Is Deandre Ayton the Best Big in the Loaded Draft Class of 2018?

As is typical of most incredible basketball players, Deandre Ayton was a gym rat starting at an early age. Born and raised in the Bahamas, Ayton was already 6’5” at 12 years old. It was at that time in his life that his parents decided to move him to San Diego to go to school and play basketball in the States. It was clear to everyone around him that he was going to be something special. In middle school he was even labeled as the best player his age in the country by Ballislife.com.

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Ayton played his last few seasons of high school basketball at Hillcrest Prep, a school designed for student-athletes to grow physically and in maturity before taking the next step.  During his time at Hillcrest, he averaged over 20 and 10, which helped lead to him being ranked as the 4th best player in his class nationally according to 247sports. 

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Image Courtesy of Tribune 242. Short time teammates Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III

Last season, Ayton made the transition from prep school to high level college basketball flawlessly. He dominated the Pac-12 and took home conference player of the year award as well as lead his Arizona Wildcats to the best record in the Pac-12. David Gardner (@bydavidgardner) of Bleacher Report sums up Ayton’s overall game in a  few sentences.

“…Deandre is the top player in the Pac-12 in offensive rating, and he’s top-10 in the conference in effective field-goal percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rebounding rate, block percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and two-point percentage. Pro scouts liken him more to “unicorn” bigs like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.”

What is Ayton going to add to an NBA roster?

Ayton has shown glimpse of what could be a knock down jumper. His ability to stretch the floor to the three point line, his prowess around the rim, and his face-up jumper make him multi-tool offensive threat. Unfortunately, numbers-wise he didn’t take enough 3 point attempts (35) in college for us to fully assess his shooting ability from deep. He does show the ability to execute the “pick and pop” that many NBA teams utilize these days. If he gains confidence in that shot then he will really open up opportunities for whichever team is fortunate enough to draft him. At Arizona, he loved the face up mid range jumper, but will have to expand his range consistently to truly become a unicorn in the league.

In college, he was physically a man among boys. He has a prototypical NBA build at 7’1”, 250lbs and a wingspan of 7’ 5”. During his lone collegiate season, he used his size to his advantage by getting to the line for over 5 free throws per game and averaging 73% from the stripe. Ayton has soft hands and a good feel for the game as can be seen by his dribbling ability and shooting touch.

Below you can see his ability to square up on defenders and rise to hit a jumper in their face. This will certainly be harder against taller defenders, but the thing that impresses me the most from all his highlights is that you find he is just as willing to take a jump shot as he is to dunk the ball. His versatility on offense cannot be overstated and his ability to see out of the double team and dish the ball to cutting teammates is a skill that will translate well to the NBA after a little experience against bigger competition. You can tell that the game really slows down for him and he doesn’t panic when an additional defender comes his way.

This past season, Ayton was second in the nation in PER at 34.73 and was almost a top 20 player in usage rate. He did average two turnovers per game, but that is a below average turnover rate compared to the rest of the top 10 PER players in the 2017-2018 season. This means that he is not going to be a liability for you when he is on the floor. 

Does Ayton have any weaknesses?

Though his game appears to be NBA ready and flawless on the outside, I do have just a few questions on Ayton’s defense. It sometimes is hard to tell what level of effort he puts into that side of the floor. He seems to lose focus or just get lost on defense occasionally. However, I am not immediately worried about this as this was also the issue with Philly’s Ben Simmons when he was in college. Now that he is in the NBA, Simmons is a monster defender who can guard multiple positions with ease.

Below are some examples of times where Ayton gets lost out on the perimeter and struggles to get back into position after the outside screen. He kind of just hangs out in no mans land with a halfhearted double team instead of aggressively finding his man.

When Ayton is pulled away from the basket on defense he also tends to look a little behind. During Arizona’s disappointing loss to Buffalo in the NCAA tournament, Deandre’s was fully exploited on the perimeter as he clearly struggled to guard smaller ball handlers away from the rim. This makes him a potential liability switching off screens on the perimeter.

Ayton Isn’t recording blocks at a pace that you would normally see in someone his size. This article on the Ringer.com outlines this aspect of his game and compares him to other top ranked draft picks in this area.

If given the opportunity, should the Grizzlies draft Ayton?

Now that the NBA regular season has come to a close and the dust has settled on the tank race, the Grizzlies can rest assured that the mission was a success. They have the second best odds at drawing the number one overall pick and are guaranteed to have a top 5 pick come June. With some amount of luck, the Grizz will get at least (please…please) a top three pick and potentially have the option to take Ayton. How would he fit into the roster you ask? Joe Mullinax over at Grizzly Bear Blues has a solid proposition for how best to massage the roster should Ayton be the lucky guy added to the team. It is very obvious that Marc has become more and more comfortable with his outside shot since he has gone from shooting less than 20 threes a season to literally hundreds. Drafting Ayton would allow for Marc to continue to play around the perimeter on offense, while giving Gasol an opportunity to play with another scoring big man who can take care of business around the hoop. This would grant Deandre some time to continue to mature and gradually work up to a higher volume of outside shots and not immediately be dependent on them.

Just imagine Mike Conley dishing the ball inside to Ayton and him having the ability to do this to a double team in the post:

That sweet little left handed baby hook at 45 seconds is the stuff that can open up the floor for a cross court passes and corner threes a plenty.

Ayton can do a little bit of everything!

We know that he has all the physical tools. The build, the athleticism, the shot. It’s almost comical how easy he made college basketball look. It reminds me of playing on an 8 foot goal with your siblings using one of those tiny street basketballs.

The fact of the matter still remains that we wont know for sure how his talent will translate to the NBA until the fall, but the ceiling that he is capable of makes him worth the gamble. If you pass Ayton up for the “next best thing”, then you might find yourself right back in the same position next season.

@barnburnerbro

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Featured image courtesy of Sports Illistrated

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