PHOENIX SUNS

NBA exec compares drafting Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic to Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan

May 31, 2024, 12:03 PM

Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton...

Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks looks to pass around Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of Game Four of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at American Airlines Center on May 8, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Luka Doncic is taking his Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals. His 36-point door-slamming on the Minnesota Timberwolves season mirrored how he and the Dallas Mavericks put away the Phoenix Suns two years ago in the conference semifinals.

But it also brought that older layer to the history of Doncic’s relationship with the Suns: Phoenix drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 overall in 2018, ahead of the Slovenian prodigy despite having just hired his national team head coach, Igor Kokoskov.

Long-time NBA reporter Marc Stein’s Substack newsletter on the morning after the Mavs catapulted themselves to the NBA Finals hammered that point home with this quote from an anonymous team executive.

And as put to me by one admiring rival executive, who has been marveling at Dončić’s play throughout these playoffs, watching intently as No. 77 repeatedly punishes defenses that are trying to wear him down: “Drafting Deandre Ayton over Luka Dončić might one day be as bad as Bowie over Jordan.”

In the 1984 draft, Bowie infamously went No. 2 overall to the Portland Trail Blazers after the Rockets drafted Hakeem Olajuwon. Jordan fell to third to the Chicago Bulls.

The Suns are not alone in having a similar regret from the 2018 draft.

The Sacramento Kings followed them by drafting Marvin Bagley with the second pick, and the Atlanta Hawks at No. 3 drafted and then traded Doncic that day for Trae Young. Six years later, Bagley has been the least successful of those players by a long shot.

Ayton, who is still just 25, has been far from a bust.

He’s averaged 16.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game over his six-year career so far. And he did have a big hand in pushing Phoenix to a 2021 NBA Finals appearance before the Suns fell to the Milwaukee Bucks.

But Ayton wore out his welcome thanks to his up-and-down play and got traded to the Portland Trail Blazers before last season.

Doncic meanwhile keeps ascending. He’s also just 25 and this season averaged career highs in points (33.9), assists (9.8) and rebounds (9.2). He leads all playoff leaders in each of those totals heading into a series against the Boston Celtics.

Phoenix Suns

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Drew Eubanks is a good basketball player, just not the right fit for the Phoenix Suns #nba #shorts

John Gambadoro breaks down way Drew Eubanks wasn't the right fit for this Phoenix Suns team.

3 hours ago

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Why Drew Eubanks wasn’t the right fit for the Phoenix Suns

Drew Eubanks will decline his $2.7 million player option to return to the Phoenix Suns for the 2024-25 season and become a free agent, reported ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday. John Gambadoro breaks down way the center wasn't the right fit for this Suns team.

3 hours ago

Suns backup center Drew Eubanks...

Arizona Sports

Suns’ Drew Eubanks will decline player option to become free agent, per report

Drew Eubanks will decline his player option with the Phoenix Suns for the 2024-25 season to become a free agent, reports Adrian Wojnarowski.

6 hours ago

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Is Eric Gordon returning to the Phoenix Suns? #nba #shorts

Eric Gordon is “50-50” on returning to the Phoenix Suns for a second season, a source close to Gordon told The Athletic’s Houston Rockets insider Kelly Iko. Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta contemplate.

7 hours ago

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Is Eric Gordon leaving the Phoenix Suns?

Eric Gordon is “50-50” on returning to the Phoenix Suns for a second season, a source close to Gordon told The Athletic’s Houston Rockets insider Kelly Iko. Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta take a look back at the season the veteran shooting guard had in Phoenix.

7 hours ago

Ajay Mitchell #13 of the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos drives the lane during the first half against the...

Kellan Olson

22 for 22: Should Suns target potential hidden gem like G Ajay Mitchell?

The Phoenix Suns should try to maximize value with this year's first-round pick and targeting a sleeper like Ajay Mitchell matches that.

7 hours ago

NBA exec compares drafting Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic to Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan