DeAndre Ayton is the highest-ranked prospect ever to commit to Arizona, but can he ride that potential and go first overall in the 2018 NBA Draft?

  • DOB: July 23, 1998
  • Height: 7-1
  • Weight: 250 pounds
  • Wingspan: 7-5.5
  • RSCI Ranking: 3

“I’ve never coached a player like DeAndre, and I don’t think [our players] have seen anybody like him,” said Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller to Renaldo Dorsett of Tribune 242.

Born in the Bahamas, DeAndre Ayton didn’t start playing basketball until he was 13-years-old. Fast forward six years later, he’s gained massive notoriety and has a legitimate chance of going first overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Like a lot of bigs who are born internationally but outside of Europe, Ayton relies on his athleticism and size to make an impact on both ends of the floor. His ball skills aren’t polished yet, but there’s a foundation and he’s not lost on the offensive end. Having guys like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins is perfect because Sean Miller won’t have to make Ayton the first option, and that’s a situation that plenty of teams would kill for.

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The first thing you notice about Ayton is just how massive he is. At 19, he’s built like a grown man and comes with a reported 43.5-inch vertical. That’s frightening bounce for someone his size. It’s a hassle to shoot over him, and he’s going to muck up offenses by just standing in the lane, eating space and using verticality. Moreover, Ayton isn’t wire-thin like most young bigs, and there aren’t many players in college who will be able to bully him.

The NBA’s current landscape has rendered traditional centers obsolete. Teams want to go small, and that’s why versatile scorers like Luka Doncic and Michael Porter Jr. are the favorites to go first overall. However, there are exceptions. Fours and fives who are long and athletic will still find work because that added size is beneficial if utilized properly. Any center that’s taller than 6-10 needs to be comfortable guarding his man, but also switching onto guards who want to dance on the perimeter. A guy like Ayton has the lateral quickness and the length not to get embarrassed on defense once he gets acclimated to being in the league. That doesn’t mean he can switch every screen, but there should be little reluctance when it happens; if the guard gets the step (which, let’s be real, is going to happen), that tremendous wingspan is going to help make up a lot of ground.

Playing defense with instincts is fine, but it takes a high IQ to be an exceptional defender. Ayton’s going to need some time on that end. It’s Miller’s job to stress the importance of fundamental defense. Those lessons will make the transition much smoother, and smarts coupled with athleticism is how he can take himself to the next level. Additionally, I see Ayton perhaps being too aggressive at first. With that size and that motor, wanting to block everything is second-nature.

There have been a bunch of comparisons between DeAndre Ayton and David Robinson. Let’s stop doing that. It’s an unfair juxtaposition. Robinson turned into a stellar offensive talent who averaged 24.8 points over the final three years of his college career. He doubled as an absolute monster on the defensive end. Hall of Famer Rick Barry handed out high praise after Robinson got drafted in 1987, saying he was “probably the best defensive shot blocker that I have seen since Bill Russell’s days.” Barry also gushed about Robinson’s ability to turn around whatever franchise he played for because he was the complete package. Ayton won’t do that right out of school. The potential, however, is off the charts. And what adds fuel to the comparison is his size. Both guys stand at 7-1, and Ayton is actually a bit bulkier than the Admiral was back during his Navy days. Ayton also has the athleticism to match.

Mar 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All-American West center Deandre Ayton (0) dunks during the 40th Annual McDonald's High School All-American Game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; McDonalds All-American West center Deandre Ayton (0) dunks during the 40th Annual McDonald’s High School All-American Game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For someone who picked up basketball late, Ayton has solid awareness on offense and knows how to use his body when he’s around the basket. His ability to seal defenders and maneuver around the paint is going to create alley-oop opportunities and also open entry pass lanes. Right now, he’s similar to DeAndre Jordan, and that’s not the worst outcome. Jordan, while limited, doesn’t disrupt the Los Angeles Clippers’ offense because he knows his role.

During a couple of exhibition games, Ayton expanded his range and showed confidence in his jumpshot, which was fluid and without hitches. That’s going to be the one thing I’d focus on as a general manager with the chance of picking first overall. If Ayton can sink jumpers from 17 feet with consistency, it’s going to open up my team’s offense and also make him much more onerous to deal with. Ayton’s coaches can work with him and tweak his form to raise the release, making it impossible to block because of his size and length. The rest of his game can develop from there. He’s athletic enough to blow by defenders and big enough to absorb contact. Ripping through and going baseline after pump faking is the ideal counter to anyone who takes away the jumper, and Ayton is an adept-enough passer to dish the rock when the help comes.

It’s outlandish to speculate and believe that Ayton could become a super-skilled big even though he hasn’t even suited up for a meaningful college basketball game. However, young players are studying what works in today’s NBA. If Ayton wants to become a franchise cornerstone, it’s a must that he develops as a weapon on offense. He must also learn to balance that and his defense.

Seeing players add more substance to their game as they mature isn’t weird. Just look at someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid. Those guys entered the league as raw talents, and no one could’ve predicted they’d be battling to be the NBA’s next best player. I don’t want to put DeAndre Ayton in that conversation just yet, but, if he spends his freshman year locking down the paint and eating boards and becoming more capable on offense, he’d be more than deserving to go first overall in the upcoming NBA Draft.

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