Here is an article on Ayton from Cleaning the glass.
I subscribed to it and wanted to share it. Between paragraphs, there were video clips.
Deandre Ayton, another player discussed as a potential #1 overall selection, is a great counterpoint to Doncic. While Doncic excels because of basketball intellect despite some athletic limitations, Ayton dominates with his body ó but does not yet have the basketball mind to match.
Ayton checks basically every box from a physical standpoint: already, at the age of 19, he has the size and strength of an NBA center, with nimble feet, lateral quickness for his size, and easy lift off the floor. That combination, along with touch nice touch both around the rim and on midrange jumpers, gives him a ceiling as high as anyone. Itís not hard to imagine him as a dominant, two-way presence.
And yet thereís something missing. Ayton seems to lack an instinct for the game, that vague yet still tangible quality that scouts describe as ďfeelĒ.
ďYou canít teach height.Ē
Itís an old scouting maxim, often used to justify drafting raw, unpolished big men. No matter how unskilled they are, the thinking goes, itís at least possible to teach a 7-footer how to play the game ó but thereís no chance of turning a 6-foot guard into a 7-footer. Like most aphorisms, it oversimplifies, but also contains an important truth: some characteristics of players are more easily changed than others.
Scouting is about both observation (what is the player like right now) and projection (what will the player be like in the future). To take the step from observation to projection, a scout has to have a sense of what about the player can change, and what canít. Thatís where ďyou canít teach heightĒ can guide us to a helpful framework for evaluating players.
Imagine arranging all a playerís qualities on a spectrum: on one side are the ones that are least likely to change, like height. On the other end are those that are easiest to change, like experience (itís just a matter of playing time). We can take everything else about a player ó shooting, conditioning, shot blocking, weak side defensive recognition, handle, lateral quickness, et al. ó and try to put them somewhere in between. Where we put each characteristic tells us how much to value it when we scout.
For example, if we think one of the easiest things to change about a player is adding muscle and strength to a young, skinny player, we might look the other way when we see a skilled beanpole get bullied. But we might be more concerned if that prospect consistently misses open teammates.
Creating this kind of scouting spectrum isnít easy, and often causes significant disagreements when discussed. Itís also hard to verify statistically, since, while some of these characteristics can be measured, many are much harder to track. But this spectrum tells us a lot about how we project players, and itís important to think about when we discuss Deandre Ayton.
Because when we look at the things that are difficult, if not impossible, to change, Ayton is off the charts. His turnover rate so far has been extremely low for a big man, a testament to his footwork and hands. His defensive rebounding rate has also been outstanding, ranking 12th in the country despite often sharing the court with another big man, and comparing very favorably to other big men in the history of the draft. He has made 67% of his 203 shots in two-point range so far this season, largely because of almost unstoppable finishing: he has converted 76% of his attempts around the basket that werenít post ups, according to Synergy Sports.
You canít teach that. You canít take Nikola Jokic and teach him to move and jump like Ayton.
Usually, thatís where the analysis stops. But itís important to note: you also canít teach Ayton to see and think the game like Jokic. Ayton will surely get better, but he can be pretty confident in saying he will never get all of the way to one of the most instinctive players in the game. But just how much Aytonís basketball instinct can improve will be the determining factor in just what type of player Ayton becomes.
Because thatís where we see some real deficiencies. There are multiple aspects of Aytonís game that make it seem like he doesnít really know why heís doing what heís doing. Like an improv actor that doesnít know how to play along with their fellow actors, heís not reading others and reacting as much as following a script in his head.
A great example of this is his screening. In the games Iíve watched, Ayton did not seem to be able to effectively screen defenders. He whiffed on almost every screen he set, rarely making contact or re-routing defenders. And he often seemed like he was just going through the motions:
Thatís alarming not only because of what it means for his effectiveness now, but for what it indicates about his ability to pick up and execute on core basketball skills.
His assist rate is decent for his position and usage, and yet watching his assists suggests that he is far from an intuitive passer. Ayton has done a solid job locating open shooters when double teamed, and has the size and strength to whip passes over top of the defense. His hand-eye coordination is evident here as well, since he frequently places these bullets right on target:
But in watching all of his assists, you donít see much, if anything, that shows an anticipation of the defense. No drawing the defense and dropping off. No quick passes ahead of a rotation. No slick passes to cutters.
You will, however, see him missing open teammates, telegraphing passes, and some curious decisions
That last clip wasnít the only time I saw Ayton pass up what was likely to be a layup or dunk to shovel to a teammate in worse position. Thatís not necessarily bad, but it supports the idea that heís not reading the game as much as he is just reacting in the moment.
Ayton shows this same pattern on the defensive end as well. He moves his feet very well for his size, able to slide and chop his steps like a wing player. And, as expected playing for one of the NCAAís better defensive coaches, Sean Miller, he executes important off ball concepts. For example, watch him recognize his help responsibility and tag or get below the roller:
But, there are lots of little things that show the same lack of basketball intuition, a theory supported by very poor block and steal rates for a top tier big man prospect. He occasionally seems to get sucked into watching the ball and just space out:
He doesnít seem to have an instinct to take a step toward help when the ball is being driven:
This play against Alabama combines much of what weíve seen. Ayton tags the roller, but then is intent on recovering back to his man, so he doesnít step up in help when the ball is being driven at him. And he loses sight of his man, so he gets back cut and his man ends up getting an offensive rebound:
Even when he is in help position, his timing is quite worrisome. He is easily pump faked into the air or commits early, which is often a sign of not being quick enough to go get the ball once a player goes into the actual shooting motion:
These things are, in theory, learnable. We know Ayton will get better at some of this ó thatís what happens with experience and professional coaching. But what if basketball instinct is harder to learn than we think? What if Ayton is so far behind the curve that it will take a while for him to catch up? How do you teach someone how to time blocks properly? How to give second efforts? What does it say that he hasnít really gotten it yet?
Thatís the downside for Ayton: a player who has all the physical tools but lacks the feel to put it all together in a way that drives winning. That doesnít mean heíd end up a bad player. Ayton could be a beast on the glass, a threat as a roller, someone who puts up numbers and maybe even makes an All-Star team ó but not someone who is a true difference maker, who carries a team, who feels like a great pick at #1 overall.
On the other hand, if he gets it? Watch out. Ayton has good midrange touch already, and with work could potentially grow that range behind the NBA three point line. In addition to his other tools, he might be Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan ó but without the free throw problems and the ability to hit a three.
So as the season continues, as teams dig into Aytonís background, talk to former coaches, bring him in for workouts and get to know him, thatís what theyíll be looking for. Is Ayton improving as he gets more coaching and experience? What is he like as a person, as an intellect, that might give a sense of whether heíll be a quick learner or a slow one? And ultimately, what is the value of a player with this kind of ability, but without high-level feel?