Mar 4, 2017; College Station, TX, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) celebrates with guard De’Aaron Fox (0) after a play during the second half against the Texas A&M Aggies at Reed Arena. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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The Phoenix Suns will have options with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The question is, which players should be at the top of their draft board?
Despite owning the second-best odds at the No. 1 overall draft pick and a 55.8 percent chance at a top-three pick, the Phoenix Suns fell to the No. 4 selection in the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery.
Missing out on the chance at drafting Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball has probably ensured Eric Bledsoe‘s long-term future in the Valley of the Sun, but after being spurned by Lady Luck for what feels like the millionth time in the team’s 49-year history, what should the Suns do with their first round pick?
On the night of the draft lottery, general manager Ryan McDonough said the team would more likely be taking more calls on the pick than making them, indicating he intends to use the selection on another young prospect to pair with Devin Booker and the rest of Phoenix’s youth movement.
The question is, who should the Suns hope falls to them at No. 4 on draft night?
As CBS Sports‘ Matt Moore points out, it’s a tough spot to be in. The consensus top-two prospects will be gone by the time Phoenix is on the clock. Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum, two of the top wings in the draft, could call T.J. Warren‘s future into question. The same goes for De’Aaron Fox, only for Bledsoe. Taking a frontcourt player then creates an uncomfortable position for Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and the new arrival.
Medical evaluations and draft workouts with the team will influence these rankings, but as of right now, here’s a look at Phoenix’s top five options with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Mar 19, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) reacts after a three-point basket against the Wichita State Shockers during the second half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports
5. Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
This is a bit of a long shot, since Malik Monk projects to be a 2-guard and Devin Booker already has that spot locked up. However, considering his high ceiling as an explosive scorer, his more realistic fate as a sixth man dynamo off the bench, and his potential as a combo guard, we shouldn’t rule anything out just yet. Plus, you know, McDonough loves his Kentucky guards.
The biggest knock on Monk’s game in college — especially with his three-point touch — was his consistency, which wavered throughout the Wildcats’ season. At 6’3″ he’s a potential tweener, since his true position is shooting guard, but his size is best suited for the 1-spot.
Monk is a solid ball handler, but not good enough yet to be a lead facilitator in the NBA or make Bledsoe expendable via trade. He’s also not much of a facilitator, and despite showing flashes of good court vision and passing ability, averaged only 2.3 assists in 32.1 minutes per game last season.
However, for all the talk about his consistency, Monk still averaged 19.8 points per game on excellent .450/.397/.822 shooting splits for the season. He won’t turn 20 until next February, there is elite scoring potential to consider and his athleticism is off the charts.
That being said, Monk feels like a reach for the Suns, especially when the Philadelphia 76ers need his premium shooting more and could easily take him off the board at No. 3.
There are better options to be found here, especially if he never develops passing ability required to grow into a point guard role. There’s also a worst-case scenario to consider, where the Suns waste a top-five pick on a player who can’t play more than one position defensively and essentially becomes the next Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams.
Mar 26, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard De’Aaron Fox (0) drives against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Theo Pinson (left) in the first half during the finals of the South Regional of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
4. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
Another reach for the Suns, but there are some who are buying into De’Aaron Fox’s elite two-way potential. And, again, we can never rule out Phoenix taking yet another guard from Kentucky in the draft.
Easily the quickest guard in this year’s draft class, Fox is also a smothering defender at the 1, which would make him an ideal backcourt partner for the more offensively inclined Devin Booker — especially if Fox can develop a reliable jump shot at the next level.
Then again, thanks to his speed and exceptional ball handling, perhaps he wouldn’t need to if he’s playing alongside a go-to scorer like Booker.
In his freshman season at Kentucky, Fox averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. He shot an efficient 47.9 percent from the floor, and though he only made 24.6 percent of his 1.9 three-point attempts per game, he had a knack for stepping up in big moments.
