Heading into Tuesday night’s clash between Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, two prospects likely to go in the top 10 come draft time, there was a lot of things I was anxious to see in-person between them both.
Ayton, a 7-footer who looks like someone mixed with possessing a frame similar to Dwight Howard and jaw-dropping foot speed of Joel Embiid. For a big man, let alone an 19-year-old, to have that at his disposal is rare.
For the general managers in attendance, which included Ryan McDonough (Suns), Koby Altman (Cavs), Danny Ainge (Celtics), Gar Forman (Bulls) plus many more NBA executives I didn’t mention littered throughout Talking Stick Resort Arena, they displayed the usual strengths/weaknesses that are labeled currently with Ayton and Williams.
Below, I’m going to go through my notes on these two, which could be one of the better crops of elite talent since 2003 as far as possible game-changing stars go (Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba, and Ayton).
Robert Williams - C / Texas A&M (6-10, 240 lbs with 7-5.5 wingspan)
Simply put, when matched up one-on-one, Ayton was far and away the superior prospect over Williams.
At many points throughout Tuesday’s contest, Williams seemed rather lackadaisical and didn’t go all-out against Ayton.
Much like Ayton himself, Williams to me is someone who stands around ball-watching far too often. His incredible measurables and explosiveness are able to help him cover for his mistakes, but he far and away has much more potential in this area compared to his counterpart.
Before I dive into the intangibles that make many NBA front offices salivate at the thought of Williams as a 5-type rim protector full-time, let's take a look at his offense.
First, with the way Texas A&M has used Williams during his freshman season and the initial portion of his sophomore year, he’s one of the prospects who could benefit more by being surrounded by the spacing many teams incorporate (maybe not so much Phoenix at the moment, but still).
He displayed it dramatically last season — which if he had declared, Williams would’ve been a likely top-five pick for me — but he’s at his best much in the ways Marquese Chriss is as a rim runner and someone who can go to the rim off PnR.
Tuesday, we saw it, albeit rarely, because of what looked like a simple lack of effort on Williams’ part.
Anyways, Williams is so raw on offense that outside of some basic lobs and put-backs, he doesn’t bring much outside of it which is worrisome to me. He also tends to rely a little too often on his jumper, which isn’t nearly as fluid as Ayton’s.
He only attempted six shots, with one being right over Ayton in front of me at the buzzer, so he’s not exactly a focal point for the Aggies outside of his defensive prowess at the moment and likely never will be moving forward.
As far as the other top bigs in this class, which includes Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, and Jaren Jackson Jr., Williams far and away has the least amount of moves that set him apart as a potential positive on offense.
Now that we have his offense out of the way, Williams’ defensive capabilities looked awesome to me up-close.
If you put Williams on a roster surrounded by plus shooters, his value immediately skyrockets, though. With A&M’s lack of outside play, Williams won’t be able to display that immense potential much before entering the pros.
This was the standout play from Williams, for me, on Tuesday. Take a look at him closing in on Dylan Smith at the 3-point line, then recovering at the rim with an emphatic volleyball-like swat.
It’s rare you see any centers in the league currently do that. This is his forte if he wants to make a major impact in the pros because he could be a top-flight one if he’s put in the right situation come next season.
Deandre Ayton - C / Arizona (7-0.5, 261 lbs with 7-5 wingspan)
The Ayton train is starting to leave the station because it seems that his draft stock might blow up here soon, even though he’s a near consensus top-three selection.
Ayton screams next big-time post player to me, and if he’s gifted the perfect coach to dial him in on both ends, it might just be game over.
Against A&M, Ayton was their prime target. We saw the Aggies run double-teams and at least three kept tabs on him on each possession. I mean, when you run the floor like a guard it’s hard not to keep Ayton in your peripherals.
Alongside Williams, A&M continuously sent pressure at Ayton and tried to see how he would adjust to it with the Wildcats’ lack of spacing. Moving forward into PAC-12 play, I imagine he will be seeing these looks a ton.
To counteract A&M, Ayton actually showed off his elite passing ability for someone his size. Again, like many high school scouting services also noticed, it’s hard to find a fatal flaw in his game as he was ranked No. 1 nearly to consensus through his final EYBL circuit.
As I mentioned earlier, Ayton’s foot speed pops out up-close. In warmups, he was pulling off Hakeem-like moves with ease.
Once again, how in the world can you stop that if he puts it all together? That’s the question I’m struggling with after seeing him, and this was one of his more underwhelming performances so far at U of A in terms of point production.
His potential as a go-to option on offense alongside an array of post moves that can be turned into perimeter shooting is a mouth-watering combination. Embiid and Howard had one of those, but Ayton could be the unicorn to do them both.
The upside in that area is through the roof, and there’s no doubt why he’s near the top of many big boards right now.
Ayton is a naturally good rebounder with his frame, but where I scratched my head a lot of times Tuesday was on the defensive end. For someone his size, Ayton should be displaying it on both ends and not just be standing around.
His instincts as a shot-blocker are sub-par, to say the least, while his overall help defense is nearly non-existent. Many examples against A&M saw Ayton simply ball-watching, which led to easy cuts and drives for their forwards.
Also, I don’t follow Arizona, but when will they scratch that Ristic-Ayton combo, Wildcat fans? I don’t like it one bit.
It’s fair to ask if Ayton is actually trying most possessions on that end to see if he’s saving his energy, but many times head coach Sean Miller had to scream at him to run faster down the floor.
Does Ayton not know the physical gifts at his disposal yet? He honestly might not until he’s put into an NBA system.
As far as his motor goes, I think it should be fine once he’s in the pros because when he actually gets pissed off after he makes a mistake it’s fun to watch.
This was right after Ayton got stripped down in the post, and then he had a chase-down block right in front of McDonough and Ainge on the baseline moments later.
I’ll actually be seeing Ayton for the second time this week as I travel down to Tucson this Saturday to catch him against Alabama on Saturday (Hello, Collin Sexton!). I’m starting to buy into the idea of him being a can’t-miss prospect alongside Doncic and Bagley in this class, that’s for sure.
Final Box Score for Ayton vs. Williams:
Ayton: 13 points (4-9), 10 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in 35 minutes
Williams: 4 points (2-6), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 30 minutes