Deandre Ayton‘s new NBA home won’t be too far from his college one.
Ayton, the 7-foot center who starred as a freshman at Arizona, was selected with the first overall pick by the Phoenix Suns, who kicked off the NBA draft at Barclays Center in New York with a selection that was widely expected entering Thursday night.
The Suns never before had selected first overall in the draft, and with Ayton now on board, they hope not to do so again in the near future.
“Having my name called being the first pick for the Phoenix Suns was mind-blowing,” he said. “Having all that confidence leading up to that point when I saw [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver come out, I was just waiting for my name. He just called it and my mind went blank. I just did the routine everyone else is supposed to do and I just soaked in and enjoyed the moment. I saw the reaction on my mom’s face and it was just priceless.”
The Suns kept busy Thursday night, later acquiring the draft rights to Mikal Bridges in a deal that sent Zhaire Smith, selected at No. 16, to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Suns also sent a 2021 first-round pick via the Miami Heat to the Sixers, who had taken Bridges, the former Villanova star, at No. 10.
As for Ayton, the Suns get a player who possesses elite physical traits, a developing inside-out skill set and already one of the most athletic centers in the league. If there’s a weakness, it’s his defense, although he has all the tools to be a quality rim protector given time.
Sixers star Joel Embiid, always a presence on Twitter, laughed off any defensive comparisons of Ayton to him.
Don’t compare Ayton to me either… I play DEFENSE
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 22, 2018
Ayton, though, told reporters Thursday night that he’ll be fine protecting the rim.
“Most definitely,” he said. “I haven’t had the exposure in college to really guard big men, or the big men that I guard haven’t really touched the ball or really do what they were supposed to do.
“I know the game is changing a lot, but I just want to stick to the old-school big man. Being down low and really trying to be dominant.”
Ayton, who turns 20 in July, starred in his one season at Arizona, where he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, while averaging 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, and shooting 61.2 percent from the field. His 24 double-doubles tied for the second-most ever by a freshman in Division I history.
Phoenix needs the help on both ends of the floor. It was one of only two teams in the previous 20 seasons to finish last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, joining the historically bad 2011-12 Bobcats (worst win percentage in NBA history, .106).
Ayton won’t have to get adjusted to his new zip code.
Born in the Bahamas, he moved to the Phoenix area during high school and said most of his family now lives there. The University of Arizona is just a couple of hours down Interstate 10.
His only pre-draft workout was with the Suns, and afterward, he expressed confidence in his standing.
“I know I’m going No. 1,” Ayton told reporters.
The Suns, meanwhile, reportedly told Ayton he was their pick weeks ago.
“It means a lot to me because the fans there are amazing, they are the best fans in the world and you know, I really want to … I’m really happy to be a part of the Phoenix Suns now because we can really start a winning legacy with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson and all those other guys,” Ayton told ESPN. “You know they’re great, we’re a young team and we’re ready. I’m just happy to be a Phoenix Sun.”
Phoenix finished 2017-18 an NBA-worst 21-61, but it has young talent in high-scoring guard Booker and 21-year-old Jackson, the fourth overall pick last year.
This marks the first time Arizona has had a player selected No. 1 overall.
Ayton’s tenure with the Wildcats wasn’t without controversy.
In February, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reported that FBI wiretaps intercepted phone conversations between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, an employee for ASM Sports agent Andy Miller. According to sources familiar with the government’s evidence, Sean Miller and Dawkins discussed paying $100,000 to ensure Ayton would sign with the Wildcats. Attorney Lynden B. Rose, who represents the Ayton family, denied the allegations and urged the FBI to clear Ayton’s name. Sean Miller also denied ESPN’s report about the alleged pay-to-play conversation.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-7 Bridges was a third-team All-American and a member of Nova’s 2018 all-Final Four team. His mother Tyneeha Rivers works in human resources for the Sixers’ parent company but their story together in Philly proved short-lived.
The Suns opened the second round by taking French point guard Elie Okobo.