A look back at some of the Phoenix Suns best and worst drafts
One of the things that still seems to come up over and over again with Suns fans lately is James Jones’ failure to take Tyrese Haliburton with the 10th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. It seemed a no-brainer to select him when he fell all the way to 10th and was within the Suns’ grasp but… Jones passed on him and drafted Jalen “Stix” Smith instead.
I’m sure he had his reasons but no matter what they were, it’s quite obvious now that it was a mistake as Haliburton would be a near perfect fit to take over the reins as CP3 inches closer and closer to retirement and he could have been a key player for the Suns over the past two seasons.
Some have said it was an obvious mistake as soon as the Suns’ choice was announced but that hasn’t always been the case in other drafts. Some players drafted late weren’t obvious no-brainer selections at the time and later turn out to be considered steals at where they were drafted. Those mistakes are mostly excusable and only hindsight makes them seem worse than they really were. The really bad ones are those where teams used a lottery pick on a player that just never lived up to the lofty expectations that got him drafted so high… and by doing so passed on taking a more “sure thing” player that perhaps had a perceived lower ceiling.
Over the years the Suns have had both good and bad drafts. The bad ones tend to haunt us while the good ones aren’t talked about that often. Today I’m going to go over what I consider to be the best and the worst drafts in the past 30 years of Suns’ history. I initially intended to go all the way back to the Suns’ very first draft in 1969 but the enormousness of that task soon overwhelmed me and I decided to settle on the past 30 years, the years that are freshest in most Suns fans’ memories.
Let’s start out with what I consider to be the Phoenix Suns’ all-time best drafts.
2015 (GM – Ryan McDonough)
Selections: #13 – Devin Booker. #44 – Andrew Harrison (traded to Memphis for Jon Leuer).
Say what you want about Ryan McDonough but there was no one better than Book available at 13 here and in hindsight he was a steal. And trading Harrison for Leuer on draft day was a pretty solid move too. Harrison was out of the NBA in less than three seasons while Leuer proved to be a fairly solid rotation player for the Suns hitting 38.2% of his threes.
1999 (GM – Bryan Colangelo)
Selections: #9 – Shawn Marion.
This was a great pick and I dare anyone to come up with anyone selected after him in the draft that turned out to be a better player. What else is there to say?
The Suns had no 2nd round pick. It was traded to Houston in 1996 as part of the Charles Barkley trade for Chucky Brown, Mark Bryant, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry. There was no obvious player available at 44 that the Suns missed out on.
2002 (GM – Bryan Colangelo)
Selections: #9 – Amar’e Stoudemire. #22 – Casey Jacobsen.
No one can deny what a great acquisition Amar’e was for the Suns and there were no surprise performers that I would have drafted before him in 2002. The one blemish on this draft was taking Casey Jacobsen over Tayshaun Prince (23rd) or Carlos Boozer (35th). Jacobson mostly came off the bench and lasted only 4 seasons in the NBA although he did afterwards carve out a good career for himself playing overseas. Tayshaun Prince played for 14 seasons and was on the NBA All-Defense 2nd team 4 times. Carlos Boozer played for 13 seasons, was a 2-time All-Star and All-NBA 3rd team once.
Some might argue that taking Steve Nash with the 15th pick in the 1996 draft should be included here but Steve didn’t make much of a splash in his first few years in the NBA and the Suns traded him to Dallas for Martin Müürsepp, Bubba Wells , the draft rights to Pat Garrity and a first-round draft pick (who later turned out to be future Phoenix teammate Shawn Marion). It was with Dallas that Steve blossomed.
The 2018 draft was also a good one but the fact that the Ayton vs Dončić debate still exists puts a bit of a cloud over that one. Getting Mikal Bridges was also a great move but he was traded for by the Suns and not actually selected by them. And then there were the selections of Élie Okobo (31st) and George King (59th) in the second round. Jalen Brunson – who just signed a shinny new $104 mil 4-year contract with the Knicks – was selected just two picks later than Okobo and George King (who is now with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia) was taken instead of two undrafted players like Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. Those 2nd round missteps hurt a bit but overall it was a very good draft but I would still hesitate calling it a great draft… no matter which side of the Ayton vs Dončić debate you’re on.
Taking Cameron Johnson at 11 in 2019 has also proven to be a great draft move but my appreciation for this draft is somewhat tempered by using the 24th pick to take Ty Jerome. The pickings were a bit slim by that time but guess who was drafted just four picks later at 28th? Jordan Poole. Some other good players taken after Jerome (and Poole) were Kevin Porter Jr, Nic Claxton, Daniel Gafford, Terance Mann and Talen Horton-Tucker.
In my opinion, those first three are the best drafts that the Suns have had over the past 30 years. Which one do you think was the best?
