Suns still have options if (when) they don’t win the lottery

May 11, 2018, 6:54 AM | Updated: 11:08 am
Arizona's Deandre Ayton (13) reaches for a rebound during the second half of the team's NCAA colleg...
Arizona's Deandre Ayton (13) reaches for a rebound during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. Arizona won 78-67 in overtime. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The annual festival of disappointment known by Phoenix Suns fans as the NBA Draft Lottery is nearly here. And the stakes are especially high for the Suns this time around. So when the order is officially announced Tuesday, think of the results as a mood ring for basketball fans in the Valley.

As you well know by now, Phoenix can pick as high as No. 1 and as low as No. 4. After celebrating their 50th season with the 49th best record in franchise history, anything less than that top pick will be seen as a slap in the face to Suns fans. And rightly so.

But dropping a spot or two might not be the end of the world. Even if it might feel like it.

Here’s how it breaks down:

First Pick (25.0 percent chance)

Since history has repeatedly taught us that a team from Phoenix winning the lottery is scientifically impossible, that 25 percent looks a little high. In reality though, it’s still remarkably low. After slogging through 61 losses and missing the playoffs for the eighth straight year, the Suns only have a 1-in-4 shot at the top spot? It hardly seems fair.

If they do land it though (just play along), they’ve got their pick of a couple game-changers. Whether they go with Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, they’ll be adding a potential superstar to a roster that already features Devin Booker. And the optimism for this team will instantly soar higher than it’s been in years.

Or the Knicks will somehow cash in their 1.7 percent chance and jump all the way from No. 9 to No. 1. Either way.

Second Pick (21.5)

As long as the Suns can just stay in the top two, the initial disappointment of another lottery letdown will give way to electricity on draft night in June. They’ll still get Ayton or Doncic, and they won’t even have the pressure of choosing which one. They can just sit back and let whichever team predictably leaps over them deal with the weight of making that decision, then hope this all plays out like another Greg Oden-Kevin Durant scenario.

The general consensus locally is that Ayton needs to be that first pick. Which makes sense, given that fans here are much more familiar with his work, as opposed to the kid who played his games 5,500 miles away. But there are plenty of scouts and basketball pundits around the country who think Doncic should actually come off the board first. So getting “stuck” with him at two would be just fine. And it’s even possible Ayton might still be available here anyway.

Third Pick (17.7)

If you’re doing the math, Phoenix actually has a better chance of picking outside the top two (53.5 percent) than in (46.5 percent). And while Marvin Bagley III certainly has major upside on top of local ties, there’s definitely a perceived drop-off from those top two to the Tempe native, who potentially gets scooped up in the third spot.

That could change once they all begin their actual NBA careers though. So yes, landing the No. 3 selection would be frustrating, but the Suns would still be getting a major player who should be able to make an impact pretty quickly. The excitement might not be there on draft night with this pick, but it would be there by the time opening night rolls around.

Fourth Pick (35.8)

That’s right, after winning just 21 games, the most likely landing spot for Phoenix is … No. 4. Makes sense.

It’s not that the Suns can’t get someone good here, but they might be taking a project and it’s not even totally clear who that project is. Which leaves them with a difficult choice they really shouldn’t have to make after the way last season played out. Mohamed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young all have upside, but they all have flaws as well. And there’s no guarantee any of them ends up great anytime soon. After the last eight years, Phoenix needs an instant impact player that’s as close to a sure thing as possible.

Michael Porter Jr. is an intriguing option here as well — he’s a prospect that many mock drafts had going as high as No. 1 back in October. Problem is, a back injury limited the Missouri forward to a grand total of 53 minutes last season. Given the potential reward, that’s a risk that some teams can afford to take.

The Suns just aren’t one of them.​

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Suns still have options if (when) they don’t win the lottery