Who will be the Suns’ starting SF in 2017-18?

Mar 17, 2017; Greenville, SC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives to the basket against Troy Trojans forward Juan Davis Jr. (4) during the first half in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2017; Greenville, SC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives to the basket against Troy Trojans forward Juan Davis Jr. (4) during the first half in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2017 NBA draft will deliver the projected first overall pick to a very lucky NBA team next week, and the consensus is it will be freshman point guard Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington.

The draft is stocked with a handful of talented point guards to go along with Fultz, including UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball.

Although there’s speculation Phoenix could move up to grab Ball with the second pick, these two players will likely be off the board if the Suns stand pat at four. Besides, point guard Eric Bledsoe is still on the Suns roster, and by all indications General Manager Ryan McDonough plans to bring him back next season. Bledsoe played his best NBA basketball in 2016-17 (21.1 points and 6.3 assists per game) and at just 28-years-old, has two years remaining on a very reasonable contract.

While Fultz and Ball are ranked one and two on most draft boards, there may be a silver lining at pick four for Phoenix. For many, forwards Josh Jackson (University of Kansas) and Jayson Tatum (Duke University) are ranked as high or higher than Fultz and Ball. However, do not be surprised if Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac is selected fourth overall either. 7’1” with a 7’3” wingspan, he is freakishly athletic, enough so to even guard smaller players on the perimeter.

The Suns traded the team’s heart, soul and best defender, forward P.J. Tucker at last year’s trade deadline, opening-up additional playing time for small forward T.J. Warren (a defensive liability). Although Warren is a potential 20-point a game scorer with a unique nose for the basketball, with Tucker gone and Warren’s defensive weaknesses, small forward is arguably the biggest need for the Suns.

While Phoenix can still add a point guard–by moving up for Ball, or drafting De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., or Frank Ntilkinia–this draft will likely provide McDonough with an opportunity to add a small forward that’s better than any of those second tier point guards. There have been private workouts with Isaac and Tatum in Phoenix, and the Suns have traveled to meet with Jackson in Sacramento. There’s a good chance one of Jackson or Tatum will be gone at pick four, but each look to be probable All-Stars at the next level.

To some, Jonathan Isaac is thought to have a higher ceiling than both Jackson and Tatum, and could have an immediate impact at the next level because of his defensive versatility. Isaac has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant and Paul George, and while that projected ceiling may be unfair to him, his ability to rebound and move like a guard has teams salivating. The liability questions around Isaac are centered around his skinny frame and inability to create his own shot. If he develops those aspects of his game, a team will draft a gem in the mid-lottery.

Many have declared Josh Jackson the best two-way player in the draft, a now rare talent who is undoubtedly ready to make an immediate impact at the next level. Jackson’s motor, energy, toughness, and elite athleticism have GM’s enamored as the draft approaches. He’d be a perfect fit next to Devin Booker who would be pushed to improve defensively. Jackson has drawn comparisons to Shawn Marion and Kawhi Leonard, and it’s clear his floor is no worse than matrix-like (Marion’s nickname was the Matrix). Jackson will need to improve his ball handling and shot, and he’s been in some legal trouble. But based on the way the kid carries himself, as well as what he’s been through in his life, I’m a believer.

Earlier this year, Dick Vitale declared Duke University’s Jayson Tatum the first overall pick in the draft. And while Dickie V. is an east coast guy mesmerized with Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke basketball program l love his basketball knowledge and spirit for the college game.

Tatum is clearly going to be a bonafied scorer at the next level. He’s still only 19-years-old and is 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan (it would not shock anybody too if over the next two years he adds another inch or two). While many think Jackson will be the better of the two players, I’m not convinced. Time will tell, but Tatum has a smoothness to his game that other picks in this draft do not share. He’ll have to become a better defender to be considered an all-around great player, but right off the bat he is arguably the best scorer entering the league this year. Although he needs to extend his shooting range and improve his shooting percentage from behind the arc, Tatum shot 34% from three (40 of 117 attempts) in college, and is very capable of improving this aspect of his game at the next level. The kid is not only a scorer, but he’s a shooter as well – and a good one.

Some say Tatum is too similar to Suns 2014 first round draft pick T.J. Warren who is the front-running candidate for the starting small forward position next season. There are similarities. But Phoenix should be careful to not lump Tatum with Warren. With a defensive NBA education, it’s safe to project Tatum to be a future All-Star and big-time difference maker. He handles the ball very well, creates space for himself off the dribble, and can get his team crucial big buckets in the half court. Tatum can also get up and down the floor and to the basket forcefully. His foot work is superior to any player at his position in the draft which will translate to an array of moves in the post and around the basket at the NBA level.

More from Valley of the Suns

If you’re a follower of the NBA draft, you may have come to learn the difference between the excitement of the event, and the reality of the regular season. When the teams are slotted and the players are ranked, it can feel like your favorite team is about to acquire the next Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or Kevin Durant. It’s a very festive day. However, once summer league begins, it doesn’t matter how high a player is drafted. By then the rubber has hit the road and it’s fair game on the court.

I’ll be excited if the Suns select Tatum, Isaac, or Jackson. They each have nice upsides with untapped potential. But it’s vital that Phoenix drafts a legitimate impact player with pick four. The 2017 draft has been compared to 2003’s that boasted superstars like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade to name a few. It is possible that any one of these three small forward prospects can be a great player for the Suns for years to come.

But the original question is “Who Will Be the Phoenix Suns Starting Small Forward in 2017-18?”. Unless he’s traded, it’s T.J. Warren’s position to lose, although likely any one of Jackson, Tatum, or Isaac have the potential to take it from him before the new year.