After reaching an agreement with Anthony Randolph, Real Madrid is said to be moving on from Gustavo Ayon, their top center over the last two seasons. The decision is a bit surprising, given the 31-year-old Mexican was their best player during the ACB Finals, though a bit better understood when you realize Ayon was part of the reason Madrid was hopeless to stop Fenerbahçe in the Euroleague quarterfinals.
While his athletic ability is declining, his skill level is improving as he ages, suggesting Ayon still has another year or two of upper echelon production as he’s now probably going to transfer to Turkey or Russia or perhaps return to the NBA as a 20-minute-per-game rotation cog.
During the ACB Finals, Ayon showcased the ability to operate in space out of the pick-and-roll that is becoming vital for big men these days. Barcelona feared Sergio Llull’s and Sergio Rodriguez’s prolificacy pulling up from long range, trapping and doubling them outside the arc, forcing Ayon to make plays on the move, which he proved able to do.
Ayon showed he can catch the ball at the foul line, take a couple of dribbles to take it to the rim or assist outside shooters out of the short roll. He exhibited nice touch on non-dunk finishes around length, flashing a sweet floater from the in-between area, and assisted on 14.8% of Real Madrid’s scores in his 1,791 minutes on the floor last season – according to RealGM.
That said, Ayon’s money ticket remained his ability to post up within the flow of the offense. He played with enough physicality to get short hooks off against taller big men within close range, blocked on just eight of his 207 two-point shots in the Spanish league last season – according to the league website, though not in a savvy enough manner to earn foul shots in volume, averaging about four free throws per 40 minutes.
Ayon has a turnaround, fade-away jumper that he doesn’t rely on that often, which is also the case on catch-and-shoot opportunities, as he rarely attempted them out of pick-and-pop or even spotting up along the baseline when Felipe Reyes or one of Madrid’s wings posted up.
Ayon can play above the rim as a target for lobs when his defender gets higher than him defending the pick-and-roll but doesn’t dive to the basket hard enough consistently to be considered a legit vertical threat.
His athleticism makes more of an impact on offense in the glass, where Ayon has consistently played with great energy fighting for tipped balls, collecting 12.7% of Madrid’s misses when he was on the floor last season.
Defensively, it translates in his ability to guard the pick-and-roll above the foul line, which is becoming more important by the day due to the Stephen Curry revolution. Ayon has fluid footwork to show-and-recover high in the perimeter and contest mid-range jumpers pretty well.
He also offers some switch ability; he hasn’t proven able to bend his knees to get in a stance and keep smaller players in front when they can shake him side-to-side but has shown he is capable of keeping pace with these smaller players on straight-line drives, using his hands well to pick up 2.7 steals per 40 minutes last season and challenging or intimidating a shot at the rim.
But Ayon is only average on the defensive glass, collecting fewer than a quarter of opponents’ misses when he manned the pivot each of the last two years, and below average with regards to other areas of defense.
Matched up against face-up big men, Ayon is prone to leaving his feet closing out to them and makes himself vulnerable to fouling or opening a path to the lane for those players to attack off the bounce.
As a help-defender, he’s a so-so rim protector at best, attentive to his rotations but often a step too late and lacking explosiveness to play above the rim as a shot blocker elevating out of one foot coming off the weak-side or out of two feet stepping into the front of the basket, blocking just 73 shots in 74 appearances last season.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara