Draft Profile: Is DeAndre Ayton The Next NBA Sensation?

Arizona Athletics Department

The Hawks hold the rights to the #3, #19, #30 and #34 picks in the upcoming June 21 NBA Draft. At Hawks.com, we'll be talking to some of the writers and bloggers who watched some of this year's key prospects most closely. 

Today we speak to Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire), a managing editor for Arizona Desert Swarm, SB Nation's site for University of Arizona sports, about freshman center DeAndre Ayton:

What does DeAndre do well? 

The better question would be: What doesn't Deandre Ayton do well?

In all seriousness, Ayton's best attributes are his size and athleticism. He's a legitimate 7-foot-1 center with long arms, good bounce and the mobility of a guard.

He's also really strong – he was listed at 260 pounds at Arizona – which allowed him to make easy work of college big men, who just physically weren't able to keep up with him.

But Ayton is skilled, too. He has a great feel for the game, especially as a passer. He is able – and willing – to pass out of double teams, which he saw constantly at Arizona.

Ayton can score from all three levels at the court but is at his best around the basket where he has nice touch and footwork. That said, he does have the ability to step out and the shoot threes. He shot 34 percent from that range at Arizona.

How does his game translate to the NBA?

Ayton has everything you want in a modern big man, especially offensively. He can rim run, he can shoot, he can score on both the low- and high-block, and he is a team player.

While he wasn't a great defender at Arizona, he showed flashes of dominance. His length, size, and athleticism give him the ability to protect the rim as well as check small players around the perimeter.

So if you had to draw up an ideal center for the modern era of basketball, Ayton would come to mind.

What can he do to improve?

Defensively is where Ayton has the most room for growth. Again, his physical tools give him a ton of potential on that end of the floor, but it seems like he's still learning the nuances of the game.

He didn't show great instincts as a shot blocker – he averaged 1.9 per game, which isn't that impressive for someone like him – and sometimes had difficulty defending screens and off the dribble.

It is worth noting that Ayton played the 4 at Arizona because they had another 7-footer alongside him, which put him in a difficult role defensively. 

He was often guarding small-ball 4s instead of players his own size. Sometimes he did a good job of that; other times he didn't.

He struggled in the NCAA Tournament, which was one reason why Arizona lost to 13th-seeded Buffalo in the first round.

Ayton's jumper is still a work in progress, too. He can definitely shoot and his stroke is smooth, but it might take a year or two before opposing teams get overly concerned about him taking 3s.

He shot a decent number of them at Arizona, but took fewer and fewer as the year went on, as it became clear that it was best to get him the ball close to the hoop.

His mid-range jumper is solid, but sometimes he gets a little too trigger happy. 

What style of play suits his game best?

I think Ayton would be best as the center in a four-out, uptempo system.

Since he played alongside another center at Arizona, he didn't always have a lot of room to operate on the block (especially because teams often played zone). That hindered his offensive ability a little bit, though he still averaged over 20 points per game.

But if you get Ayton in space or in transition, he will be a tough cover. And if you put shooters around him, he will have no issue getting them the ball when/if the defense converges.

To which current or past NBA player would you compare him?

Ayton reminds me of Joel Embiid (without the injuries). Their heights, weights, and wingspans are similar, and both are very mobile and athletic.

Plus, Ayton's numbers in college are nearly identical to Embiid's in 2017-18.

I think Ayton is more polished at this stage of his career offensively than Embiid was, but Embiid has a knack for shot-blocking that Ayton has yet to develop.