The Phoenix Suns took Arizona’s Deandre Ayton with the top overall draft pick last June, just like nearly every other league General Manager would have done. While independent scouts thought Luka Doncic might be better, the ones whose jobs depend on their draft picks knew that Ayton was the safer choice.
Ayton has a ceiling as a once-in-a-generation talent with a body chiseled from the Basketball Player Sculpting Factory. Then they infused his joints and fibers with rare athleticism, his muscles and bones with health serum, and his brain and nervous system with superior body control and basketball scoring instincts. They even gave him a sense of humor and humility, allowing him to be coachable by not only elders but his peers, too. The only miscalculation was setting the idle a scootch low on his motor.
Ayton not only profiles as one of the most physically gifted and imposing athletes in the entire league, he’s a naturally productive player who just simply has the talent and desire to make multiple All-Star teams in his career. He’s right up there among the game’s best young centers, around whom you can build a contender.
That’s definitely the kind of guy you want with your draft pick, no matter where you’re selecting.
And as a rookie, Ayton has done nothing to tamp down expectations. He’s one of the most productive rookie centers decades, averaging more rebounds (10.6) than any in 13 years. and has the 5th most points per game (16.6) over the last 25 years and the 2nd-highest conversion rate (59.2 field goal percentage) of any of them, ever.
He’s a lock to take home the second-most votes for Rookie of Year, make the All-Rookie first team and likely will be invited to All-Star Weekend for the Rising Stars Challenge.
But he’s no Luka Doncic. And that’s okay.
You, dear reader, are in one of two camps right now. You either stan for Ayton or you stan for Doncic. My only hope for you is that you haven’t up and switched camps yet after only three months, but that you’ve developed a bit more respect for those on the other side.
Those who’ve read my work know that I’m in the Ayton camp and always have been since way before the draft. And I’ll always stay in this camp, not because of stubbornness or ignorance, but because I truly believe the Suns made the right choice in the draft.
This is not to say that Doncic won’t be better than Ayton in their careers. Heck, a handful of players might end up better than Ayton in some peoples’ eyes, simply because of differences in taste.
It’s like growing up to Gilligan’s Island. You either had a crush on Ginger* or on Mary Ann. You may have appreciated both, but not to the same degree. Mary Ann lovers thought Ginger was gorgeous but a ho, while Ginger lovers might not even have even noticed much more than “the other girl” on the show.
(*OH. MY. GOD. I just now realized the red-haired ‘Ginger’ was yet another example of the 70’s emblazoning stereotypes in every image and how we don’t say that kind of stuff out loud anymore)
I was team Mary Ann.
I was also team Steve Nash, so don’t accuse me of bandwaggoning on the best athlete trope. I appreciate beautiful basketball and uniqueness. Nash was unique. Doncic is unique. And so is Ayton.
So yes, Luka Doncic is going to win Rookie of the Year. He might even make the All-Star team. He currently puts up similar numbers to other fringe All-Stars (but so do half dozen West guards not picked each year) and he has the worldwide adoration that could really help ratings of an otherwise dull and largely-ignored All-Star game.
Doncic may be better this year and that’s okay. I happen to disagree with some on this topic.
I’m not leaving team Ayton after three months. I’ve got more stones than that. A basketball career for each guy will last 10-plus years. Let’s review over the long term. This article on the veracity of Rookie of the Year nods is a good example of why you don’t simply declare stars after their first year in the league.
Whether you’re team Doncic or team Ayton, I applaud you equally. But only if you stay in the same camp you were in six months ago.