DeAndre Ayton is probably going to go #1 to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.
Any other outcome would be pretty surprising.
Ever since the Suns held Ayton’s
coronation press conference and GM Ryan McDonough was grinning like a guy who just got dealt a royal flush at a poker table... the writing has been on the wall.
Which is fine.
Ayton is an outstanding prospect, easily the best one at the top of the draft since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015.
It wasn’t always a given.
Ayton has built momentum coming down the stretch.
Not too far back, not only was Doncic ahead of Ayton by many... but so where Michael Porter Jr. (pre-injury) and Marvin Bagley III (who outplayed Ayton when they were teammates at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix).
So is Ayton actually going to be the best player, or has this process been the result of group polarization, bordering on groupthink? People who profess to know things they can’t possibly know barreling towards a converging consensus.
Because despite the fact that Ayton has a body built on Mt. Olympus and an offensive skill set that sends shivers down your spine, he still hasn’t shown he can defend the last donut in the break room from Bill in accounting.
Doncic, however, was showing off his complete set of skills for years against players a hell of a lot better than the guys Ayton towered over in the pathetic Pac-12.
But sometimes less is more.
By now scouts have had years and years to excoriate the weaknesses in Doncic’s game... but they pretty much just amount to one thing.
Is Doncic athletic enough to be elite in today’s NBA?
If you think that elite athleticism is the alpha and omega, Larry Bird and Steve Nash (among others) would like to have a word with you.
Actually, Steve Nash just had a few words on Luka...
“I think Luka is a dream prospect,” Nash told Yahoo Sports. “Big and mobile enough in the modern game and can guard multiple positions. He has a skillset, a winning mentality and leadership qualities.”
Nash isn’t the only person who has extolled the virtues of Doncic in the last days heading up to the draft.
Jonathan Givony of Draft Express thinks people are still missing the boat on Doncic. He echoed that sentiment on the radio Tuesday morning (6/19) when discussing who he thinks the Suns will take #1 overall.
Givony is nonplussed that Doncic’s recent play, which has included winning the championship and MVP for Real Madrid in Euroleague, is not being touted as a huge positive.
And now, while other draft prospects cancel workouts or have them individually... rumors swirl that Doncic might actually be slipping on draft boards.
Unfortunately Luka Doncic was playing 5 on 5 and not one on zero in the ACB finals tonight, so NBA teams picking in the top five came away unimpressed with his performance, and his draft stock continues to falter.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 17, 2018
Charles Barkley sure seems to be a case in point of this theme.
“I don’t trust foreign competition,” Barkley said to Pollard. “They’re like at 18 years old he was the MVP. Well that tells me he was playing against shitty competition. Nobody at 18 should be dominating grown men. I don’t care how bad the grown men are.”
But while I agree that Euroleague pales in comparison to the athleticism of the NBA, if Barkley thinks the competition there is shitty he must not have watched any PAC-12 basketball this year.
Criticism like that is just noise.
Just like the criticism of Luka being an overseas prospect...
Despite the fact that Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo are probably four of the top 10 players from the last five draft classes.
All players with singular talents that differentiate them from their peers... and mostly overlooked.
So how is Doncic, who might be the perfect player to run a modern NBA offense, being discounted like those players were... despite all the scouting?
Paralysis through analysis?
Not everyone wants to whiff on the next great overseas prospect.
Givony and Nash are just two among many on team Doncic, whose support extends to other respected outlets (including our own platform).
Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation still has Luka Doncic going #1 to the Suns in his latest mock draft (6/18)... sort of.
It sure seems like the Suns are going to take Deandre Ayton with this pick. Ayton is a tremendous physical talent and it’s easy to see his appeal to Phoenix, but Doncic has been my choice as the best player in the draft from the very start of the process due to his ability to have the greatest influence on winning.
Doncic has won at every level he’s ever played at, from leading Slovenia to a gold medal at EuroBasket last summer to winning Euroleague MVP and Finals MVP with Real Madrid earlier this year. His skill set also translates perfectly to this era of the league. He’s an advanced playmaker and developing shooter who stuffs the stat sheet every time he takes the court.
There are concerns about Doncic’s lack of elite athleticism, but that doesn’t diminish his advanced skill set or everything he’s accomplished in Europe. It seems like he’s not going to be the No. 1 pick, but he should be.
The Ringer’s current mock draft has DeAndre Ayton going #1 to the Suns, but all three contributors (Kevin O’Connor, Danny Chau, Jonathan Tjarks) have Luka Doncic #1 in terms of best player available.
O’Connor was also on Arizona Sports Radio 98.7 FM on Tuesday morning (6/19) stumping for Doncic.
Here is a pretty detailed scouting report from their site.
Transcendent passer: Throws Manu-style overhead whips, accurate cross-court dimes, and no-looks that’ll make highlight reels.
Puts perfect velocity and touch on passes, plus has the height to pass over the defense.
Surgically navigates pick-and-rolls, snaking to the middle, keeping defenders on his back, and picking defenses apart as a passer.
Advanced ball handler for his age with an excellent feel for using crossovers, hesitations, and different speeds.
Draws a ton of fouls; knows how to use his thick, strong frame to create and absorb contact.
Feathery touch on floaters and layups. His outstanding free throw percentage suggests he can develop into a knockdown shooter.
Flashes Harden-like upside on jumpers off the dribble; he can stop abruptly, smoothly step back, and launch.
Advanced at using fakes to shake defenses loose when running through screens or cutting.
Skilled post player; he uses his excellent footwork to work into turnaround jumpers, up-and-unders, drop steps, and hook shots.
Excellent rebounder for his position, and he quickly turns boards into transition offense.
Competitive, physical defender who hustles, closes out hard, and battles on switches.
Displays a special level of maturity: He’s excelled in the world’s second-best league and come up clutch in tense moments.
Struggles to contain quicker, more explosive players due to average agility and lateral quickness.
Pick-and-roll defense must improve in terms of positioning and fighting over screens.
Doesn’t create a ton of separation when turning the corner on drives due to lack of elite burst. Ends up settling for contested midrange pull-ups.
Jumper needs some slight adjustments: He occasionally misses left or right. Could stand to speed up his release.
Rarely uses his left hand to finish around the rim, which is important to develop for a player who lacks explosiveness inside.
The Stepien composite rankings also have Luka Doncic as the best overall prospect. In their contrarian estimation, DeAndre Ayton is actually fifth.
Brightside’s own Evan Sidery is a big believer in their more analytically driven ranking model.
ESPN also just released a draft analytics model that has Doncic ahead of Ayton... however Marvin Bagley III actually takes the top spot there.
Ultimately, Ayton will almost surely be the Suns pick on Thursday.
But don’t pretend that you know he will end up being the best pro.
Many have even framed him as “the safe pick”... the pick that has to be made.
But is that just because of that group polarization effect?
Is it basically a form of professional peer pressure?
Is it even possible that Ryan McDonough might feel compelled to pick a guy other than who he has #1 on his personal big board because of outside optics?
There’s a good chance that Ayton won’t be the best player out of the 2018 draft class.
In fact, historically it shows that it is much more common for the player selected #1 to NOT be the best player. In the 20 years from 1996-2015 only Tim Duncan, LeBron James and Karl-Anthony Towns have led their draft classes in career value over replacement player.
Hopefully DeAndre Ayton can join that short list.
Hopefully he can change the fortunes of the Suns franchise.
A dominant, transcendent superstar.
But don’t sleep on the chance Doncic actually becomes the best player from the class.