Well, this is no fun. We’re two weeks away from the NBA draft, and any possible intrigue, debate, or mystery about who the Phoenix Suns will take with the no. 1 overall pick seems to be dissipating as quickly as Arizona’s one-game stint in March Madness. Former Wildcat Deandre Ayton looks like he’s going to stay in the Grand Canyon State as a member of the Suns.
Ayton worked out for Phoenix on Wednesday, and was clear about why he was in town. “I know I’m going no.1,” he told reporters at the Suns’ facility. The workout with Phoenix, by all accounts including his, is going to be Ayton’s only team-specific workout. Ayton hit all the right checkpoints in his post-workout presser. On hand for the workout were Suns players Devin Booker and Josh Jackson, as well as members of the Suns’ coaching staff and front office. Ayton didn’t hesitate in theorizing about what he and Booker would look like on the court together
“Like I said from the beginning, that’s Shaq and Kobe 2.0,” Ayton said. “That’s big. We can really make something happen in Phoenix, and really have a spark and start a winning legacy.”
That sound you hear is Suns fans fawning over the thought of Booker and Ayton connecting on lobs and making Phoenix fun (and good) again. The duo may not be Shaq and Kobe (you could argue Suns fans shouldn’t want that), but it could certainly be a special pairing that would put Phoenix back into NBA relevancy after eight seasons out of the playoff picture.
Ayton is a 7-footer with incredible measurements and an ability to hit jumpers and develop range as he spends more time in the league. He’s only 19, but is built like he’s already in his athletic prime. At Arizona, he averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. There are questions about his defense, valid ones too, given how lost he looked at Arizona at times, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to improve with the right guidance.
“I’m the best competitor in this draft,” Ayton said. “I won’t say I’m the best player, I won’t say that, but I would say on the competitive level I am the best competitor. I don’t think there’s nobody like me.”
The thing is, on paper, Ayton is also the best player. Modesty is admirable, but the reality is that from a potential standpoint, no one can truly measure up to the big man. The debate that began after the lottery seemed to pit Ayton and European prospect Luka Doncic in a drag race for the top selection. Then, the Suns hired Igor Kokoskov, who coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team, to be their head coach. But while we were drawing the dots between Kokoskov and Doncic, the Suns were watching highlight reels of Ayton:
It’s hard to turn down a talent like Ayton, even if it is fair to wonder about the value of the big man compared to the wing in today’s NBA. “I don’t think that’s a weakness,” Ayton said about his defense. “I haven’t had the opportunity to really guard any bigs in college. I was always on the perimeter with the guards.” The issue is that right now, staying with guards on the perimeter might be exactly what he’ll need to do in the NBA.
These playoffs have once again shown us the importance of wings that can both defend and not get played off the floor for lack of shooting. Everyone’s going small when it matters most. During the playoffs, Houston had to be careful about giving too much time to Clint Capela, and the Warriors are on their way to another title without a transcendent big man. But Ayton is clearly not just any big man. He’s the surest sure thing in a draft filled with questions. And as Danny Chau wrote about this week, the sudden influx of bigs in this draft and the next could make the position far more valuable in the future than it is now.
Regardless of the NBA landscape, it seems the Suns have found their guy in Ayton. And though it does take away some of the excitement over the next 14 days, it makes what will happen below him even more intriguing. Who will be the second big man off the board? And how far could Doncic fall? On to the next questions.