Take, for example, the NCAA Tournament. For those worried about his ability to compete with elite players at his position, consider how he lit up current No. 2 prospect Lonzo Ball for a career-high 39 points in the Sweet 16.
Recent mock drafts on CBS Sports and NBAdraftnet.com project De’Aaron Fox going to the Suns, which would come with the inherent risk of him never living up to the billing of a franchise point guard that would make Eric Bledsoe expendable and relegate Tyler Ulis to backup duty.
Is it feasible the Suns could draft the 19-year-old Fox, trade Bledsoe and roll with two point guards under the age of 22 who can’t shoot? Or is that too far of a leap when Fultz and Ball are off the board, especially since McDonough has already said he hopes the draft lottery results put all the Bledsoe trade speculation to rest?
Fox’s defensive skill set would be a God-send for a young team like the Suns, and if he ever developed a decent jumper, he could potentially challenge Fultz and Ball for the title of best point guard in the draft. However, selecting the next Elfrid Payton would be a monumental misfire, and that kind of player comes nowhere near making Bledsoe expendable.
Feb 22, 2017; Syracuse, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) shoots the ball over Syracuse Orange guard John Gillon (4) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
3. Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
As of right now, Jayson Tatum seems like the potential consolation prize for a Phoenix team that fell to No. 4 in the lottery. Once Fultz and Ball are inevitably off the board with the top-two picks, many Suns supporters are worried that fan favorite prospect Josh Jackson will be gone at No. 3. If that’s the case, Tatum could very well be McDonough’s selection at No. 4.
Though many experts believe Josh Jackson to be the best two-way wing in this year’s draft class, Tatum shouldn’t be overlooked either. He could be a dynamic scorer at the 3 for any team, averaging 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game at Duke.
Though he’s seen as little else than a go-to scorer at this point, the 6’8″ Tatum won’t turn 19 until next March and shot 45.2 percent from the field in his lone season with the Blue Devils.
However, even though mock drafts from both Draft Express and Tankathon have the Suns taking Tatum at No. 4, there would be reasons for concern with a pick like this, aside from the obvious bummer of missing out on Jackson.
Just think Suns fans, in 24 hours we’ll have already convinced ourselves that Jayson Tatum is more than a consolation prize.
Tatum only converted 34.2 percent of his 4.0 three-pointers per game in college, and the Suns already have a guy who can get buckets without a three-point stroke on the wing in T.J. Warren. Tatum has the tools to be a passable defender, but his focus is usually on the offensive end.
If he could be coaxed into working on the defensive end and rounding out the jagged edges of his game so he’s not just a one-dimensional scorer, Tatum could flourish at the next level.
The athleticism and raw fundamentals are there, but it remains to be seen whether the Suns would feel excited about drafting the Josh Jackson fall-back plan when his need for the ball makes him a potentially poor fit alongside ball-dominant guards like Bledsoe and Booker.
Mar 18, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the first half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
2. Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Florida State
Jonathan Isaac is one of the riskiest prospects in this draft, but the upside is immense. That means he may not be the most advisable pick for a team like the Suns, who just made two such picks last year in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
The jury’s still out on both players after only finishing their rookie seasons, but Isaac should definitely be on Phoenix’s radar, as Arizona Sports’ Kellan Olson fully details.
A 6’11” wing who can play the 3 or the 4 so fluidly is rare even in the NBA, and if Isaac can live up to his elite two-way potential, he’ll make quite a few teams regret passing on him early in the draft. Maybe he’ll never reach the ceiling of a Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he basically feels like the skinny, raw draft prospect that gets overlooked much like Giannis Antetokounmpo was.
I like Josh Jackson. But the guy I’m most going to struggle to pass on is Jonathan Isaac.
Isaac doesn’t turn 20 until October, and though he only averaged 12.0 points per game this past season at Florida State, he also put up 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field.
With a 7’1″ wingspan and a 9’1″ standing reach, Isaac already has the physical tools to be an elite defender at the next level. His burgeoning three-point shot still needs work, but for a player his size to be shooting 34.8 percent from deep on 2.8 attempts per game in his lone collegiate season inspires hope for the future.
