Suns Draft Grade: An a or an F or Something in Between
At about 6:30 PT on Thursday, June 21, I was heated. I absolutely HATED the Suns draft. I was all decked out in Suns gear at the middle school I work at because it was Sports Day. I work in the middle of LA so I was getting roasted all day by punk ass 12 and 13-year-old Lakers fans. (The only thing worse than Laker fans are their kids because they know even less about basketball.) Most of them would just intermittently yell, “KOBE!” at me. Others would just burst out laughing at the mere sight of my jersey. There were even a few Clippers fans that joined in on the trash talk. (That’s when you know you’re bad, when Lakers and Clippers fans unite for a common cause to revel in your team’s awfulness.)
These things didn’t bother me at first. They were just general taunts from a naïve, ill-informed fan base. However, as the draft progressed during my shift, they got harder and harder to bear. Sure, they were just yelling silly things like, “The Suns are TRASH!”, but what I heard was “DeAndre Ayton’s game is not conducive to winning basketball!” Or instead of hearing, “How can you support such a bad team, mister?”, I heard, “How do you support a team that trades an UNPROTECTED 2021 pick to trade up for a dude that turns 22 before the season starts, mister?”
I was in an awful mood. But somewhere between the Suns taking “potential steal of the draft”, Elie Okobo at 31 and now, I’ve come around to the Suns draft. That’s the great thing about being a fan. Rational thinking goes out the window, and you can talk yourself into ANYTHING. (This is coming from a guy that was on the Michael Beasley bandwagon in 2012, so yes, I mean ANYTHING.) I’ve been reading too many draft grades, though, and I worry that I’ve swung too far the other way now. The cynic in me is what keeps me balanced and objective as a fan, and I don’t want to lose that. So, I’m going to give my impressions of the Suns draft from both perspectives: the overly skeptical misanthrope and the Kool-Aid chugging optimist. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
The Overly Skeptical Misanthrope
The Suns lost the draft as soon as they made their first pick. When you have the #1 pick in the draft and you don’t select the best prospect, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. I don’t care what anyone says. Luka Doncic is the best basketball player in this year’s draft, and it’s not even close. Sure, DeAndre Ayton can run faster, jump higher, and bench more, but Luka Doncic is Bobby Fischer to Ayton’s 3rd grade chess club. Ayton is the guy at the Y that everyone marvels at because he’s throwing down windmill dunks. Doncic is the guy at the Y whose team never leaves the court because he just keeps willing them to victories. One may look more impressive, but the other one just is.
Then, the Suns made things even worse when they traded Zhaire Smith and Miami’s 2021 unprotected first round pick for Mikal Bridges. Management has been preaching patience and #TheTimeline, then they make a deal that completely flies in the face of that philosophy. This is a win now move for a team that only has moral victories to gain in the near future. The only thing I know for sure from this draft is that Zhaire Smith is going to win a dunk contest at some point in his career. He’s oozing with upside and could potentially be better than Mikal Bridges is now in three years which would coincide with #TheTimeline much better. Plus, the Miami pick was probably their most valuable trade asset. Rumor has it that 2021 is the year the NBA will lower the age limit for potential draftees. That means that there will be two classes worth of prospects entering that draft. Even if Miami is good by the time that pick rolls around, a pick in the late 20s could still be equal to a lottery pick in any other draft.
I guess you can praise the Suns for picking up Elie Okobo in the 2nd, but if he was such a good prospect, why did he fall to the second round? It’s just tough to get excited about an Ayton-Bridges-Okobo draft when it could have gone so many other ways. They could have gone Doncic at 1, traded up for Michael Porter Jr. with less assets than they used for Bridges, and snagged DeAnthony Melton in the second. Or they could have gotten Doncic, kept Zhaire Smith, and traded up from 31 to snag a freefalling Robert Williams while still maintaining all their future assets. (Fine, I’ll admit that 90% of my rage is due to the Suns passing on Doncic and having to see him in Dallas for the beginning of his career.)
The Kool-Aid Chugging Optimist
#THETIMELINE IS NOW! The Suns just accelerated their rebuild by drafting two of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. DeAndre Ayton is going to put up close to 20 and 10 in his rookie year. He’s going to inject some life into a fan base that’s been sleepwalking for the past eight years. He’s the guy that Devin Booker wanted, and the Suns had to keep Book happy. They truly could be Shaq/Kobe 2.0 rebooted for the modern, three-point happy NBA. Ayton is a gravitational force on offense that will open up the game for the rest of the team. All you have to do is surround him with knockdown shooters and above-average perimeter defenders in order to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.
Luckily, the Suns also drafted the guy that perfectly fits that mold. Three-and-D guys are at a premium in today’s NBA, and Mikal Bridges is by far the best one in the draft. Shooting and defense were two of the biggest concerns for the Suns last year. People worry about Ayton’s defense but with Bridges and Jackson wreaking havoc on the perimeter, Ayton won’t have to do much other than stay at home and block shots. Plus, with all the attention that Booker and Ayton will get on offense, Bridges will have plenty of room on the perimeter to get off his 43% three-point shot.
The Doncic stans were hoping for Luka and his winning background to facilitate a culture change in Phoenix. Well, as a two-time national champion, Bridges can help fill that role. Those same stans wanted the Suns to gravitate more towards positionless basketball. A Bridges-Booker-Jackson wing rotation is super switchy and versatile enough that even Danny Ainge has to be a little impressed. I know that the Miami pick could end up being valuable, but we just won’t know for three more years. Maybe the NBA doesn’t lower its age limit that year. Maybe the Heat never bottom out. Maybe they’d waste the pick anyway. The Suns needed to start turning their assets into production, and Bridges is the perfect player for that.
And how about Elie Okobo in the second round? He was easily a first round talent that only fell because teams wanted to stash him overseas for a year or two. He’s a converted point guard who’s still learning the position, but the dude just gets buckets. Defensively, Okobo is a bit of a liability at this point, but he has good size at 6’3’’ with a 6’8’’ wingspan. Even if Okobo doesn’t become the point guard of the future, he still projects to be a good microwave scorer off the bench which is great value in the second round. If he does pan out as a high-level starter, though, an Okobo-Booker-Bridges-Jackson-Ayton core will be a force to be reckoned with once the 2020s hit.
So, the Suns’ draft either set the franchise back 10 years or guaranteed them a championship within 10 years depending on who you ask (or depending on when you asked me). As I mentioned before, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I’m not sure that the Suns will be in the Finals anytime soon, but a playoff berth is certainly a lot closer than it had seemed in the past. The Suns definitely won’t be the laughingstock of the league next year, but that’s only a given because the Kings exist. I’m both cautiously optimistic and enthusiastically pessimistic. The only thing I know for sure is that I can’t wait for the season to start.