The sorry-ass Mavericks lost to the sorry-ass Suns in Phoenix last night, thanks mostly to a fourth-quarter explosion from Devin Booker. These two teams will most likely be headed south sometime around the all-star break, so the only reason to tune in would have been to check out the NBA debuts of Luka Dončić and DeAndre Ayton, who should have been the first two picks in the NBA draft, but, ah, well.
Dončić notched 10 points, eight boards, and one very cool behind-the-back assist, while Ayton went for 18, 10, and six. Both dudes started and played over 30 minutes, and it’s very clear that they at the very least belong in the NBA. I am sure Deadspin will blog approximately 500 Dončić passes this season, though last night, Ayton was the more impressive player.
Because every player in the NBA is supposed to be able to shoot threes now, including big lunks like Andre Drummond, even seven-footers like Ayton will be expected to be able to spread the floor at least a little bit. Ayton made three of his five mid-range jumpers last night, looking decidedly comfortable facing up to the hoop against an elite defender like DeAndre Jordan. Ayton is such an overwhelming athlete in the paint that ranging this far from the hoop means he won’t be in position to snag offensive rebounds or jam on people, though that won’t matter if he nails these at a high percentage.
He definitely looks stronger with the jumper when he’s facing the hoop, as Dwight Powell was easily able to block this one.
Like any rookie, Ayton will make all sorts of positioning errors, especially on defense. Thankfully for Ayton, he’ll be able to correct some of his mistakes through sheer force of athleticism. He will probably average double-digit rebounds.
It’s impressive that Ayton only had two fouls in 36 minutes, since learning not to foul on every physical post play tends to be a project for even the best big men. Ayton has great feet, and he has a knack for getting to the spot first when he sets screens. He had six assists last night, all of which came off little handoffs or passes out to the perimeter, and while the numbers oversell his passing acumen, they speak to his skills as a screener.
Ayton will score a lot this year around the basket. When he had smaller defenders switched onto him last night, he got exactly the shots he wanted every time.
The Suns’ other big men are Ryan Anderson, Tyson Chandler in his 18th season, Richaun Holmes, and Dragan Bender. Ayton is the only one of that group that is both young and well-rounded, so you can expect Igor Kokoškov to give him plenty to do all season. The Suns will probably be bad, and Ayton might slow down at some point, but he looks ready for the NBA.