The Suns’ best draft was in…
Now for the worst… and there have been many draft missteps over the years although many of them can only be seen for that in hindsight as certain players that no one was super high on turned into huge steals… such as Giannis Antetokounmpo who was drafted 15th in 2013. There are many others but his name comes out on top of that list in my opinion.
Those kind of draft misses hurt but are kind of excusable. The inexcusable drafts are those in which the Suns blew it completely with selections that failed to pan out. The following are what I consider to be the worst of those.
2016 (GM – Ryan McDonough)
Selections: #4 – Dragan Bender, #8 – Marquese Chriss, #34 – Tyler Ulis.
This is the worst screw up in Sun’s draft history to me. All three of these guys were washouts plus the Suns traded away the draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic (who they had drafted 27th in the 2014 draft) plus the 13th and 28th picks in this draft to Sacramento for the 8th pick to get Marquese Chriss. Even with that trade, they could have done much better. Instead of taking Bender at 4, they could have selected Jamal Murray who went at 7th. Instead of taking Chriss at 8, they could have taken Domantas Sabonis who went 11th. And, although it would have been considered a reach at the time, they could have also drafted Pascal Siakam (27th) or Dejounte Murray (29th) instead. Even taking Ulis at 32 was a mistake as the Suns could have drafted Malcolm Brogdon (36th).
There were a lot of screw ups in this one – including TWO blown lottery picks – which is why it’s number one on my list of worsts.
2017 (GM – Ryan McDonough)
Selections: #4 – Josh Jackson, #32 -Daphne Reed, #54 – Alec Peters.
Josh Jackson just got waived by Toronto after going to training camp on a make-good contract. He will likely find another spot at the end of some other NBA team’s bench but he had numerous problems (both on and off the court) living up to being a number 4 pick. Since the Suns gave up on him in 2019, he has played sparingly for three other franchises, as well as a stint in the G League when with Memphis. There were many good players taken after him including De’Aaron Fox which I remember some fans were hoping would be the Suns’ selection. Others that have had much better NBA careers are Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, John Collins, Jarrett Allen and OG Anunoby.
Early 2nd round picks like Dazu Reed don’t always work out and Reed was one of them. At this point he’s still in the league but sitting at the end of the Nuggets’ bench after spending a lot of time in the G League and one season playing overseas in Taiwan. Who could have the Suns taken at 32 instead? How about Dillon Brooks who went at 45 or Thomas Bryant who went at 42.
Late 2nd round pick Alec Peters had that one memorable game against the Mavericks where he scored 36 points so in a way he wasn’t a complete wash, especially considering the position he was drafted at. But which current Sun could Phoenix have taken a chance on back then? Ish Wainright. Okay, this one is far from a “mistake” and is basically just trivia that I thought was interesting.
2012 (GM – Lance Blanks)
Selections: #13 – Markieff Morris.
While Markieff actually played well for the Suns in the beginning, attitude and off the court problems ultimately turned this into a bad pick. Also, Blanks reportedly passed up on drafting Kawhi Leonard (15th) because he seemed nervous and sweated excessively during pre-draft interviews. Who else turned out to be very good players that the Suns could also have drafted instead of Morris? Nikola Vučević (16th) and Jimmy Butler (30th).
The Suns had also traded away their 2nd round pick in this draft (#43) to Atlanta to obtain Josh Childress back in 2010. A bad move made only slightly less so due to the fact that the Suns didn’t miss out on getting an impactful player with that pick.
2020 (GM – James Jones)
Selections: #10 – Jalen Smith.
I already mentioned this one at the beginning of the article. No matter why he did it, Jones (as well as several other GMs) passed on drafting Tyrese Haliburton who fell all the way to 12th. Then he later compounded the error by not picking up Smith’s rookie option and trading him plus a second-round draft pick to Indiana for Torrey Craig. All in all, the 10th pick in this draft was just wasted.
The 2013 draft gets a “dishonorable” mention here just because of how many better players were taken after the Suns selected Alex Len with the 5th pick. I’d love to go back and take any of Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), Rudy Gobert (27th), Steven Adams (12th) or CJ McCollum (10th) over Len but it wasn’t super obvious that any of them were going to be as good as they became at the time of the draft.
Which one of the first 4 drafts listed above do you think was the worst?
The Suns’ worst draft was in…
There have certainly been some other bad draft picks made over the years (such as Kendall Marshal at 13 in 2001 and Earl Clark at 14 in 2009) by various Suns GMs but in those drafts at least the Suns didn’t pass up on players that were considered (at the time of those drafts) better than or at least roughly equal in talent to the players they selected.
Let us know your opinions on the Suns’ best and worst drafts (or individual draft picks) in the comments section.