of the tougher teams to score on inside. Thanks to his advanced agility for his size, Bamba would be able to keep up with a high-paced tempo and move well alongside Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender. He could also space the floor much better than Tyson Chandler or Alex Len and would look to be as great as Chandler was as a rim-runner in his prime.
1. Luka Doncic, F, Real Madrid (18 years old)
Doncic is the type of prospect teams will tank for in order to have a better chance at landing an elite-level prospect, one that only comes across every couple of years.
In a veteran-dominated space, the 18-year-old is one of the best players in Europe. He won EuroBasket with Slovenia alongside Goran Dragic averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists a game.
The Slovenian consistently makes “special” plays. He has the floor sense and know-how that is truly rare for players his age. On top of that, he has stupendous passing ability that meshes with a combination of an aggressive mentality and skill to attack defenses and score.
The best part of Doncic as a prospect might be how well he rounds off the edges of his profile.
He’s a good rebounder, which is important for his size (6-foot-8) and lack of top-level athleticism. Like someone such as Stephen Curry, he’s not a player you’d call a “great defender,” but his team defense and savvy on-ball work make him good enough. His jumper is smooth and he’s not strictly a catch-and-shoot option, mixing in off the dribble pull-ups and coming off screens.
Doncic is like Lonzo Ball, but not in the way you think. You can loosely compare him to other players, but he’s such a unique prospect there’s no proper contextualization of even two or three players blended together that could make up his game.
Also like Ball, he has clear faults. Doncic’s aforementioned athleticism will have questions attached to how well he can defend perimeter scoring options and how consistently he can get by his own defender to set up his own offense and, most importantly, his teammates’.
Fit in Phoenix: Doncic doesn’t have a position and that’s a compliment. He’s a point forward you stick on any team, and he instantly makes that team better. In what will become a repetitive theme related to the Suns’ roster, Doncic would give Devin Booker a primary/secondary ball-handler to work with and Phoenix as a whole a legitimate playmaker to set up others. A perimeter lineup of Booker, Doncic and Josh Jackson is a salivating combination of offensive talent.