Weight: 250 lbs.
Standing Reach: 9-3
Birthday/Age: 7/23/98 (turns 20 in July)
Projected NBA role: Center
Hometown: Nassau, Bahamas
School: University of Arizona
Strengths: Size, Shooting, Scoring, Athleticism
Thoughts and Comparisons
There seems to a growing consensus that Ayton is a surefire top-two pick. While myself and others might argue for Luka Doncic and Jaren Jackson Jr. (or insert other elite prospects’ names) ahead of Deandre, this doesn’t diminish Ayton’s palpable potential. Like Jackson, Ayton actually spends the vast majority of his minutes at power forward. And similar to Marvin Bagley’s situation at Duke, Arizona senior center Dusan Ristic masks Ayton’s weakness as a rim-protector, at least to an extent, by providing an excuse for Deandre’s low block rates. Wendell Carter and Ristic bang with the bigger bodies that Bagley and Ayton aren’t responsible for battling on a regular basis. That will change for Ayton at the next level. Meanwhile, Jackson is versatile enough to man both the power forward and center spots. Bagley is probably a power forward unless his rim-protecting ability drastically improves or he winds up alongside a bigger 4 who can slide their feet, deter drivers at the cup on defense and space the floor on offense (a-la Paul Millsap).
For someone with Ayton’s size, he certainly isn’t slow-footed by any stretch of the imagination. With that being said, he will struggle mightily if he’s asked to chase perimeter players around as a 4-man in the NBA. He’s gaining valuable experience in the Pac-12, one of the top conferences in college basketball. However, the inevitable — his move to the 5 — is needlessly being delayed. The sooner Ayton is thrown into the fire at center, and maybe it will happen at some point in the NCAA tournament, the better off he’ll be. Whereas Bagley’s scouting report focused on a floor, middle and ceiling, Ayton’s unique skillset has convinced me to attack this profile a little differently.
Amar’e Stoudemire is among my short list of two players who possess similar styles of play and levels of skill. We often remember what players were like at the end of their careers, so an image of Stoudemire in a Heat jersey haunts many. It’s easy to forget what a sensational offensive star he was with the Suns. His forays into the paint were phenomenal; his mid-range jumper was nearly automatic. But Phoenix never won a ring, and it’s worth wondering whether they would’ve if Stoudemire had been a little taller, longer-limbed and better on defense. Those small-ball Suns couldn’t come up with enough stops to stun the Spurs. That should be a legitimate fear for any team drafting Deandre in the first few picks.
Needless to say, Ayton makes Stoudemire (6-10, 245 lbs., 7-2 wingspan) look (sort of) small. Ayton combines the athletic potential and above-the-rim offensive dominance of Amar’e with Nikola Vucevic’s size, three-point shooting range and interior touch. As the above video attests, Stoudemire had at least a few post moves in his repertoire. Still, he was mainly a face-up guy and a pick-and-roller (or popper) with Steve Nash. Vucevic will face you up and stroke the J or pump and put the ball on the floor, but he has a strong post-up game, complete with baby hooks from both hands.
The same concerns ring true with Vucevic though, who apart from his short stint with the Sixers (when he played sparingly as a youngster), has not been on a playoff team. He’ll put up a double-double, give you what you want from a box score stats standpoint and be a key cog on your fantasy team. He’ll also leave you wanting more in real life.
Hopefully for Ayton and the team that drafts him, he doesn’t leave them wanting more. One of the most popular and optimistic comparisons circulating the web (that I’ve seen) is Hall-of-Fame San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson.
Ayton has a long way to go before he can hope to record a quadruple-double or rest on a similar cloud of clout as the Admiral. Nevertheless, Ayton has shown a knack for distributing the ball out of double teams, a rarity for freshmen big men. He may never be the tank that was David Robinson, but Ayton is undeniably a physical specimen in his own right.
Ideal Landing Spots
It’s possible that I’m wrong and Ayton finds himself slotted in as a power forward come next fall. While Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter are destined to play center full-time, Ayton could play the 4 if the fit is just right. I’d be very hesitant about drafting Ayton over Bamba or Jackson unless I could convince myself that Deandre will be able to do the job defensively at center. With that being said, among the nine teams jostling for the best odds at landing a top-three pick (Memphis, Phoenix, Dallas, Sacramento, Cleveland, Atlanta, Orlando, Chicago, New York), Atlanta, New York and Cleveland (assuming in this case that LeBron James leaves) make the most sense to me in terms of landing spots.
Memphis would be interesting as an against-the-grain bully-ball attempt. I don’t like Ayton in Phoenix, a club in desperate need of defense. I can’t decide whether I believe Bagley or Ayton would drive Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle more insane, though the two-man game between Dennis Smith and Deandre would be something. I suppose there’s a scenario in which Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac help to hide Ayton if he doesn’t become much better than Vucevic defensively. Lauri Markkanen and Ayton would be tantalizing on offense, but the other end might turn out to be a total disaster. Despite a very questionable fit with John Collins, I’m convinced that Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer would get the most out of Ayton on offense and nurture his defense. Moreover, Collins couldn’t be the deciding factor in such a decision. Cleveland can afford to swing for the fences if LeBron leaves. New York’s Kristaps Porzingis is perhaps the perfect fit, a nimble unicorn that can slide his feet, protect the rim and space the floor.