Deandre Ayton Or Luka Doncic: Which Player Should The Suns Draft With The No. 1 Pick?

Bryan Brandom
(Photo: Getty Images / Wikimedia Commons)

Suns fans and brass have an excruciating five weeks ahead of them.

Now armed with the No. 1 overall pick, Phoenix has a decision to make: Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic?

Let’s examine the strengths and weaknesses of each phenom to determine which one Phoenix should pluck in the NBA draft on June 21.

Deandre Ayton

Perhaps the best point in favor of each of these players is Ayton’s dimensions — at 7’0.5″ and 261 pounds, he’s bigger than Steven Adams was when he entered the draft — and ability to fluidly move that behemoth frame. He combines that freakishness with a versatile offensive game; Ayton is a lethal finisher inside, will probably shoot threes in the NBA, and can even put the ball on the floor some.

He will be a productive offensive player and rebounder in the pros.

Now for the downside: Despite all the physical qualifications in the world, Ayton routinely got exposed on the defensive end at Arizona thanks to seriously lacking defensive instincts and what’s been described as an average work ethic.

Once his man set a screen, Ayton got lost.

And he showed a concerning inability to stay in front of slower, smaller players on the perimeter.

Ayton played a lot of power forward at Arizona, so a switch to full-time center in the NBA — though it’s rumored he’d resist that change — could help paper over his defensive weaknesses on the perimeter, but it’s important to note his instincts as a shot blocker weren’t necessarily stellar either.

Luka Doncic

At 19, Doncic is arguably the best player in Spain’s ACB, the second-best league in the world and a giant step up from Ayton’s competition in college.

He’s huge for a playmaking wing: 6’8″ and 228 pounds, about the size Joe Johnson was when he entered the league. Doncic is already a maestro in the pick-and-roll, is adept at bullying his way to the rim, and has shown a willingness to bomb pull-ups from deep, though he’ll have to improve his shooting efficiency to become a star in the NBA.

He likely won’t become a stopper on the defensive end, but his size and impressive motor mean he could have the versatility to defend four positions with some improved strength.

With Goran Dragic, he helped lead Slovenia to gold at EuroBasket 2017, where he was coached by new Suns coach Igor Kokoskov.

His greatest weakness is a lack of elite burst. If Doncic can’t improve his elusiveness or blow past his man to get into the paint, can he still be an elite creator for his teammates?

The verdict

There’s no doubt in my mind that Ayton will put up huge numbers. But when a center is a minus defensively, it puts a serious cap on how good his team can be. 

Enes Kanter got played off the floor whenever his Thunder teams made it to the playoffs.

DeMarcus Cousins has never even made it that far. And his team vastly improved when he got replaced with a perimeter-oriented player and Anthony Davis moved up to center.

And just ask Karl-Anthony Towns how hard it is to improve one’s defensive instincts despite plenty of physical talent.

Additionally, the position is becoming less crucial — the only two teams to have made it to the NBA Finals in the past three years barely even play traditional centers.

On the other hand, Doncic’s archetype — a versatile forward who is too big for most perimeter defenders and creates for others — is arguably the most in-demand in the league.

Think LeBron, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, James Harden (I know he’s listed as a guard, but the dude’s huge), Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum. 

Hell, even the athletically lacking Joe Ingles was a monster in the playoffs.

Luka Doncic is where the league is going, which is why the Suns should make him the No. 1 overall pick.