It is 50 degrees in Connecticut today. Spring is still far off, but it’s getting closer. Which means the NBA combine is getting closer too. With any luck, I can chug some NyQuil and wake up for Draft Day. Oh, and when I do, there will be one player I am keeping a particularly close eye on…
His name is DeAndre Ayton.
The Arizona/UCLA game this week made me feel more emotional than a preteen at 8th grade formal. At points, I was fawning over Ayton’s graceful mix of raw power and agility. At others, I was wondering if he was even in the game. At a legit 7’1″ with a 7’6″ wingspan, Ayton is long and built like a house. He looks like a St. Bernard who still jumps on his owners lap because he doesn’t know how big he is yet.
So how are his skills? Ayton has some decent footwork but can be out of control sometimes. He knows how to position himself in the paint and has a good drop step. Still, he often finishes with the wrong hand. The gif below is everything I love and hate about Ayton at the same time.
He beats 7 footer Thomas Welsch and inexplicably goes up with his right instead of throwing up a baby lefty hook. Going up with the right brings the ball back into traffic and causes him to miss. But of course, Ayton follows up by grabbing the board then softly dropping in a layup. He has quick-twitch athleticism that will translate very well in the NBA. The guy is just bigger than anyone out there and guess what, he will be bigger than most guys in the League too. Oh, and he’s quick as hell for someone his size. Match-up nightmare.
In a word, “eh.” DeAndre displays the touch you want to see from a big man but lets’s nip any KAT/JoJo/KP comparisons in the bud right now. What’s missing from his jumper is arc and balance. Check the gif below. Everything Ayton does in his upper half is just fine. Sure, he short arms the shot but the form looks okay. What drives me nuts is his lower half. Ayton ends the shot off balance for no reason at all. Some shooters jump towards the basket, some don’t. I think when Ayton does this it throws him off and he lands off kilter to try and compensate.
In this next clip, Ayton still lunges forward but to a lesser degree.
He goes more “up and down” and hits a pick and pop 3 (which scouts are still salivating over). He still lands off balance but his feet do not kick out as drastically as before. Ayton will need to develop more “up and down” consistency but most importantly, his shooting form is far from broken and his touch is promising. The fundamentals to be a stretch 5 is there.
Defensively, Ayton knows how to use his length. The guy does more than protect the rim; he’s one of those rare shot blockers that can impact jump shots too. Most bigs need two or three seasons to fully understand NBA defensive spacing and schemes, so give him time. As of now, watch him show off his foot speed and length, as he keeps pace with Aaron Holiday before he gobbles up his shot.
So where does he get drafted?
Ayton is going to compete with Slovenian phenom Luka Doncic for the number 1 pick. He is a physical freak with attributes made for the modern center. He has the length for rim protection, the agility to switch onto guards, and will come into the league as a top rebounder. His jumper has a foundation and Ayton should iron out the kinks; 500 jumpers a day over the summer should help. Don’t compare him to KAT just yet, as the Kentucky product entered the league much more skilled. But, Ayton has a ceiling just as high as any young big in the league today.
As far as weaknesses go, Ayton has been known to disappear at times. To be honest, I think his motor will be just fine in the League, but it still is frustrating to watch him take plays off. Ayton also does not possess the greatest basketball IQ. Regardless, this kid is going to hear his name called within the first two picks of this year’s draft, and rightfully so. If everything goes right, we’re looking at a future All-NBA center.