Deandre Ayton was a couple of things when the Suns selected him No. 1: An athletic freak and very raw. Ayton was a project. He had the tools to impact games, but his rookie season he was lost, spinning like a top on defense, and while he scored 16.3 points a game he was clearly learning how to fit into an NBA offense. It wasn’t pretty.
This season — particularly after the All-Star break — Ayton made a leap. He’s a strong paint protector who anchors the Suns’ defense, and an athletic and efficient scorer setting screens and rolling hard to the rim. Ayton credits Chris Paul for helping him make that leap, but it was years of work by Monty Williams (and even Igor Kokoskov before that) — plus a lot of time in the gym and film room by Ayton — that laid the foundation for that leap. Phoenix isn’t playing for a title without this version of Ayton on the team.
James Wiseman was a couple of things when the Warriors selected him No. 2: An athletic freak and very raw. Both of those things were on display during his rookie season.
Steve Kerr thinks Wiseman can follow Ayton’s career path, the coach said on 95.7 The Game’s “Damon, Ratto & Kolsky” show (hat tip Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area).
“The most interesting thing [about the NBA Finals] has been watching Deandre Ayton. I talk to James and text him. I’m just so inspired by what Ayton has been able to do. And I think there’s no reason why James can’t follow that same path.
“[The Suns] really streamlined his game. You think back a couple years ago and he was kind of all over the map. You could tell how gifted he was, but you weren’t exactly sure what he was. They’ve figured it out. I’m watching Ayton quite a bit and I’m thinking a lot about how we can use James and simplify the game and make him really effective for us next year.”
It took three years for Ayton to make the leap. The Warriors don’t have that kind of time — they get Klay Thompson back next season and are in win-now mode considering Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are on the back ends of their primes. It’s why Wiseman’s name comes up in trade rumors, with him being moved for a veteran more ready to step in and contribute immediately.
If Wiseman remains in Golden State heading into next season, expect Kerr to break out the Ayton playbook for his young big. Then we’ll see if Wiseman is ready to make the leap the Warriors need of him.