(First posted at RealGM)
DeAndre Ayton is off to a hot start in what should be his only year in college, averaging 25.5 points and 15.9 rebounds per 40 minutes over the first three games. Arizona has played a very poor slate of opponents so far, ranked 313th in strength of schedule, but Ayton’s performance has been noteworthy nonetheless.
The 19-year-old born in the Bahamas is one of those teenage phenoms draftniks have tracked for years, though one mostly perceived as the sort of prospect who managed to dominate in high school through athletic prowess alone.
But over these first 88 minutes, the seven-foot-one center has signaled he’s taking steps towards developing into a more skilled type of big man; one who can stress his defender with the ability to make shots from all over the floor and make quick decisions against double teams, though he’s certainly still in the early stages.
Arizona is also forcing him to stretch his game. All his minutes have been spent with one of Dusan Ristic, Keanu Pinder or Ira Lee in the lineup as well, as Sean Miller has shown a fondness for a two-in offense, despite having enough perimeter options to play four-out comfortably. As a result, Ayton hasn’t always had space to roll hard to basket in pick-and-roll and opponents have needed to cover less ground to double-team him decisively when he gets a deep seal in the post.
On the other end, Ayton possesses the physical traits to potentially become a difference making defender down the line; one able to create lots of events and make his presence felt all over the floor.
He is not yet that player all the time, though, since his motor on plays that require multiple-efforts leaves something to be desired.
So far, Ayton has used his 250-pound frame to get a deep seal in the low post whenever he wanted, as no opponent on Eastern New Mexico, Chico State, Nothern Arizona, Maryland-Baltimore County or California State Bakersfield has been able to prevent it.
He is yet to show a willingness to drop his shoulder and knock back a defender but the mere spot where he is getting the ball in these instances and the fact none of these teams had anyone who can effectively offer any resistance or challenge his short turnaround hooks has led to him dominating with his back to the basket.
These opponents have been able to do nothing but double-team him decisively to try stopping him, which has afforded Ayton an opportunity to show something that was not widely known about him coming into the season: he’s a very willing passer against the defense collapsing to him, assisting on 9.5% of Arizona’s scores when he’s been on the floor in the regular season.
Ristic and Ayton are also developing an interesting chemistry where the Serbian seven-footer steps away from the basket at times to facilitate offense from the high post, which opens up the area near the goal for the Bahamian to sneak behind the defense and shake himself loose by cutting from one side of the post to the other or freeing himself with a screen from a perimeter player to become a target for lobs.
But as the level of competition gets tougher, I suspect we will start seeing Aytong relying more on his jumper, given the willingness with which he unleashed it over the first three weeks.
On Arizona’s intra-squad scrimmage, when he was matched up against Ristic, someone capable of holding his ground against him, Ayton showed a preference for turning and facing his defender to attempt no-dribble jump-shots.
He hit a few of rise-and-launch jumpers from mid-range; one out of a baseline out of bounds set, another off a jab step facing up his man after catching the ball on a seal from the mid-post and in the one instance where he worked his defender with his back to the basket, Ayton went to the middle, faked turning left, turned right and took a short fade-away jumper from just outside the restricted area.
He elevates in balance, has a reasonably quick trigger for someone his size and shows pretty good touch on his shot – subsequently attested by the fact he has hit 13 of his 17 free throws in the regular season.
Ayton is also taking jumpers after setting picks consistently. Given the types of lineups he is expected to be a part of, it appears he won’t have a lot of space to roll hard to the basket off a ball-screen often. He’s also taken a couple of three-pointers as the trailer on the secondary break.
Ayton is no Lauri Markkanen at this point of his development but his release looks fairly quick and fluid when given the chance to set his base. Though his mechanics can certainly still be tightened, the ball gets out from a high point and he certainly has touch on his shot. He’s hit just one of his six three-point attempts so far in the regular season and his misses have been inconsistent but he’s nailed six of his 14 two-point attempts away from the basket.
That said, Ayton is assured to get some interior scoring via his intensity in the offensive glass. He looks for inside position and has a massive frame that very few players in the collegiate level will be able to box out.
Aside from that, Ayton has proven himself a quick leaper chasing the ball off the rim and has a seven-foot-five wingspan to rebound outside of his area – collecting 11.3% of Arizona’s misses when he’s been on the floor this season.
He also possesses a quick second jump to fight for tip-ins and 50-50 balls or go up strong to transform most of these second chance opportunities into immediate put-backs.
Ayton has plenty of physical tools to develop into an impact defender.
He has the sort of frame that suggests he will be able to hold his ground against anyone in the collegiate level, though it’s tough to say if he is inclined to play with such toughness since Ristic didn’t go right at him in the post or stress him in the glass a whole lot in the intra-squad scrimmage and no opponent Arizona has faced could truly compete against him.
Ayton has been tested quite a bit in pick-and-roll coverage, though. He’s shown appealing nimbleness for someone his size showing-and-recovering, proving himself able to extend out to the three-point line and slide his feet laterally to prevent opposing ball-handlers from turning the corner right away.
Also impressive are his long strides dropping back out in space to keep pace with smaller players on straight line drives. Subsequently, his massive nine-foot-three standing reach makes him a very tough presence to finish around the basket.
As the last line of defense, Ayton has shown decent recognition skills stepping into the front of the basket to act as a constant shot blocking threat with his exceptional leaping ability and make plays in the passing lanes with his length – as he’s averaged 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per 40 minutes.
He’s also been a dominant defensive rebounder, attentive to his boxout responsibilities, collecting 31.9% of opponents’ misses when he’s been in the game.
That said, there also head-scratching plays where he avoids contact, doesn’t put his athletic prowess to use making plays on the ball despite being in the general area of the shot and takes his time transitioning back from offense to defense.
 Who only turns 20 next July
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara