Luka Doncic and Devin Booker could give the Suns infinite potential

Real Madrid Luka Doncic during Liga Endesa Finals match (1st game) between Real Madrid and Kirolbet Baskonia at Wizink Center in Madrid, Spain. June 13, 2018. (Photo by COOLMedia/Peter Sabok/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Real Madrid Luka Doncic during Liga Endesa Finals match (1st game) between Real Madrid and Kirolbet Baskonia at Wizink Center in Madrid, Spain. June 13, 2018. (Photo by COOLMedia/Peter Sabok/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns have the No. 1 overall draft pick for the first time in franchise history in the 2018 NBA draft. The Suns face the same pressure many teams with the first overall pick face — getting this pick right or wrong could determine their fate for the next decade. Pick the right guy, and you could get on track to win a championship one day. Pick the wrong guy, and continue to be a lottery team for eternity.

Their general manager, Ryan McDonough, went on ESPN on Monday night and said a decision on who to draft hasn’t been made. They’ve narrowed their selection down to Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr, Mohamed Bamba, DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic.

With the choice still not made and McDonough adding that the Suns plan to draw out the suspense for another 72-hours (so basically until draft night), it’s time to take a look at how Doncic would fit with the Suns if they select him first overall.

Read More: 2018 NBA Draft Tracker

On paper, the Suns roster fits almost as poorly as the Kings because they don’t offer anywhere near enough spacing. Devin Booker, Troy Daniels and Dragan Bender are the only three players on the Suns books for next season who averaged more than 20 minutes per game and shot better than 33 percent from deep. This explains their bottom of the league team 3-point shooting percentage (33.4). This would make it difficult for Doncic to maximize his ability in isolations and pick-and-rolls.

Spacing isn’t the only reason Doncic could struggle to run effective pick-and-rolls. The pick-and-roll partners the Suns offer Doncic at the moment are barely pick-and-roll partners. Doncic would be choosing from Alan Williams, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and the aging Tyson Chandler. He had significantly better roll men with Real Madrid this past season and with Slovenia at Eurobasket.

The bad gets worse when you jump to the other side of the ball, where the Suns were the worst defensive team in the league last season with a defensive rating of 110.6. While the second young piece the Suns have in Josh Jackson projects to be a strong wing defender one day due to his physical tools, it’s still hard to be optimistic about Phoenix’s potential on defense with Doncic.

Booker is a bad defender, the whole league knows that, and he’ll probably never even be an average defender. Doncic doesn’t fit with the two of them defensively either. If he was matched-up with opposing fours, the Suns would need elite defenders at positions one and five to help cover for him and Booker. They could potentially find one at the five, but not at the point. Elite defensive point guards are rare. Many of them are stars, which would make it difficult to lure one to Phoenix due to the current set-up of the team.

The Suns could try a different approach and go big with Booker-Doncic-Jackson-X-Y and have Doncic guard the opponents slower wing player with Jackson taking the tougher match-up. But that would force the Suns to find two bigs who are strong defenders. One would need to be a rim protector and the other would need to be able to switch on the perimeter. On offense, at least one but ideally two of them would need to be able to space the floor. Those player archetypes can’t just be printed with a machine. They’re hard to find, and even harder to bring to an organization like Phoenix.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. The Suns have Booker, who is probably the best young player on a team drafting in the top-five. He looks destined to be a star as long as he’s in the right setting. He’s currently heading into his fourth season and averaged just under 25 points per game last season. Doncic has never played with — or against for that matter — a player who can score the ball like Booker. NBA level shot-makers like him just don’t exist overseas. The closest Doncic has come to playing with an elite scorer like Booker is Slovenian teammate Goran Dragic.

The two of them fed off of each other at Eurobasket 2017. They were like Bonnie & Clyde, stealing wins and eventually the gold medal from all the bigger nations who were picked as favorites beforehand. A big reason they were able to play so well was because of head coach Igor Kokoskov, who constantly put them in positions to succeed. Kokoskov was hired as the Suns head coach in the early stages of the offseason, and he will be looking to replicate the performances of Dragic and Doncic with Booker and Doncic.

Under Kokoskov, Slovenia were a force to be reckoned with on offense as they ran the table and went 9-0 to capture gold at Eurobasket. They were the second highest scoring team, averaging 90.3 points per game. (Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia were first with 91.6 points per game, but they played two less games). They also led all teams in free throw attempts per game with 25.7. Doncic and Dragic were both named to the All-Tournament team. Doncic averaged 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game and Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists per game on 39 percent from deep.

The game that best highlighted Kokoskov’s use of Dragic and Doncic — and could potentially give us an idea of how he would use Booker and Doncic — came in the quarterfinals against Porzingis and Latvia. Dragic and Doncic finished this game with a combined 53 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. They shot 55 percent from the field, 38 percent from deep and picked up 15 points on 88 percent shooting from the free throw line.

Through the first three quarters Slovenia spaced the floor with shooters while either running isos for Dragic or pick-and-rolls for Doncic.

In this clip we see a Dragic iso. Once he gets into the paint his gravity pulls in four Latvian defenders. Dragic kicks out to Anthony Randolph, who fakes a pass to Doncic in the corner to keep Janis Strelnieks off of him, and then knocks down the open 3 before Porzingis can get out to him to disrupt his shot.

Two thoughts on this play. For starters, this is an example of teams knowing Doncic’s shooting percentages aren’t a representative of his actual shooting ability, especially on catch-and-shoot opportunities. In this tournament, Randolph shot 41 percent from deep, an outlier compared to his usual sub-30 percent 3-point shooting in Euroleague. Doncic shot 31 percent from deep in the tournament but that mainly came from having to take some iso hoists and not being able to find any open looks due to the attention defenses gave him, this play being a prime example.

Secondly, the Suns could run a very similar set. Booker is a solid iso player — there are very few defenders in the NBA who can guard him one-on-one. Phoenix could go into a four-out-one-in set just like Slovenia did here by letting Booker penetrate, suck defenders in and then kick out. Doncic would give the Suns considerably more spacing then they have at the moment and would help open the floor up for Booker like he does for Dragic in this highlight.

In this clip we see another Slovenian set that Kokoskov could implement with the Suns. This set looks like it was supposed to be a Spain pick-and-roll: Randolph comes up high to set a ball screen for Dragic and Doncic, standing at the foul line, looks like he would back screen Randolph’s man as he rolls to the rim. However, Dragic changes the play up (or it could’ve been an intentional decoy), and goes opposite the ball screen and gets to the rim to draw two defenders. Dragic kicks to the corner and Latvia rotates well to cut off open shots as Slovenia exquisitely swings the ball around the arc through Randolph and Doncic. Dragic eventually gets the ball back in the corner, and although he doesn’t have an open look initially, he has a mismatch with Porzingis on him. This leads to an easy step-back 3.

Again, the Suns could do the same for Booker — set him up in pick-and-roll sets and then let him adapt and drive to the rim while the rest of the team adjusts and spaces the floor. Doncic would be one of the spacers whose threat as a shooter and ability to attack off-the-catch would initiate ball movement like this, which has been nonexistent for the Suns in their past couple of seasons.

This highlight shows Kokoskov doing what you see many NBA teams do when they’re in close games in the fourth quarter — they put the ball in their stars hands and just say, “OK, take us to victory. It’s on you now.” Doncic and Dragic did exactly that. Splitting iso opportunities, setting up teammates, putting Porzingis in a blender and hitting tough shot after tough shot to seal the win.

Next: Dear Basketball Gods, please keep Luka Doncic away from the Kings

Even if the Suns add Doncic, they’ll likely be a lottery team again next season, thus limiting their opportunities for Doncic and Booker takeovers. However, the potential star power the two of them would bring sets up their future well as a prime reward for the end of Phoenix’s rebuild, whenever that time comes. With the right pieces around them they could win a few series and make a deep run.

They might even be able to pull off a feat like Slovenia’s, an improbable championship run that brings joy to the organization and their fans that they couldn’t even imagine. One can only dream, and the Suns need to draft Doncic first overall for that dream to become a reality.