Writer: Caleb Akpan
The Phoenix Suns draft luck, in general, has been horrible, and until this lottery they have never received the number one pick in the draft. Now, with the number one selection in their grasp, they must make a decision on who the best fit for their team is. To most, the 2018 NBA Draft has a clear player to pick at number one, but in the Valley of the Sun, things are definitely a bit more complicated. Two enticing, completely different options sit for Phoenix to consider, and despite their luck in the draft improving, the team must now deal with some of the highest stakes they have ever faced.
One of the potential new players is DeAndre Ayton of Arizona, the dominant freshman center who put up 20 and 10 in a top-tier college system. Ayton’s physique and skill-set match up with some of the NBA’s best, both now and throughout history. Because of this, most would say that he is easily the number one pick in the draft. Ayton can hit shots inside and on the perimeter, his footwork in the post is already in a great place, and while his shot-blocking is not elite, with a 7’5” wingspan and 8’11” standing reach, he has the body of a player that can be molded into a solid rim protector. Ayton’s the kind of player that NBA teams dream about, especially with the renaissance of dominant post players taking place in today’s league.
In Phoenix specifically, there could be a bit of a Kobe-Shaq redux if the team were to select Ayton. Earlier this year, the Arizona center even said that he could see himself playing with the Suns current star, Devin Booker, as “a little Kobe and Shaq 2.0”. It would take awhile for these Phoenix players to become as dominant as those Lakers even if Ayton is as good as he appears to be, but the point was made. There is already a recipe for success in combining a dominant big and a scorer in the league, it should not be hard for Phoenix to turn a Booker-Ayton duo into something special as long as the players continue to develop. It would just be a matter of putting the right players around them and hoping the new coach, Igor Kokoskov can run the team.
Speaking of Kokoskov, the newly named head coach is likely the main reason why Phoenix’s selection is not already a done deal, or at least, it would seem that way. As the first European-born coach in NBA history, Kokoskov has experience in his field overseas, specifically coaching the Slovenian national team at the 2017 Eurobasket competition. Slovenia won the tournament, featuring some of the best players in Europe including NBA pros, but the player who was arguably Kokoskov’s best has yet to step foot in the league. 19-year old Luka Doncic outplayed most of the pros in this tournament as well as the European regular season, and he has also entered his name into the 2018 draft.
Doncic flourished at Eurobasket last summer and currently plays for Real Madrid in the ACB League in Spain. The ACB is widely considered the second best league in the world to the NBA, and Doncic has not stopped looking like an excellent prospect for one of its best teams. The young playmaker is a 6’8 point guard who could likely play three positions in the NBA, as he possesses a skillset many have compared to James Harden and a flair usually associated with players like Manu Ginobili. If he flourishes in a similar way, Doncic could be creating top-ten highlights from his first day in the league and he already has a great relationship with Phoenix’s head coach, who has consistently praised Doncic’s talent. Ayton may be the superior player, but it’s very possible Doncic could be the better fit, with a coach, Kokoskov, that already knows how to utilize his skills and put him in the optimal position to succeed.
The good news for Phoenix is that there may not be a wrong answer to the question of who they should draft. Ayton already has relations to Phoenix from playing at Arizona, and you can rarely go wrong with drafting a highly-skilled big man at the top of the draft. Combining Ayton with Booker could give Phoenix one of the NBA’s best duos in just a few years, and if they keep building, a championship-contending team. On the other hand, Doncic’s playmaking abilities could give the Suns a player they have not had since two-time MVP Steve Nash. Phoenix experienced its best years with Nash pushing the pace and making amazing plays night after night; Doncic shows the potential to do the same. Whichever way they go, Phoenix seems poised to obtain a great NBA player, but of course, you can never be certain with the draft.