7’1″, 250 pounds
Reported 7’6″ Wingspan
Big Board Ranking: Two OVR, One BIG
Ayton originates from the Bahamas and was a consensus five-star recruit coming out of high school. He dominated in high school before signing with Arizona. Ayton posted a dominant freshman season, with averages of 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Ayton won the Pac-12 freshman of the year, Pac-12 player of the year, and was a consensus first-team All American. The Arizona Wildcats lost in an upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Buffalo. He was involved in a scandal where Arizona head coach Sean Miller offered to pay Ayton $100,000 to play for him. Ayton himself was not greatly affected by this scandal.
Ayton is a physically imposing monster with all of the tools to be a dominant NBA big man. His height, weight, wingspan, and athleticism make him a tough cover. He beats most guards down the floor, making him an easy lob target in transition. His Arizona teammates often lobbed the ball to Ayton in traffic, for him to catch the ball over three defenders and dunk in their face.
He is very strong and physically imposing when he is engaged. Ayton’s strength in the post alone makes him difficult to guard down there. Despite this, Ayton has refined footwork and excellent touch in the post. He has a solid jump hook, drop step and an absolutely lethal face-up jumper. Ayton has flashed as a capable three-point shooter as well. He tied for the highest PER in the nation with 32.6.
His dominance commands double teams and he navigates them with patience. He makes the right pass to open shooters or cutters and often dribbles the ball out to the perimeter to reset the offense. And when he wants, Ayton can just score over that double team like it’s nothing. He has a solid left hand and a quick first step to get by defenders. He seems mentally fit for the NBA as he was consistently productive night in and night out.
Ayton is a violent and aggressive rebounder on both ends of the court. He often seeks out rebounds, snagging balls away from unsuspecting players. His physical stature makes him almost impossible to contest in the air when fighting for a board. He led the Pac-12 in total rebound percentage (21.4%) and was eighth in the nation. Ayton uses his length to contest shots well without fouling. His ability to switch and cover perimeter players with decent effectiveness is a lethal weapon in today’s modern NBA and a rare find for a guy with the body of Ayton. His physical tools give him the upside of a dominant all-around defender.
Ayton’s weaknesses are mostly mental and intangible, which is a vital part of basketball. His defensive IQ is very week. His positioning on the weak side is poor and he often finds himself helping one pass away, giving up open shots. Ayton is a poor pick and roll defender, often getting way out of position. For a man as physically imposing as Ayton, he isn’t as physical as you would hope. He gives up position too easily to proficient post players and doesn’t fight for position on the offensive end.
He also relies too much on his jump shot, settling for contested face-ups as opposed to driving to the rim. Ayton is a poor screen setter; most of his screens do not make contact and he slips them, popping out. I wish he would make contact and dive to the rim more often; he would be deadly going to the rim on pick and rolls. Although he shoots the three well, Ayton should drive more than he shoots.
Best NBA Fits
Ayton has made it clear that he wants to be the number one pick and there are ample signs that he will be so. Despite signs pointing to the Suns taking Luka Doncic, such as hiring his former coach, Ayton seems to fit better with the Suns. They have struck out on big men in recent years such as Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. The Suns need another star to pair with Devin Booker, and they need an imposing force in the middle. DeAndre Ayton fits both of those bills. A Booker-Ayton pick and roll duo could be one of the toughest to cover in the NBA. Ayton staying in Arizona seems like a foregone conclusion, setting up Phoenix for the future.
If Phoenix does end up drafting Doncic over Ayton, Vlade Divac should be at Ayton’s doorstep the second pick one is announced. There are rumors that Doncic doesn’t want to play in Sacramento, so Ayton falling to the Kings seems like a perfect storm. Like the Suns, the Kings have a horrible stretch of drafts and free agencies and haven’t been able to nail down a star big since Boogie left town. They have some decent young bigs in Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, and Harry Giles, but none seem to be stars. Ayton is the superstar that the Kings have been desperately searching for and a partner next to De’Aaron Fox for many years to come.
Have you seen the trend yet? If one team doesn’t take Ayton, the next will. At this point, the likelihood of Ayton falling to Atlanta at three is next to none. Despite this, I think Ayton in Atlanta would be an excellent fit. I really like what the Hawks have done over the last few years. They’ve acquired some good young talent in Taurean Prince and John Collins, are letting go of Dennis Schroder, and have a good amount of cap space. Collins, who had a great rookie season, and Ayton could form a dominant frontcourt duo. The floor spacing is there, the elite athleticism is there, and the rebounding is there. Landing Ayton could entice a big-time free agent to sign with Atlanta and put them back on the winning track.
Ayton is in contention to be the best prospect in this draft. Although I like Doncic a bit more, the Arizona product is a generational talent with upside to be the best big in the NBA. He is physically dominant, a great rebounder has a three-point shot and good post touch. His intangibles may be a concern but those can be remedied through good NBA coaching. He fits the mold of a modern NBA big and an old-school NBA big at the same time. DeAndre Ayton has All-NBA written all over him and should be a franchise-changing player for whichever team is lucky enough to draft him.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.