Another Suns season, another season with a spotlight on the NBA Draft
The Phoenix Suns are doing it to us again.
With a 1-6 start and six straight games lacking competitiveness, they are making us care about NBA Draft prospects at the start of the college basketball season in early November.
Let’s take a few steps back for some self-evaluation of our suffering.
Imagine being a fan of a playoff contender. Not only does the team gift you with an extremely relevant season, it’s an entertaining one that presents storyline after storyline, gripping an audience throughout.
When playoff basketball rolls around, the last thing on anyone’s mind is if Josh Okogie or Jacob Evans is the better 3-and-D wing.
Around that time, though, fans and media members alike start to scan draft boards.
Say you’re a Boston Celtics fan, and after getting bounced in the Eastern Conference Finals in late May, your attention now turns to the draft less than one month away.
“Boy, that Robert Williams kid looked good in the NCAA Tournament two months ago. He is one heck of an athlete and could be the rim protector we need. Could he fall to us at 27?”
Looking at it from the standpoint of the Suns these past few years, can you imagine the draft being that easy to evaluate for your team?
“Hey, that guy looks fun! What does he do? Where is he projected to go?”
We have not been provided with this luxury.
Unlike that theoretical Celtics fan, Suns fans last year were ready to fight over whether Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III or Luka Doncic was the best prospect by January, over five months before draft night.
That’s because fans are getting more intelligent than ever. They have the tools at their disposal to be moderately- or even extremely well-informed on most of these prospects.
No, most of my friends did not watch Doncic play one second of live play in the EuroLeague last year, but that didn’t stop them for berating me — the person who ranked Doncic No. 1 — about his slow first step and 30.9 three-point shooting percentage.
Most can agree it was a fairly taxing process by May, and why I joked in my season preview that I did not want to have to find out if Nassir Little or Zion Williamson was the better wing for the Suns in December.
At the very least, I wondered if the Suns could be competitive enough for me to wait until February to prep for tournament play.
Alas, here we are. The Suns do not look like they will be a good basketball team.
Now, it is not your obligation by any means to start watching Vanderbilt to see if the top-rated point guard in the 2017 recruiting class, Darius Garland, could fit next to Devin Booker when the Commodores tip off their season against Winthrop on Tuesday.
By virtue of following this team through three-plus bumpy seasons, you have all earned the right to watch a Youtube mixtape or two of each guy and call it there until Adam Silver is at the podium.
But, if your itch needs scratching already because you’re sick of watching the present Suns and would rather consider their future, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will at least be making our job of knowing these 18-year-olds a bit easier.
Blue Devils freshmen R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish are ranked by ESPN’s DraftExpress as the No. 1, 3 and 4 prospects in the draft class, respectively.
Along with North Carolina’s Little, who is the second-rated prospect by ESPN, you can watch a fair share of ACC basketball to get the gist of these guys and how they could fit in-between Booker and Ayton.
At the moment, though, this year’s draft class lacks the true star power of last year’s.
All draft prospects have question marks and red flags, but the hue and shade of those flags are a lot more profound this year.
We aren’t sure if Barrett can shoot. Ditto for Williamson, who is about three inches too short to be able to afford that as a playmaking four. Reddish is your prototypical floater, failing to show consistency despite his terrific tools to be a modern NBA wing.
There is no Ayton, Bagley, Doncic or even Jaren Jackson Jr. or Trae Young in this class at this point, assuming no one comes out of nowhere or some of the top guys don’t drastically improve.
That — well, besides the Suns being terrible again — is the additional sting to the prospect evaluations ramping up so early.
No. 4 Duke tips off its season on Tuesday against No. 2 Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. It’s not a game I was particularly highlighting on my calendar three weeks ago, but now I’ll be glued to my TV to see if Barrett can shoot, if Williamson can be a playmaker and if Reddish wants to be a defender.
That’s been a brutal realization after watching so many 20-point second-quarter deficits for the Suns this early, just as much as Phoenix’s projected win total taking a swan dive from potentially the low 30s to the low-to-mid 20s.