Connect with us

NBA

NBA PM: Ayton is Basketball’s Next Big Thing

DeAndre Ayton is the No. 1 high school prospect in the country, and he’s the type of big man taking the NBA by storm.

Joel Brigham

Published

on

Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Myles Turner and Kristaps Porzingis represent the next generation of NBA big men. Each of these seven-footers offers some sort of combination between traditional big man skills like shot-blocking and rebounding, as well as ball handling, running a break and shooting from outside.

These aren’t the hulking, lumbering seven-footers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. This new breed goes by the term “Stretch Five,” and it’s a position that not only has changed NBA basketball, but also the way up-and-coming prospects prepare themselves for their eventual spot there.

“With the game changing like it is, seven-footers handling the ball and shooting threes, it’s just ridiculous, but this generation of players is a whole different thing,” said DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 overall prospect for the high school class of 2017. “Guys who used to be centers have to play like guards now. They have to be able to defend every position.”

Ayton is 7-foot-0 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, and he already has the build to be the sort of guy that doesn’t get muscled around on the block, even in the NBA. That’s tall enough and long enough to be effective as a traditional back-to-the-basket player, rebounder and shot-blocker, which is a skillset that Ayton possesses. But like Turner and Towns, he also can step back and hit shots from all over the floor. For every perfectly-executed baby hook, there’s a sweet stroke from 20 feet out to complement it.

“These changes to big men suit me very well. I watch a lot of these dudes who want to start with the ball outside and shoot, but not me,” he said. “I want to work from the inside out. I like going a little old-school, playing on the block, staying inside, but then I also like to step out sometimes and surprise the defense. I’m still working on my three-pointers.”

At the McDonald’s All-American Game this week, Ayton flat-out said his career aspirations are to be the second coming of Anthony Davis. He’s seen what’s possible for a player his size, and even though he had to go about it a little differently than Davis, the end result still very well could be the same.

As a high school junior, Davis was a 6-foot-3 guard struggling to get a scholarship from any school. But within a year he had grown a whopping seven inches, suddenly putting a lifetime’s worth of guard skills into the body of an NBA power forward. He’d win a championship with one of the most respected programs in college basketball just a year later. For him, it was skills, then size.

Ayton, however, got tall and then figured out how to play like a guard.

“I get a little jealous when I see those little guards dribbling the ball, so I’ve worked on my dribbling a lot, especially when I’m being guarded by a more traditional big guy who wants to sag off of me, or if I’m being guarded by a 6-foot-8 guy who wants to pressure me,” Ayton said. “I’ve really worked on my one dribble to the rim, being physical, working inside-out, and it’s working.”

Darn right it is. Ayton is the kind of all-around stud that makes it easy to see a long and rewarding NBA career ahead of him. Once, as a junior, he posted a triple-double that would make Russell Westbrook blush: 52 points, 33 rebounds and 10 blocks. He’s good. Really, really good, which makes the University of Arizona an increasingly interesting team next season.

But we haven’t even finished the current college basketball season yet. We’re still half a year away from Ayton’s NCAA debut, and perhaps 15 months away from him being drafted by an NBA team. Simply put, he’s an elite prospect. Ayton is currently rated as the top prospect in the country by many of the most respected prep rankings, and the way he’s taken on that pressure shows how well he’ll do at the next level, and then the level after that.

“There’s no real pressure in being the No. 1 ranked prospect,” he said. “If you’ve got a good understanding of who you are as a player, and you’re as competitive as me, it doesn’t matter what gets thrown at you on a daily basis. I love the competition.”

DeAndre Ayton is huge, athletically gifted, intelligent and incredibly charismatic, which is a combination that almost always sees big success at higher levels of basketball. This time next year, we’ll all be talking about him as the best player in college hoops.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

Published

on

After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

Continue Reading

Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.

Continue Reading

NBA

Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia

Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.

Dennis Chambers

Published

on

After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.

On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.

Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.

When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.

“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”

While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.

“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”

The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.

Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.

Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.

So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.

Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.

“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”

On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.

“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”

After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.

“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”

Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.

“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending Now