Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 4.0, Part III: Surprises at the top

Apr 5, 2018, 6:08 AM | Updated: 3:41 pm
(AP photos)...
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(AP photos)
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The NCAA Tournament has ended and that means it is time for a big board update.

The Suns potentially enter the 2018 NBA Draft with three first-round draft picks, and the placement of those picks makes the mid-first round the most interesting part of the draft for Suns fans.

With that, we extend the board to 20 spots and also factor in the Suns’ needs for the first time. In our previous three renditions of the board, you can find more extensive analysis on previously discussed prospects and the progression of our rankings. Keep in mind with this list that not all prospects have officially announced if they will be declaring for the draft, so we could be losing some of these players in that process.

With five tiers to go through and the last three tiers to go, let’s not waste any time getting through the rest of nine players who have clear All-Star potential.

Tier 3

9. Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas, 19 years old (▼4)

Bamba is not the type of swing the Suns should take with their own first-round pick. There are better options available, even if they fall to Nos. 4 or 5 overall on lottery night.

At the very least, Bamba’s strength must come a long way for him to immediately contribute, as he is listed at 225 pounds at Texas.

In theory, the Suns need a dominant rim protector, but Bamba didn’t do enough to prove that with the Longhorns, as I wrote in our NCAA Tournament prospect recap. His upside cannot have him anywhere lower, but man it would be disappointing to see Phoenix take such a big risk with its own pick.

8. Mikal Bridges, G/F, Villanova, 21 years old (–)

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Like I wrote in December, Bridges is the type of player you want next to Devin Booker. The problem is the Suns have no room for him. Should that stop them from drafting him? Absolutely not.

Would I trade two mid-firsts along with another asset to move up 5-6 spots to take Bridges? Absolutely.

Because of how much he could provide next to Booker, Bridges is bumped up to my third tier on a Suns board and even ahead of Bamba. The production he could bring right away of much-needed NBA skills in a Suns uniform warrants it.

7. Marvin Bagley III, C/PF, Duke, 19 years old (▼1)

Bagley would fit right in with the Suns and I mean that as a negative. He is lost on defense all the time and has a surprising lack of awareness for how hard he plays. If that wasn’t apparent before the NCAA Tournament, it sure was after the Blue Devils got bounced by Kansas in the Elite Eight because my goodness me was he awful defensively in that game.

He’s too undersized to play center full-time despite how high he can jump, and the combination of his jumper and lateral quickness leave more question marks at power forward.

So, in getting those red flags out of the way, he is still going to be a productive NBA player. He’s too freaky of an athlete, has too high of a motor and too good of a touch around the basket to not be a double-double guy in the NBA.

That’s far more likely than him unlocking his ceiling as a stretch-five who can score off the bounce, but we do get glimpses of that potential every so often and so No. 7 feels right.

6. Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State, 18 years old (▲1)

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

To make a point I didn’t make on Bagley, can the Suns afford to take a raw big with their own pick? Are they ready to wait on Bagley to figure out what he is in the NBA or for Jackson to grow as an offensive player?

It sure doesn’t seem like it, and that would make both a seemingly less valuable selection.

Jackson’s defensive talents are clear as day and could really help the Suns, but he would have been a much better prospect for the Suns to come across two years ago when they had more time. Does Booker really want to play with another defensive-minded big who can shoot and pass and … well the other stuff is coming, Book! Sign that extension and be patient, Book! Wait, Book! Where are you going, Book?!

As our own Kevin Zimmerman presented to me on our podcast, though, if the Suns were to get an established NBA big and pair him with Jackson or Bagley or even (gulp) Bamba, all while shoving Bender and Chriss back to “prove it for minutes” roles, that could work a whole lot better. If I’m in the Suns’ draft room and know that’s the plan, I move him up at least two spots, maybe more.

But, from my perspective, because of the concerns I have in raw bigs for the Suns and the small likelihood of Bridges reaching his higher ceilings, I cut off this tier here.

Tier 2

5. Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma, 19 years old (▼2)

I’ll point you in the direction of our NCAA Tournament prospect recap as to how I feel about Young sliding down some draft boards.

Young would be my third-rated prospect for a lot of NBA teams, but a lot of NBA teams do not have as bad of a defensive player at shooting guard as Booker.

That has to count for something when factoring in how Young fits on a roster. Pairing Young and Booker would basically be shooting out the team’s floor unless you have the defensive base behind them to be OK — or they improve individually.

So, even with how much Young’s shooting and passing would help the Suns, I have him on the edge of the top-5 for Phoenix.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., C, Duke, 18 years old (▲6)

Carter has the clearest floor and ceiling of any prospect in this draft. He can do nearly anything you want out of your modern big man. He has to get a little quicker as a perimeter defender and the jumper will have to develop NBA range, but I’m buying both of those as safe bets.

He’s no offensive zero. Carter can get you a bucket in the post, face up and be more creative, or hit a jumper all with outstanding feel and passing.

He has a very solid chance of being an average NBA defender as a rookie, possessing the intuitiveness Coach K has tried to hide in his nightmare of a defensive scheme at Duke.

Al Horford has been underrated his entire career, even after a flat-out superb season in Boston this year. Players of Horford’s all-around savvy are a gift to those lacking true balance and that’s the type of supporting cast member Carter can be in the NBA. That, in my eyes, makes him the second-best big for the Suns to take in this draft. The Suns desperately need even-keeled players they can rely upon to get everything done on their assignment sheet while others develop and grow consistency.

While Jackson, Bagley and Bamba all have higher ceilings, Carter’s steadiness holds more meaning from a Suns’ perspective.

3. Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri, 19 years old (▲1)

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

Let’s see how his medicals check out, but a 6-foot-10 true shooter who can also be a secondary scorer for Booker while having pop as an athlete is a top-5 prospect for Phoenix.

Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss have given the Suns no reason to potentially be lower on a stretch-four like Porter.

2. Deandre Ayton, PF/C, Arizona, 19 years old, (–)

Like Young, I’m choosing to punish Ayton because of the Suns’ extreme defensive incompetence.

In his own tier below Doncic and above the rest on my non-Suns-centric board, Ayton rests at the top of a second tier on this one that factors in Phoenix’s needs.

You could argue Ayton has the highest floor and highest ceiling in the draft, making him seem like a no-brainer as the No. 1 prospect. But the multitude of minor blemishes in his evaluation make his ceiling seem like a pipe dream and it more likely that he’s not a dominant interior presence on either end.

Still, a center who can stretch the floor and use his physical profile to be a monster whenever he wants while also having switch-and-slide upside at 7-foot-1 is pretty great.

Like the case has been since last summer, though, I see a sizable separation between my No. 1 and any other prospect.

Tier 1

1. Luka Doncic, F, Real Madrid, 19 years old (—)

(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

My extensive write-up on Doncic covers most of what you need to know from me.

To answer a question many have asked me in passing, I don’t care where Doncic plays or who he’s playing with. Want to put a point guard with him? Great. But doesn’t that move Josh Jackson to the bench? In theory, yes, and I don’t care.

I see Doncic as such an elite prospect that I’m not worried about who else is on the roster when picking him No. 1. Luckily, there’s a great fit with Booker. That might diminish the value of Jackson or whoever else Doncic is taking minutes from, but he’s worth it.

As I wrote earlier in the week, there is greatness in the future of the Slovenian like there is for Booker, and that’s all that should matter for the Suns if they land their inaugural first overall pick.


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