On June 21st, the Phoenix Suns will be on the clock with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. A franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2010, the Suns will be looking to find a cornerstone prospect that they can pair up with young star Devin Booker. The question, however, is who the Suns will take with this pick. Will it be Arizona standout Deandre Ayton or Real Madrid star Luka Doncic?
Coming into the league at 7’1” and 250 pounds, Deandre Ayton already looks the part to be a dominant player in the NBA for years to come. In his “one and done” season at Arizona, Ayton averaged 20.1 points per game along with a strong 11.6 rebounds per game. Using his 7’0” wingspan, Ayton sent 1.9 shots per game the other direction, telling his opponents, in the words of Cavaliers announcer Austin Carr, to “get that weak stuff outta here.” Perhaps there has not been a more physically imposing and athletically gifted prospect than Ayton since Anthony Davis tore through the collegiate level on his way to winning an NCAA championship with the Kentucky Wildcats back in 2012. The Bahamian big man, like Davis, strokes the 3 point shot at a 34% clip, while keeping his field goal percentage at an astounding 61% compared to Davis’ 53%. While it is hard to say that Ayton will be as good and MVP-esque like Davis right out of the gates, his numbers give NBA teams a lot of hope for the future.
Ranking 21st in blocks per game and dead last in defensive rating (yes, even behind the Cleveland Cavaliers), the Phoenix Suns desperately need a big man to clog up the lane and prohibit teams from bruising them inside. Taking Luka Doncic with the first pick would be a colossal mistake because of this glaring need. Doncic, a 6’8” guard from Real Madrid, is being compared to players like Magic Johnson and Ben Simmons solely based upon his size. If you look at the numbers, though, Doncic does not look the part to be a franchise point guard in this league. Nobody is questioning Doncic’s scoring ability as he has proven he can shoot the 3 ball consistently and get to the rim with ease. His assist numbers are what make me wary of his ball distribution ability. Doncic averaged only 4.6 assists per game in Spain, something that a point guard in the NBA would not be allowed to get away with. Besides, the Suns have players like Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ulis to hold down that point guard position and feed their best player Devin Booker.
In the 2019 draft, point guards like Darius Garland and Tre Jones, ranked 16 and 17 respectively, will almost certainly be declaring for the draft, so they could choose between those two prospects if they so please. A player like Doncic should more accurately be compared to Manu Ginobili or Klay Thompson, as he has shown ability to play off the ball and create his own shot. His game proves to match the position of a 2 guard, something the Suns clearly have in Booker. Creating this log jam will be troublesome for the Suns, as they have been in this situation before, á la Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe back in 2014.
Ayton, in my opinion, is way too good to pass up on; his polished game is exactly what the Suns need in order to take advantage of the Devin Booker and Josh Jackson era in Phoenix. Their game is becoming way too predictable in the way that Booker is constantly fed outside the perimeter and asked to do it all on his own. Having a bruiser and at times a stretch five like Ayton will open the floor for guys like Booker and Jackson to find more room to be successful. Perhaps the biggest impact that Ayton will have on this team is in the pick and roll game. Having Booker handle the ball off a screen will be lethal as he can score himself or dish the ball to Ayton either at the three point line or down low on the move. This is something that the Suns have failed to surround Booker with; taking Ayton would absolutely elevate Devin Booker to superstardom.
A more dynamic offense and physically imposing defense could really help the Suns win a lot more games in the 2018-2019 season and would definitely move them in the direction of ending their playoff drought. Move aside Tyson Chandler, a new big man SHOULD be coming to town soon…