According to ESPN’s NBA Draft projection model, Isaac actually ranks as the best prospect in this year’s class. Though taking him at No. 4 might feel like a stretch compared to where he lands on most draft boards, the Suns shouldn’t rule anything out heading into individual workouts.
He’s the No. 6 prospect on ESPN Chad Ford’s Big Board, and though he’s a boom-or-bust candidate, the Suns are the type of team that can afford to be patient with his development as he refines his scoring mentality, overall strength and three-point stroke.
He’s already got the body for the NBA, but if he could reach his ceiling as an aggressive scorer and stifling defender on the other end, Phoenix could very well have three incredibly versatile frontcourt players manning the 3, 4 and 5 in Isaac, Chriss and Bender.
Mar 19, 2017; Tulsa, OK, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) goes up for a shot during the second half against the Michigan State Spartans in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Kansas defeated Michigan State 90-70. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
1. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Josh Jackson is not a perfect prospect.
Though he shot 37.8 percent from three-point range on 2.8 attempts per game at Kansas, the mechanics of his shot are unconventional and they might not transfer well to the next level.
His scoring did not always come naturally, and there are off-court issues to consider now that he’s been mandated to take anger management classes and refrain from alcohol and recreational drugs for a year following a misdemeanor charge of criminal property damage. The Suns have had problems with former Kansas stars and off-court charges, if the Morris twins still ring a bell.
That being said, if Josh Jackson is on the board at No. 4, most Phoenix Suns fans would be absolutely thrilled. Unlike Tatum, another 3 with a questionable long range shot, Jackson brings a potentially elite defensive skill set to the table.
Hoping the team drafting 3rd doesn’t take the guy you want so you can pick him at 4th is a familiar feeling for me. So here we go again!
Fultz and Ball will most likely go in the top-two, which leaves the Philadelphia 76ers as the biggest obstacle to a potential Suns-Jackson union. While he’d be a great addition to their defense, Philly’s frontcourt is already fairly set and Jackson’s lack of a proven perimeter shot could prompt the Sixers to look elsewhere — even if Ford says most scouts believe he’s the third-best prospect in the draft.
Several mock drafts have the Sixers taking Malik Monk to provide shooting or Jayson Tatum for go-to scoring ability, while Ford reports that they’re big fans of De’Aaron Fox as well.
Either way, Jackson would provide the Suns with the best fit of the draft as a two-way prospect who could lend some lockdown defensive skills to a young team in desperate need on that end. Having someone so young to cover for the 20-year-old Devin Booker’s shortcomings on that end would be monumental for this team’s long-term outlook.
There’s also his offensive potential to consider. Though his jump shot needs some work, Jackson averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in college, shooting 51.3 percent from the field in the process.
His athleticism, high basketball IQ and exceptional playmaking ability on the wing would make him a multi-dimensional threat for a Suns team that’s already grooming several versatile players at multiple positions.
His 56.6 percent shooting from the foul line is a tell-tale sign that his shot mechanics still need improving, and he was prone to committing dumb fouls and picking up technicals. But in the right environment that could change, and hopefully Booker and some of the other Suns youngsters would be able to shore up Jackson’s long range weakness in the future.
T.J. Warren didn’t show the signs of immense growth the Suns were hoping for in 2016-17, and though his strong start and finish to the season were encouraging, it remains to be seen what the front office will do with a possible contract extension coming up this summer.
Either way, a rebuilding core of Ulis-Booker-Jackson-Chriss-Bender looks tantalizing on paper, even if their destinies in this league are hardly set in stone. It could also give the Suns two bonafide superstars for the future if both fully pan out.
From his explosive athleticism to his energy and playmaking on both ends, Jackson’s potential as a Tracy McGrady or Andre Iguodala type is worth salivating over, giving him a slight edge over a riskier proposition like Isaac.