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NBA AM: Could DeAndre Ayton Be Top Pick in 2018 NBA Draft?

DeAndre Ayton is a lottery pick, but is he good enough to go first overall in June?

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Here’s what we know about the 2018 NBA Draft lottery so far:

  • People that don’t know any better already are really confused as to why so many reputable sports journalists are saying Luka Doncic should be the #1 pick ahead of Marvin Bagley III. They eventually will figure it out, but they are currently confused.
  • Marvin Bagley III is the best player in college basketball right now.
  • Michael Porter, Jr.’s injury probably will hurt his draft stock as other great college players play their way into the graces of high lottery teams.

Other than that, the draft picture is as muddy in early December as it is every year. This time last year, for example, we didn’t really know the full extent of Jonathan Isaac’s draft poential. Or Zach Collins’ draft potential. We thought Ivan Rabb would be a lottery pick. We thought Miles Bridges would be, too.

The point is that a lot can change in the six months between December to June, but one thing that appears to be making itself abundantly clear early in the season is that Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton looks like a top-three lock. Depending on team needs, there’s even an argument right now that he should be the first overall pick, ahead of Doncic and Bagley.

That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but Ayton has been an Adonis among satyrs early this NCAA season, averaging 20.4 points on .614 shooting while hauling in 11.4 rebounds and swatting away 1.4 shots per game. His PER through eight games is 33.7.

He’s really good.

Arizona as a team has stunk, but Ayton has looked like a monster, not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of physical attributes, too. The young man has arms like a cartoon superhero and is remarkably athletic for someone who stands at 7-foot-1 and weighs 250 pounds. With those measurables (including a 7-foot-5 wingspan) and those offensive skills, it’s no wonder he has generated so much excitement so early in his college basketball career.

The thing that really sets Ayton apart, though, is his basketball IQ.

When Ayton spoke with Basketball Insiders as a high school senior back in the spring, he talked about the game in a way that most teenagers do not. Ayton was born after Michael Jordan won his last NBA championship, yet he still somehow has a detailed understanding of what made legendary big men great in the 1980s and 1990s. He also has an understanding of what constitutes a successful big man in the modern NBA, and what he’s doing right now is working somewhere in between those eras.

In today’s NBA, someone who’s 7-foot-1 is supposed to be stretchy if they want to be elite. Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns both can slip out and shoot threes, for example, and even players in this draft, like Bagley and the injured Michael Porter, Jr., want to play the same way.

Ayton will shoot threes (he hasn’t shot many this season, but his three-point shooting percentage is just under 30 percent), but he likes to work inside-out, establishing himself in the post and taking what the offense gives him from there. He almost always seems to make the right basketball decision. He’s smart.

But is there a place for that kind of oldschool big in the modern NBA?

Guys like Al Jefferson and Roy Hibbert went from perennial borderline All-Stars to essentially irrelevant in the span of just a few years. Big men don’t put their rear ends into defenders and back them down all that often anymore. There really are no Shaqs and Barkleys anymore.

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for it, though, especially when the talent is transcendent.

Ayton looks like he’s going to be great at the NBA level, and is more physically ready than anybody else in college basketball. Intellectually and emotionally, he’ll be ready, too, perhaps enough to knock his workouts and interviews out of the park this coming spring.

And if he does that and continues doing what he’s doing at Arizona, he absolutely will be in the conversation for the top overall pick. And he will deserve it.

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

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