NBA Draft Preview: Arizona’s Deandre Ayton

Perhaps the most physically gifted teenage prospect to enter the NBA since Dwight Howard, Ayton could wind up sharing another commonality with the famously chiseled big man – being the No. 1 pick in an NBA draft.

But in many ways, 14 years after Howard was the top pick by the Magic, Ayton is guarding against the trajectory of Howard’s career. “I’d been in the weight room before, but I never touched nothing,” Ayton told ESPN.com in January. “If I look at it, I’m like, ‘Dwight Howard can’t shoot.’ I didn’t want to be stiff like him.”

That was the explanation for why Ayton never lifted weights before college, but you’d never know it from looking at him. Once he did, he immediately added 20 pounds and nearly cut his 13 percent body fat in half. He finished his lone college season with averages of 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds but Arizona fizzled out, Buffalo’s victim of a 13-over-4 upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The native of the Bahamas has a game that may align more with another recent No. 1 pick – Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns – than Howard’s. He’s effective around the rim using both hands and has excellent footwork on the block, can put the ball on the floor a bit when facing the basket and is quickly developing range from the perimeter. The question marks kick in on the defensive end.

Despite his physical prowess, Ayton doesn’t seem to have very good defensive instincts. There have also been questions dating back to his time in high school concerning his work ethic.

Given the tools, though, most NBA franchises will look at Ayton as a very moldable player who just needs a little coaching to reach his peak potential. And that peak is likely higher than any prospect in this draft class. He could ultimately wind up as both an excellent rim protector and a player who can switch onto wings and guards on the perimeter, and there isn’t an executive in the league who doesn’t expect his offensive game to do anything but grow.

Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic is the most accomplished player in the draft but none has the potential to impact the game on both ends like Ayton. He’s a slim favorite to be the No. 1 pick by Phoenix, and it’s hard to see him falling below Sacramento at No. 2.