The spoils of a win usually gives teams this much power and control over its destiny but in the NBA, the spoils of losing leads to the biggest chance of landing a potential franchise changing player.
After posting the worst record in the past regular season, the Suns got what it wanted; the chance to select first in what looks to be a stacked pool of talent. But the abundance of talent has got the team split on picking Arizona big man Ayton or Real Madrid wonder kid Doncic.
From the outside, Doncic should be a no brainer first pick since he starred in the 2017 Euro League with gold medal winners Slovenia and has a close relationship with newly appointed Coach Igor Kokoskov. Kokoskov coached Doncic in the EuroLeague and knows him better than any player in the draft.
Having deep knowledge of player tendencies is key to their development as witnessed in Brett Brown’s relationship with Ben Simmons before he was drafted by Philadelphia Sixers. Brown’s close ties with Simmons family go beyond his time in Australia where he coached the national team.
The relationship is one of the main reasons Brown entrusted Simmons with Point Guard duties in his first season in the league.
On another team, Simmons would have likely struggled to make a case for Rookie of the Year with little offense run through him.
Back to Doncic, the 19 year old recently became the first player to score a triple double in Spain’s top flight in 11 years. The feat is a big deal since European games last shorter than those in the NBA meaning fewer possessions and the awkward assist rule.
In the NBA, players get credited with assists when the final recipient of the pass scores. In Europe, players who score after dribbling the ball more than twice, score without the assist credited to any teammate. So registering 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 22 minutes is a big deal.
For Ayton, his unique quickness and build has earned him the moniker “College Wilt Chamberlain” during his time at University of Arizona. Players standing 7 foot 1 inch weighing 260 pounds are not supposed to run the floor the way Ayton does. Aside his physical gifts, his sound game enabled him register 20 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 35 games while averaging 33 minutes in each game. So Phoenix has two franchise altering talent available and the choice of player and his eventual fit will determine the level of success for the team.
Speaking of fit, there are big challenges with either player which compounds the Suns dilemma. Adding Doncic to a packed backcourt and wing isn’t ideal as Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, TJ Warren and Josh Jackson fill those spots. Making a trade to get either Ayton or Doncic while keeping its pick is less likely to happen as teams’ rate neither Jackson, Elfrid Payton, Tyler Ulis nor Warren that high to strike a deal with Phoenix. Ayton’s defensive weaknesses don’t make him the best fit for Suns frontcourt which has Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Adding another offensive minded big man to the roster is far from the best situation moving forward. Trading here again, is not an option as Chriss and Bender are yet to deliver on their potential for teams to be interested in a trade.
However, there is room for a standout defensive big man on the Suns roster which opens the door for Mohammed Bamba to be the top selection this year. Veteran Center Tyson Chandler will be in the final year of his $13 million salary contract next season and his advanced age and injury problems will make him a near constant presence on the bench. Alex Len is an unrestricted free agent who Phoenix can resign or let him walk.
With Chandler bound to spend a lot of time on the bench and Len’s future up in the air, Bamba could easily start games at Center for Phoenix. The defense first 6 foot 11 inch Center is just what the team needs to avoid bleeding points. With a 7 foot 9 inch wingspan, the 20 year old has the tools to be like Defensive Player of the Year in wait, Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert or Los Angeles Clippers All Star and All NBA Defensive Team member DeAndre Jordan. Unlike Jordan, Bamba has shown high potential to score aside finishing lobs and dunks with his soft touch around the basket.
In 29 games at Texas, he averaged 12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in 30 minutes per game.Adding muscle to his 216 pound frame will be key in making him Booker’s immediate sidekick in the Western Conference new One-Two punch. While Bamba isn’t projected to be the first pick, Phoenix Suns can undo all that by prioritizing its defensive needs.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter