In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s installment evaluates Arizona big man Deandre Ayton.
In a draft full of high-end athletes, presumptive No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton stands out as the best of the bunch. A terror in transition and around the rim on both ends of the court, Ayton’s athleticism stands out as his top attribute and will be his calling card at the NBA level. He has all the tools to be an All-NBA player on both ends of the floor, though there are significant questions about his basketball IQ and sustained effort level, especially defensively.
The strengths are obvious: when he’s fully engaged, he’s downright impossible to stop in the post, on lobs in pick-and-roll, on the offensive and defensive glass, and protecting the rim. Ayton will immediately step in was one of the best transition big men in the league, capable of going upstairs to snatch any lob below the top of the backboard and throw it down at full speed:
Ayton mostly played the 4 at Arizona, which had cascading effects on his game, including his ability to get out on the break. Since he was defending on the perimeter for most of his freshman season, it made more sense for him to leak out for these devastating dunks. At the NBA level, he’ll likely play a lot more center, which could limit his transition opportunities; he’ll have a lot more defensive rebounding responsibility than he did in college.
Then again, he’ll be mostly matched up against bigger and slower defenders, which will open him up for more runout dunks once his team does get the rebound. Unlike some others at the top of this draft class, he’s not much of a grab-and-go threat. His handle isn’t fantastic in tight spaces or in the open floor, but that’s not entirely uncommon among centers. The fact that Marvin Bagley can play center and take the ball the entire length of the floor for a dunk is the exception, not the rule.
In the halfcourt, Ayton has a little bit of everything but doesn’t have an absolutely elite skill outside of his offensive rebounding. He was fantastic in the post at Arizona and used his athleticism and sheer size to score over just about every defender he faced, but lacks refined skill to score against similarly sized players. If he catches further out from the basket, he’s got a fantastic face-up game, but will sometimes settle for lightly contested jumpers instead of going hard to the rim.
He can shoot from outside, but doesn’t hit a great percentage and, more importantly, doesn’t take enough of them. Too many pick-and-pop jumpers came from mid-range at Arizona, giving rise to the question of whether Ayton will be confident enough to shoot from the NBA three-point line consistently.
His efficiency on pick-and-pop jumpers was just about average at Arizona because of his affinity for two-point jumpers. The ball comes out of his hand well enough for his position, though the shot is flatter than NBA coaches will like. Like most of his issues across the board, Ayton’s outside game is greatly dependent on mentality rather than technical skill or physical attributes. His shot selection will have to improve to reach his potential offensively. Ayton is a good passer out of post double teams and on the short roll, which could be a big part of his game depending on where he goes and what system his team plays.
Defensively, he has all the physical tools to be a significant force, but too often is let down by his lacking basketball IQ and effort. Having played the 4 at Arizona, he got a lot of reps sliding on the perimeter with smaller players and closing out to shooters, skills that will absolutely translate to an NBA that’s getting smaller and quicker every year. He’s got great feet and can slide with guards and wings across multiple steps and usually closes out under control to use his length to contest and quick feet to contain drives.
Despite his strong baseline skills, he doesn’t always employ them as well as he should. In pick-and-roll and in help defense, he can sometimes get caught well out of position or out of his stance altogether.
He could be a defensive anchor if he’s able to consistently recognize breakdowns and cut off offensive players at the rim, but he’s not there yet.
Ayton is absolutely one of the best prospects in this draft on his physical and technical skills—there’s very little he can’t do on the floor, but the mental side of the game is where he is demonstrably lacking. Shot selection in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations, extending his range to the three-point line on a consistent basis, and staying locked in defensively on every possession could hold him back from being the best player of which he’s capable, but make no mistake, if he’s able to put it together between his ears, he’s a Joel Embiid-level talent on both ends of the floor.