Originally Published: May 25, 2018 4:26 p.m.
PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said the “overwhelming likelihood” is that the team will keep its No. 1 overall pick and not trade it away.
McDonough made the comment Friday after the first of what will be many pre-draft workouts of players on the Suns’ practice court.
The leading candidates for that No. 1 almost certainly will be worked out privately, with the exception of Luka Doncic, the European sensation who still is playing in Spain.
“Obviously the agents have a lot of say,” McDonough said. “They have a strong voice in the process. They’re worried about injuries, which we understand is part of it. So we’d love them to come in and compete against the other top guys at their position. I think for the guys in the mix at No. 1 that’s going to be tough for us to put together.”
The Suns won the lottery for the first No. 1 pick in the franchise’s 50-year history. In the days that followed, McDonough said the team would be open to trading that pick. But that seemed less likely when he described the criteria such a deal would have to entail.
“It would have to be a young, proven star player with multiple years on his contract, multiple years of team control,” McDonough said. “Once you start whittling down the list, that list probably shrinks to a handful of players if not fewer players than that. So I think the overwhelming likelihood is that we keep the pick. However, we’re open, if those teams call us or we call them. But as of now obviously we’re planning on keeping it.”
McDonough insists there are a few players in the mix, but the names at the top according to most observers are Doncic and Arizona’s Deandre Ayton.
Born and raised in the Bahamas, the 7-foot-1 Ayton played his one college season just down Interstate 10 at the University of Arizona, where he averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
McDonough said he believes questions about Ayton’s defense stem from the fact he had to play alongside another 7-footer, Dusan Ristic, in college.
“So he was guarding away from the basket on the perimeter,” McDonough said. “In the NBA, obviously, he’s a center. He’s a five. He slides well. He moves his feet well. He’s a tremendous athlete in terms of strength, fluidity, coordination, all of that.”
McDonough said Ayton “has a high-level feel for the game, especially on the offensive end of the court. And from my experience guys who have that at the offensive end of the floor usually, in time, are able to translate that to the defensive end of the court as well.”
McDonough said he plans to try to get to Europe one more time to see Doncic.
“We’ve seen him play a lot,” McDonough said. “I’ve personally seen him four or five times in the last seven or eight months, (assistant general manager) Pat Connelly’s seen him. Igor’s seen him more than anybody.”
New Suns coach Igor Kokoskov coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team that won the European championship last year.
McDonough was asked about the observation that Doncic lacks high-level athleticism. But the Suns GM noted that the young European guard is “really, really big” — 6-foot-6 and weighs 218 pounds.
“Because he’s so skilled at that size and has such a good feel, I think you don’t realize on tape how big he is,” McDonough said. “He’s able to jab and create his own shot. He’s able to lower his shoulder and create space to overpower defenders. He’s adept at getting to the free throw line. I don’t have any concerns with him physically.”
On Friday, the Suns worked out a group of guards, most of them four-year college players. They included Tra Holder from Arizona State.
The Suns also have the No. 16 pick overall in the draft and, in the second round, Nos. 30 and 59.
But that No. 1 pick is the big one, something neither the Suns nor McDonough have dealt with before.
“I think there are some drafts that you prefer not to have the No. 1 pick just because there isn’t a player worthy of that,” he said. “I think in some ways you’re set up to fail in that scenario. This year we feel the opposite. We feel there are four or five players who in normal drafts would be in the mix for No. 1 if not be the No. 1 pick.
“We view that as a good problem to have. It’s a really talented draft. I think this will be one that you look back on historically and say that was one of the better drafts in the last decade. And it’s great to kick it off No. 1.”