2018 NBA Mock Draft: Promises, promises

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10: Deandre Ayton
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10: Deandre Ayton /
30 of 30
ncaa tournament, Buffalo, Arizona
LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 10: Deandre Ayton /

player. 66. . C. Arizona. Deandre Ayton. 1

With so much being made of Ayton’s inability to consistently affect the game through the interior, I went back this week and watched his matchup against SMU as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. The game stands out as an interesting microcosm of the strengths and struggles Ayton showed over the full season at Arizona.

SMU started small in that game, with the 6-7 wing Jarrey Foster slotted across from Ayton. As he had to do all season sandwiched between Dusan Ristic and a bunch of guards, Ayton defended a floor-spacer rather than a post player. Foster was unable to take advantage of the matchup much, but then neither was Ayton.

What would begin as a post-up for Ayton soon became a spot-up opportunity, a situation which has become representative of Ayton’s supposed belief that he is a forward rather than a center. So coach Sean Miller created sets that got Ayton moving toward the hoop before he caught the ball, even setting up a rare pick-and-roll between Ayton and Allonzo Trier early in the game, which Ayton finished for a lob.

Pulling Ayton toward Foster behind the 3-point line freed the interior for driving Mustangs, and once the ball started to ping around the perimeter, SMU mounted a comeback. There was little Ayton could do.

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Not consistently aggressive enough to make SMU coach Tim Jankovich pay for playing small nor versatile enough to camouflage himself as a small ball big, Ayton was in no-man’s land in the Bahamas. The Mustangs won.

Will a similar fate beget Ayton in the NBA? What counters does he have? The Suns seem willing to watch him try and answer those questions up close.