Zion Williamson will be the first player off the board when the 2019 NBA Draft begins. Barring an unforeseen medical issue, that’s a foregone conclusion.
The draft lottery is a week out, and the team that wins the event comes away with a 6-foot-6, 285-pound fireball of energy and potential franchise star. The Phoenix Suns join two other teams with the best odds (14%) to land the No. 1 pick, but they aren’t perceived as the prime landing spot when considering Williamson’s individual future.
An ESPN panel of four NBA experts ranked the lottery teams first through 14th in terms of which offer the most promising fit to promote Williamson’s development, and the Suns fared quite poorly, rating 11th.
Pro: It looks like the rotating door of head coaches — we think, at least — has likely ended with the hiring of Monty Williams, who recently agreed to a five-year contract. Unlike Devin Booker, who already has had five head coaches since being drafted in 2015, Williamson should find stability at the position.
Con: The Suns’ lack of a quality point guard clearly impacted 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. On most nights Ayton would be a spectator on the offensive ends, often having to create for himself. Of Ayton’s 362 made field goals, 142 were assisted by Booker or forward Josh Jackson. The Suns do not have cap space this summer to address that need at lead guard, and they will have to explore the trade or midlevel market to fill the void. — Bobby Marks
ESPN ranked the Atlanta Hawks as the best fit for Williamson. Pairing him with a team that has floor-spacers and second-year pro Trae Young, a marksman with a pass-first style, would bring the most out of Williamson, who would also join a frontcourt that already includes 21-year-old John Collins, a bouncy 20-10 threat coming off his second NBA season.
The Dallas Mavericks come in second with a Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis-Williamson trio in mind.
Who has worse situations than the Suns? In order, the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers round out the composite list made by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Mike Schmitz, Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks.
Marks is the lone panel member who didn’t rank the Suns poorly, pegging them with the fourth-best situation for Williamson to reach his potential. Marks’ three ESPN coworkers all had Phoenix rated 10th to 13th.
The thought exercise of how Williamson will develop in Phoenix brings up the red flag that the roster will likely have with or without him: the lack of a point guard.
Of issues that likely were considered in the firing of former head coach Igor Kokoskov after the 2018-19 season, Ayton was not a primary focus within the Suns’ offense. While that might’ve been by design as Kokoskov hoped to bring Ayton along slowly, having him focus on the basics of becoming a modern NBA big man, the problem was exacerbated by a roster without a playmaker beyond Booker.
Adding Williamson to a Suns core including Booker, Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and potentially Kelly Oubre Jr. only adds more questions. Nobody expects the touches to be distributed more easily in that scenario.
A counterpoint to the ESPN panel, however, would be to argue that Williamson during his freshman year at Duke showed the capability to create for others.
He averaged 3.0 assists per 40 minutes, showing the most promise by rebounding and pushing the ball up the court himself.
Of course, that’s a very limited type of offensive creation. The question, then, would be if allowing Williamson to regularly play-make would set back his focus on developing basic tools like a reliable catch-and-shoot jumper, or if it would create bad habits that bite him down the road.
Phoenix needs a point guard in any scenario, and the issue is arguably even more concerning than last season, when Kokoskov’s offense was as good as one could be to produce without one. Can new head coach Monty Williams succeed if his front office can’t land him a point guard?
That concern is great, but it should not deter the Suns from questioning fit if luck is kind to them in the lottery.
If the Suns land the first selection, they should draft Williamson and figure it out from there.