TUCSON, AZ — When I made the trek south to Tucson to see Collin Sexton’s Alabama Crimson Tide against Deandre Ayton’s Arizona Wildcats, I expected a good performance to be put on by both but not exactly this type of dominance.
In the end, Arizona won their fourth-straight, 88-82, following a disastrous trip to Ayton’s hometown the Bahamas for the Battle of Atlantis.
Sexton should keep Suns’ fans interested now with the offensive ability he put on display. He alongside Devin Booker long-term intrigues me, and it should for you too.
Let's look at how the Crimson Tide’s point guard faired.
Before nailing a tough buzzer-beater over Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Sexton had a rough first half tallying only 6 points. From there, though, Sexton dropped 24 in his final 17 minutes matchup against Allonzo Trier, Jackson-Cartwright, and the returning Rawle Alkins.
This play below is prototypical Sexton here. He’s able to easily go between Ayton and Jackson-Cartwright while showing off his second gear. He hasn’t shown it much at ‘Bama, but with the bright lights on him, Sexton usually shines brightest. (Case in point, almost leading them back in the second half against Minnesota 3 vs. 5 scoring 40.)
In total, 30 points and 2 assists for Sexton on 6-15 shooting, including 8 trips to the free throw line. Sexton is now averaging 13.6 attempts per 40 minutes, which compared to other score-first point guards to declare the past decade, shatters their marks.
Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): 9.9 FTA per 40
Kyrie Irving (Duke): 9.4 FTA per 40
Damian Lillard (Weber State): 9.3 FTA per 40
Stephen Curry (Davidson): 8.8 FTA per 40
Jeff Teague (Wake Forest): 8.8 FTA per 40
Kemba Walker (UCONN): 8.2 FTA per 40
Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but nearly a third of the way through his college season and Sexton is way ahead of some familiar names.
Sexton showed it off big-time on Saturday night, but his effortless ability to knife through traffic and get to the rim at will start to move him up more draft boards as we slide into 2018.
For me, Sexton is currently ranked No. 7 on my big board, which will be unveiled tomorrow. He showed it Saturday, but Sexton, when he’s dialed in, far and away has the best two-way potential compared to Trae Young and Trevon Duval.
He had his own moments locking up Alkins and Jackson-Cartwright, and his intensity oozes through his play.
By far, Sexton has the most intense pre-game warmup I’ve seen from a prospect, almost Kevin Garnett-esque in a sense. Kept to himself rapping along to some music and draining shot after shot.
When Sexton was singlehandedly carrying the Tide offense midway through the second half, he pulled this beautiful Eurostep that Jackson-Cartwright had no shot at stopping.
You will see a deeper synopsis of Sexton’s overall pro potential and fit in Phoenix once Lottery Big Board 1.0 is on the site Monday, but from my first up-close look at him, he passed the test with flying colors.
Outside of Luka Doncic, if the Suns pick ends up conveying around 6-8, I’m more than comfortable slotting Sexton alongside Booker and Josh Jackson for the next decade.
Now, when looking over my notes from Ayton’s performance Saturday night, he was absolutely sensational. He stood out, even more, when I re-watched it.
Even though he’s the focal point of every defense Arizona faces, Ayton never seems flustered by it. He dished out 1 assist, but I tracked two other passes that could be considered secondary aka hockey assists. His unique passing ability for a 7-footer, alongside an elite array of offensive tools, makes him such a tantalizing prospect to NBA general managers.
The crazy thing is that Ayton’s stat line of 29 points and 18 rebounds on only 18 shot attempts, career highs for the Bahamian big man, didn’t seem like much work for him.
When Arizona head coach Sean Miller was asked postgame about Ayton’s performance in front of the bevy of NBA personnel, he said that he deserves greater credit for his strong start.
“I don’t know what statement he needs to make. I don’t think he gets enough credit, and as I describe him really smart on and off the court, highly intelligent,” Miller said postgame. “We ask him to play two positions. It’s easy to take a 7-footer as a freshman to just make him the center. He guards the four and he guards the five. That’s double the work. He knows our playbook through two positions and he’s getting better and better with it. He practices hard, he’s responsible, he takes care of business, but his ability as a player in my mind is unmatched. I don’t know how to describe what he’s able to do, as he’s so skilled and yet so big and athletic. Usually, there’s one or the other. He has both.”
As Miller mentioned in that quote, it’s hard for a prospect this early on to have his skills in his body type. That is what’s making Ayton begin his rise from a top three prospect to possibly consensus No. 1 pick if this continues.
When I saw Ayton for the first time in-person on Tuesday in Phoenix against Texas A&M, I immediately thought of a Joel Embiid / Dwight Howard hybrid. And it’s fair to say that’s the case so far, including extended range and the best form out of all.
If Ayton is able to consistently stretch the floor like this flare out to the perimeter below, I have no clue how you are supposed to guard him on all three levels.
Ayton not only has touch from the outside but late they relied on him to do his damage from mid-range.
Off of the pick-and-pop with Alkins, Ayton is able to rise up and has cleared out enough space to swish one home. The next time down, Arizona went right back to this action and, again, ‘Bama had no answer for Ayton. His sweet-shooting stroke will be relied upon heavily in an NBA offense if Phoenix got their hands on him, by the way, as far as fit goes.
Simply put, after seeing Ayton dominate against a likely top 10 pick in Robert Williams, then Alabama’s John Petty and Danta Hall, it’s hard to see who will be able to contain him.
Ayton is starting to find his stride right before conference play, which should give many Pac-12 teams concern. After three-straight losses in the Bahamas, Arizona has now won four in a row.
Over his last five games, Ayton is averaging 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. That includes two 13-point games sandwiched in between, but he put his playmaking on display in those contests.
Oh, by the way, a big man shouldn’t be able to casually pull this out while trying to create space in the restricted area.
An area of concern early that many scouts have pointed out is Ayton’s lack of effort on defense despite elite athleticism and footwork on par with successful modern-day bigs.
Even compared to Tuesday, Ayton’s defensive motor was the best I’ve seen all season. All second half, he was contesting the rim well and displayed a nice sense of verticality on a few shot contests.
Ayton likely never will surpass other bigs in this class like Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Mohamed Bamba as far as rim protection goes, but none of those guys have the overall two-way potential this Arizona Wildcat possesses.
I’ll say this, though, Ayton is a much better defender than Marvin Bagley III already and it will likely stay that way throughout the season. As I mentioned last night if you follow along with me on Twitter, it’s getting really hard for me to keep him below Bagley if these types of performances continue.
No other big in the 2018 draft class has the combination of skills Ayton can throw together, so now it’s on him to continue to take steps forward over these next few months to establish his place as a consensus top three selection alongside Doncic and Bagley.
Prior to tip-off in Tucson, I knew Doncic and Bagley were my two guys I was confident would step into whatever situation and thrive. Now, I’m adding Ayton to that list, too.
Compared to 2017, 2018’s crop of top prospects has a good chance of surpassing them in terms of immediate impact.
Two names, Collin Sexton and Deandre Ayton, proved their worth to me Saturday and Suns fans should now monitor them closely over the next few months.