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Deandre Ayton stacked up against #1 picks the last 20 years

Community member Oterahn wrote a well-researched fanpost on Phoenix Suns starting center Deandre Ayton

NBA: Preseason-Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

We always support hard work here at Bright Side and this Fanpost is a great example that deserves a bigger audience. Enjoy, readers!

Deandre Ayton has been a hot button topic among Phoenix Suns fans so far this season. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, some things provoke such an emotional response that we tend to only see the information that reinforces our personal beliefs and block out information that contradicts our beliefs. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing.

Take for example the first matchup with the Kings. Ayton scored 9 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a three point loss. Brightside immediately burst into controversy. Ayton was the problem and the reason the team lost! The following night Ayton provided 11 points and 15 rebounds in a 16 point victory. Suddenly, the Ayton detractors were nowhere to be found.

The truth is the outcome of the game determined the perception more than Ayton’s play or stats. He did mostly the same good things in both games and made the same mistakes in both games.

The truth about any controversial topic is that both sides have valid points. Thus the controversy. If the conclusion were clear then there wouldn’t be the possibility of any controversy. It’s important to note that we are viewing an incomplete picture as well. Ayton might improve more than we expect. Or he might regress. We don’t know yet. In season three, however, most players have established more or less what they will be with only a few notable exceptions. As such it is time to start to treat Ayton without the kid gloves.

Is Ayton the best player from his draft? No. Is he a bust? No. Is he a franchise altering player? Right now, no. He’s at best the third best player on his own team.

The best explanation I’ve heard for the divide is that it is a philosophical difference. Suns fans were sold the theory that tanking would provide a franchise altering talent. Half a decade was wasted losing intentionally to provide that talent. Ayton has fallen short of that. Booker, selected at #13 is the face of the franchise and rightfully so. But Ayton has been very solid.

The debate then is whether solid is acceptable for a #1 pick overall. So I compiled the following chart with every #1 pick over the past 20 years. It includes their career averages, their average in their best year, and some notable players drafted in their draft. The idea is to try and stack Ayton among others drafted 1st overall. This is an imperfect exercise, but it does bring some interesting points to light.

I’ve compiled the players into four groups: Clear Superstar, Solid All Star, Rotational Player, and Clear Bust:

Clear Superstars

Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose

Solid All Star

Zion Wiliamson, Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, Yao Ming

Rotational Player

Markelle Fultz, Andrew Wiggins, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Kenyon Martin, Elton Brand

Clear Bust

Anthony Bennett, Greg Oden (injury), Kwame Brown

Quickly looking at the list where would you slot Ayton? It’s interesting to note 7 out of 21 players are clear superstars. That means there is only a 33% chance of getting a superstar even with the top pick. It can be argued that some of those players don’t belong in that group. Derrick Rose was an MVP and truly franchise altering talent, but it ended so quickly...

Does he belong there? I put him there because a franchise can’t see the future when they draft. But they can see the talent. In Rose’s case the talent was there.

What about Blake Griffin and John Wall? Statistically they have been great. But are they superstars or merely All Stars? I tried to be generous to offset my bias of wanting and wishing Ayton belongs in a tier he might not.

From Franchise Perspective

It is clear that the franchises with the #1 overall pick are not rewarded even in cases where the talent is elite. Note that only one franchise won the championship with their #1 pick on the roster. That was the Cleveland Cavaliers. In reality it took three #1 overall picks to bring that championship and even then they only got one ring. LeBron James had to leave the franchise so they could draft Kyrie and then trade Wiggins for Kevin Love.

My opinion has been from the start that tanking is a fool’s errand. Maybe my bias is showing here, but in twenty years the franchise itself does not succeed with their #1 pick.

57% Chance of Drafting The Best Player in That Draft

It’s interesting to note that landing the number one overall only landed the best player in the draft 12 out of 21 times. This number might even be generous. If it was questionable I sided with the franchise. For example, in hindsight would you rather have Yao Ming or Amare Stoudemire from the same draft? It’s close, but I gave Yao the nod here. Or would you prefer Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, or Jamal Murray in 2016? I gave Simmons the nod here as well, but I’m sure fans of the other franchises might debate that.

Ranking Ayton

This is not a perfect exercise. First off we don’t know if we have even seen peak Ayton yet. Secondly, some of these other players have career stats considerably lower than their personal peak. For example, Elton Brand average 15.9 ppg and 8.5 rpg for his career. Based on that Ayton is the superior player with averages of 16.8 ppg and 10.7 rpg. Yet at his peak Brand averaged 24.7 & 10. It’s fair to argue Ayton never reaches that peak even if his floor is better than Brand’s.

For this exercise I think it’s more fair to rank peak performances while understanding we may not have seen Ayton’s. Ayton last year averaged 18.2 ppg and 11.5 rpg. That would put him somewhere around Elton Brand (24.7 ppg & 10 rpg), Yao Ming (25 ppg & 9.4 rpg), and Dwight Howard (22.9 ppg & 14.1 rpg).

All of those players, in their prime, scored more than Ayton has. Each of them were the focal point of their offense in a way Ayton has not proven to be. However Ayton is the superior rebounder easily to all except Dwight Howard. He’s also a much more versatile defender than each of them.


So I have Ayton compared to a group who I listed each in a separate category. Dwight Howard was a clear superstar in his prime. My how he has fallen since leaving Orlando. Yao Ming was a perennial All Star. Yes millions and millions of Chinese voters helped. But statistically he belonged there too. Elton Brand only ever made two All Star appearances despite being a perennial 20 & 10 player. Probably he was held back due to playing for poor franchises his whole career.

So Ayton belongs somewhere between Clear Superstar, Solid All Star, And Rotational Player. Thanks a lot Oterahn, you told me nothing!

Well, personally I don’t think Ayton ever reaches the Dwight Howard prime level. So I would rank him somewhere between Solid All Star and Rotational Player. Is that good enough for the #1 pick overall? Probably depends on how much you believed in tanking to begin with.

Statistically, it’s about right around the average for #1 overall picks in the past 20 years. Let’s hope the Suns franchise fares better in terms of championships than the rest on this list. I don’t believe the Suns can get as lucky as the Cavs in landing three #1 overall picks.


In which category would you place Deandre Ayton at likely peak performance?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Clear Superstar
    (39 votes)
  • 72%
    Solid All-Star
    (494 votes)
  • 21%
    Rotational Player
    (146 votes)
  • 0%
    Clear Bust
    (3 votes)
682 votes total Vote Now

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