DeAndre Ayton, the big man from the Bahamas, played at Balboa City School in San Diego for two years and then at Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, Arizona before
cashing in at committing to the University of Arizona. And after just one season Ayton leaves school as one of most decorated players Arizona has ever had.
*Takes breath* He was a Consensus first-team All-American, won the Karl Malone Award for best power forward, named Pac-12 Player of the Year, named First-team All-Pac-12, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and won the Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.
Deandre Ayton seems poised to be the next multi-faceted big man selected at the top of the draft, following in the footsteps of Anthony Davis (1st, 2012), Joel Embiid (3rd, 2013), and Karl-Anthony Towns (1st, 2015)
When he wasn’t sharing his own highlights, everyone else in the college basketball world was and they are worth every second.
Ayton stands 7-feet tall, 250 pounds, and has a 7’5” wingspan. He’s a physical freak with athletic tools the basketball gods could only dream up.
He averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game in 33.5 minutes. Ayton managed this while shooting 63.5 percent from the field, 34 percent from three, and 73.3 percent from the free throw line in his lone season at Arizona.
There have only been five freshmen to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game since 1992: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Kris Humphries (Kim knew was she was doing), Michael Beasley, and Kevin Durant. It’s hard to imagine that Ayton won’t start putting up those numbers at some point in the pros as well.
Stylistically Ayton resembles DeMarcus Cousins as that 20/10 (or more) player that can step out and hit a jumper while also dominating in the low post. Like Cousins, Ayton leaves much to be desired on the defensive end but his raw physical tools are such that suggest he could be much better given the right coaching and mindset. Given the right situation, the career path of Cousins (two All-NBA teams) seems within reach.
For whatever reason, if Ayton doesn’t reach his potential it’s hard to imagine he’d become a bust to the level of Kwame Brown. A safer bet would be Al Jefferson who nearly averaged 20/10 for seven years while never making an All-Star team.
Besides his physical tools, Ayton’s biggest strength is his low post game combined with his ability to hit a jump shot. Package those three things with quick feet plus solid ball handling abilities and the result is an offensive powerhouse. Ayton is the type of player that allows his team to rest while they watch him go to work on single coverage. In the modern NBA, there are very few post threats who command the attention Ayton did on the college level.
He’s also a willing passer, even out of a double team. At Arizona he averaged 1.9 assists per game — and that should increase with better shooters around him.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Ayton’s offensive game is his flirtation with the three point line. He attempted exactly 1 three per game (35) at Arizona and made 12 of them. That’s not a big sample size, but he was so dominant down low in college he didn’t need to step out to score. At the NBA level with better guards that can attack the rim, Ayton’s ability to step out and stretch the floor is going to be a game changer. It’s the kind of space guards like Dennis Smith Jr. dream about.
Ayton isn’t known for his defense but he has all the tools to be a great defensive player. The phrase “all the tools” will be used a lot between now and the draft. What it means is that Ayton has great length (7 feet tall with a 7’5” wingspan), strength (just look at him), quick feet, and agility to stay with smaller players. So what Ayton lacks on the defensive end isn’t due to capability by any stretch.
What Ayton does lack on the defensive end has more to do with decision making. The guys over at The Stepien said it well,
Despite his immense physical tools, his steal and block rates of 0.8% and 6.3% are some of the worst for a lottery center in recent history. Some of that is due to Arizona’s scheme and playing out of position, but the numbers are emblematic of larger IQ concerns.
Not a reactive or aware help defender. Doesn’t rotate to the rim on penetration, misses back line rotations. Seems a step slow in processing what is going on around him and reacting.
All of these issues seem workable with the right coaching and film work, but even high end defensive big man prospects take time to adjust to the NBA game. Someone starting from Ayton’s place might take years.
If Ayton had one weakness offensively it would be his ability to create a shot off the dribble. He can take the ball from the free throw line to the rim with ease but taking a pull up jumper is not something he does at all (not many big men do).
Fit with the Mavericks
If the Mavericks were blessed enough to select Deandre Ayton he would become the main focal point of the offensive and the entire franchise. His pick and roll/pop game would mesh very well with Dennis Smith Jr.
One question that might arise is how the Mavs could formulate a cohesive offensive with isolation heavy players in Ayton, Smith Jr., and Harrison Barnes. But that seems more like a fun challenge than an problematic situation.
At Arizona, Ayton mostly played the 4 next to Dusan Ristic. Ayton has said he considers himself a 4 in the NBA instead of a 5, which seems like a more natural position. Were he selected by Dallas, he would be the team’s starting center in 2018.
Shoutout to TheStepien.com, Draft Express (RIP), and Sports-Reference.com for their work and information that contributed to this article.