Published On: Mon, Jun 18th, 2018

Out with the old, in with the new: Is taking Ayton over Doncic a mistake?

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The battle for the top pick of the 2018 NBA Draft has seemingly come to an end, as it’s widely believed that the Phoenix Suns will select Arizona product Deandre Ayton over European superstar Luka Doncic.

The hype behind Ayton stems from his monstrous physical attributes that have drawn comparisons to the likes of David Robinson and Joel Embiid. The All-American center provided the Wildcats with an overwhelming presence in the paint, and his elite athleticism has raised his ceiling and given him the edge over the other top prospects.

The opposite can be said of Doncic, whose numbers and success overseas say one thing, while the eye test doesn’t create the same excitement as it does for his giant counterpart. Despite a resume that immediately screams “best player outside the NBA,” the physicality of European basketball gave the teenager fits at times, seemingly lowering his stock as front offices hope to avoid a Darko Milicic-level error – an unfair assumption for an accomplished athlete who was recently named EuroLeague MVP.

Why will Phoenix probably draft Ayton?

A traditionalist will be quick to insist that a dominant post player is necessary for success, but basketball has advanced beyond centers who could change the outcome of a game with just their presence in the paint.

Today, the league is filled with big men stepping out behind the arc and shooting 3-pointers, forcing players who may have been elite in their time to take on diminished roles. However, Ayton did show flashes of shooting ability at Arizona, as he attempted one 3-pointer per game and hit 34.3 percent while shooting 73.3 percent from the free-throw line on 6.5 attempts.

It’s easy to see why taking a 7-foot-1, 250-pound force makes sense. Ayton’s upside is limitless if he can resolve his mental lapses on defense. He attended school just two hours south of Talking Stick Resort Arena and has adamantly professed his belief that he’ll be the top pick, refusing to work out for other interested franchises. The Bahamian has essentially taken a page out of LaVar Ball’s playbook and is speaking the selection into existence, with little apparent resistance from the Suns.

The idea of pairing Ayton with Phoenix star Devin Booker should make opposing defenders tremble, as the 21-year-old is already an established scorer in the NBA after averaging 24.9 points in just his third season. Ayton’s physicality around the basket would give the Suns something they’ve lacked since the Amare Stoudamire days, and his selection would be a safe bet for a franchise that’s recorded one winning season in eight years, with zero playoff appearances in that span.

Why should Phoenix draft Doncic?

When the Suns hired former Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov as their new head coach in May, it was widely speculated that the move was an indication they had interest in drafting Doncic. Kokoskov coached the Slovenian national team during EuroBasket last September, during which Doncic shined as his team upset Euro powerhouses France, Spain, and Serbia to claim gold. And that was just the beginning of a tremendous nine-month span for the 19-year-old.

While Ayton was destroying student-athletes at the collegiate level, Doncic was making history against professionals in the world’s second-best league, leading Real Madrid to a EuroLeague championship while taking home MVP honors. He completed the season averaging 24.7 points, 7.5 boards, and 6.6 assists per 40 minutes, which was unprecedented for someone his age.

Doncic doesn’t possess the same size and athleticism as Ayton, but he’s entering the NBA at a time when positionless basketball is becoming the norm, forcing slow-footed centers off the floor. For instance, Rudy Gobert helped push the Jazz into the playoffs before they ran into the fast-paced, guard-oriented Houston Rockets, who dismantled Utah’s top-ranked defense. Gobert is arguably the most effective defensive player in the NBA, yet he became unplayable at times as he failed to help limit the isolation-heavy offense of James Harden and Chris Paul.

Phoenix desperately needs to fill the center position, but there’s also no pure point guard on the roster with Elfrid Payton set to hit restricted free agency and no assurances of his return. The well-rounded play of Doncic is suitable for today’s NBA despite the question marks about his speed. It’s impossible to teach high-IQ decision-making, and the 6-foot-8 Slovenian is the most gifted passer in the draft. Capable of controlling the pace in both transition and the half court, Doncic is a selection for modernized basketball.

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