Watching the PAC 12 Tournament this weekend in Vegas has been a confirmation of what I already suspected and hoped for: Arizona Wildcats freshman center Deandre Ayton is everything I thought he could be as a prospect and I can’t wait to see him grow as a 20/10 player in the NBA.
Whoever gets that pick should have no hesitation to take Deandre Ayton with it, and then spend the next decade and a half paying him the max money you can to watch him go to All-Star Game after All-Star Game.
Ayton is a physical specimen. He’s tall and long at 7’1” with at least that much wingspan. He can outreach everyone for rebounds, often tapping the ball gently to himself in traffic which shows a great amount of body control both in his hands as well as his feet.
That’s not to say he tries to rebound with one hand. Ayton definitely reaches easily with both hands to the highest point possible. I’m just commenting on when another player has better position off the carom, Ayton can get close, tip the ball out of harm's way and then pull it down all in one motion.
And that’s not to say Ayton avoids contact. On the contrary, he likes it. He’s always fighting for rebounds.
Can you tell I like Ayton as a rebounder?
What I also like is that when he rebounds, or when he catches the ball, he doesn’t bring it down to his waist to gather and go back up - the thing that almost every big man has to do, and the thing that every guard loves to see.
Ayton keeps the ball high whenever he can for the putback/tap back, to release the shot or make the pass to the weak side for an open three because that guy’s defender desperately cheated toward the basket to help keep Ayton off the rim.
And when he does need to post up and dribble to get closer to the basket with a defender on his hip, he’s got strong hands to hold on when defenders inevitably collapse for the steal, then power up for the shot or foul.
Oh, and he has a great stroke on his jumpers, with a high release that he (again) doesn’t need to gather below his waist first, making 15 footers as well as three-pointers.
He makes 80+% of his free throws, even in crunch time, which is highly important because teams will wish they could hack-a-ayton but they won’t be able to.
Defensively, he doesn’t commit dumb fouls, stays on his man, doesn’t get lost ball-watching, and uses his body to deter players from challenging him.
Ayton can pass, shoot, rebound, block shots, doesn’t make dumb fouls. He’s super huge, athletic and naturally talented.
He will be a 20/10 guy in the NBA almost every year of his career.
Of course, Ayton is not perfect.
For being 7’1” and having the natural jumping ability to reach the top of the backboard, Ayton does not have pogo sticks in his ankles.
He does not hang in the air to finish alley-oops - he’d rather jump to catch the oop, land, then go back up to finish. That won’t fly as well in the NBA.
Ayton also doesn’t dunk very often at all - at least not as much as he could. He’d rather tip it back up off the offensive rebound, or even when in traffic he will put up a layup with guys hanging on him rather than power all the way up for the dunk to ensure the finish. He once even dribbled and up the soft reverse layup against a smaller defender (they are ALL smaller), rather than power through him for the finish.
He also thinks too much offensively. While teammate Ristic has a plan whenever he gets the ball down low, Ayton often catches, thinks about it, and then makes a move. By then, the defense has had time to react to him getting the ball and begin to adjust accordingly.
Ayton won’t ever have the ferocity of an Amare Stoudemire. He won’t throw the ball down with force over defenders, won’t be an on-the-move finisher on the pick-and-roll. In fact, I don’t think Arizona ran any pick-and-rolls at all.
He’s also not quite as aggressive as he could be. I mean, he’s aggressive sure. You have to be aggressive to score 32 points, grab 14 rebounds and dish out a few assists while blocking some shots too.
But he won’t ever block 10 shots in a game. Maybe not even 6. But that’s splitting hairs, I guess.
Bottom Line on Ayton
Take him. Take him #1 overall.
Of course, I’m not a scout. I haven’t seen much of Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba. Maybe they’re better. Maybe they’ll be better pros.
But I watch a ton of NBA and Deandre Ayton could be an All-Star within 2-3 years, if not sooner.
Ayton will have an incredible multi-time All-Star career where his only detractors will wish he’d posterize more people or be more of an intimidator.
Other Notes from Friday night’s semifinal against UCLA
- Dusan Ristic has a really good feel for the game. He can score down low and doesn’t hesitate, so the defense can’t react to give help defense when he puts his primary defender in the spin cycle. Ristic just doesn’t have the athleticism or range in his game to be an NBA starter, but I can see him having a Jake Voskul kind of career.
- Rawle Alkins has the body of Tyreke Evans (thick, strong) but is more an athlete than an NBA player
- Alonzo Trier has NBA talent but doesn’t always have the intensity or “plan” to maximize it. He can shoot, drive, pass and defend, but he just doesn’t make enough of a difference in every game to be real NBA rotation player.
- UCLA’s Thomas Welsh is very talented. He can score - has some Dirk-like separation moves on short jumpers to score over taller defenders (like Ayton) - and he’s super-active as a rebounder (had 17 versus UofA’s twin towers of Ristic and Ayton). He might not good enough defensively to be a great NBA player, though. But if you like a player like Domantis Sabonis, you’d like Welsh.
- UCLA’s Aaron Holiday is a winner who can shoot and get his shot anytime, and he plays hard on defense too. He’s got a body type and game similar to Isaiah Thomas and will have the same challenges in the NBA.
The Arizona Wildcats will play in the PAC12 Tournament Championship Game on Saturday night against the USC Trojans.
I’ll be there, and will expect to see the McKale North fans there to once again bring the best basketball game experience I’ve had in many years.