Ayton vs. Doncic: A Civil (War) Discourse on the Suns #1 Pick
The Suns finally have a chance to draft the franchise-altering star of their choice, and the fans just can’t be happy about it. It doesn’t matter which camp you’re in, no one can seem to argue for their guy without completely disparaging the other. Depending on who you ask, Luka Doncic is a European LeBron James who has been balling up professionals since he was six months old, or he’s a fat, slow Holocaust denier that likes pineapple on his pizza. (I know…gross.) On the other hand, DeAndre Ayton is either an amalgamation of Hakeem, David Robinson, and Wilt, or he’s a defensively-incompetent Flat-Earther that kicks puppies. So, I’m here to bring a little reason to the debate.
Even though it seems like Ayton to the Suns is pretty much a done deal, I still want to offer my two cents plus my alter-ego’s two cents. So here are our four cents on the Ayton vs Doncic debate. (I’m unabashedly stealing Shea Serrano’s “Good Cop, Bad Cop” format for this article. We’re both Mexican so it’s cool, I think. Anyway, instead of “Good Cop, Bad Cop”, it’s going to be “Ayton Hive, Doncic Hive”)
Ayton Hive: Have you seen DeAndre Ayton!? Just look at him! If you were trying to construct a big man from scratch, he still wouldn’t look as good as DeAndre Ayton because imaginations just aren’t that good. 7’1’’, 260 pounds, -15% body fat, 7’5’’ wingspan, 44-inch vertical.
Doncic Hive: Sure, he has more physical gifts than a rich kid at Christmas with divorced parents in a bidding war for his affection. But does he know how to play the game? When you’re that big and dominant, the game always comes easy. What happens when he has to go up against Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis instead of Romello White and Chimezie Metu?
Ayton Hive: Who?
Doncic Hive: Exactly. The Pac-12 sucked this year.
Ayton Hive: Ayton is still going to be an imposing force in the NBA. There just aren’t many guys in the history of the league with his combination of size, strength, and speed. Besides, it’s not like he’s just a physical marvel. He’s got a polished offensive game.
Doncic Hive: Just because a 7-footer can hit a midrange jumper doesn’t mean he has a polished offensive game.
Ayton Hive: Are you kidding?? He’s the ideal pick-and-roll partner. His speed and quick jumping ability make him an ideal rim runner. He can pop out to the three-point line. You can throw it to him in the post and let him work. He can do it all; he’s a unicorn.
Doncic Hive: Whoa, whoa. You can’t just be throwing the “u” word out there like that. It seems like we’re giving that designation to anyone above 6’10’’ that can hit a three-pointer. Unicorns are supposed to have ball skills too. How’s his face up game?
Ayton Hive: He can face up and shoot over literally anyone.
Doncic Hive: But, can he dribble and get to the rim from 18 feet out? He has a quick first step, but he seems to shy away from contact. Plus, he doesn’t have many post moves.
Ayton Hive: Well when you’re that big and your feet are that quick, who needs post moves?
Doncic Hive: Shaq, Hakeem, Duncan…should I keep going? That’s my point. His physical dominance has allowed him to get by without developing much of his game outside of his shot. He’s going to need another skill if he wants to be the Hall of Famer everyone is touting him to be. Maybe he works with Hakeem for two summers and learns the Dream Shake. Maybe he gains some more touch on his hook shots. Maybe he tightens up his handle. All I’m saying is that I don’t see it yet.
Ayton Hive: Give the kid a break. You’re just nitpicking at this point. He’s still only 19! I bet you were an awful writer when you were 19.
Doncic Hive: Yeah, but I’m still an awful writer, so that doesn’t prove your point.
Ayton Hive: Well, at least we can agree on something. I’m confident that he’ll figure all that stuff out and turn into an elite player. With his size and skill, he’s going to be a 20 and 10 guy from day one.
Doncic Hive: Yeah, so will anyone he guards.
Ayton Hive: I’m surprised it took you so long to bring up his defense. He’s got all the tools to be a great defender.
Doncic Hive: Yeah, my fiancé’s car has a jack, a lug wrench, and a spare. She has all the tools to change her own tire, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to.
Ayton Hive: Yeah, but you could teach her how to. You can’t teach things like his size and quickness.
Doncic Hive: I’m more worried about the things you can teach him, like defensive awareness and instincts. Can he learn? He’s not a great shot blocker, and he constantly gets lost in pick and roll situations.
Ayton Hive: He was playing out of position at Arizona. He had to play next to a traditional center in Dusan Ristic. He’ll play closer to the rim in the NBA where he’ll have the opportunity to block more shots. If anything, his time guarding the perimeter at Arizona will only help him adapt to all the switching on pick and rolls that teams will put him through. The concerns are overblown.
Doncic Hive: Just because he guarded on the perimeter doesn’t mean he was good at it. He was getting torched by some 6’7’’ dude named Jeremy Harris in the NCAA tournament. You saw the playoffs this year. Big men were getting played off the floor left and right by smaller lineups. Hell, PJ Tucker was getting extended minutes at the 5 during the WCF! Don’t you find it a bit concerning that your franchise player could be relegated to the bench during the most important games of the season?
Ayton Hive: When you’re as good offensively as Ayton is, you’ll find a way to get him on the floor. It’s not like he’s a liability at the free throw line. He shot 73% this year. Besides, do you really think PJ Tucker could guard him for extended minutes?
Doncic Hive: Yes, yes I do. (But mostly because I’m scared to say anything bad about PJ Tucker for fear that it’ll get back to him somehow.)
Ayton Hive: Good point. All I’m saying is that if DeAndre Ayton can put it all together and learn defensive schemes and instincts, he has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the game. That’s a guy that you can build your franchise around. With a dynamic scorer like Booker and a versatile defender like Josh Jackson, that’s a young core to get excited about.
Doncic Hive: And I’m just saying that’s a lot of ifs. That’s like saying if Anthony Bennett didn’t suck, then he would have been good. I agree. Ayton’s ceiling is crazy high. But his floor is lower than you think because of his defensive concerns.
Ayton Hive: Is defense really the hill you want to die on when you think the Suns should draft Luka Doncic? The guy was getting hidden on defense in the EuroLeague. How’s he going to guard ANYONE in the NBA?
Doncic Hive: Before you start putting down my guy, let me just break down Doncic a bit. He’s the most accomplished teenage basketball player in European history. At age 19, he already has a EuroCup title with Slovenia, a EuroLeague title with Real Madrid, a EuroLeague MVP, and a EuroLeague Final Four MVP. His high basketball IQ makes him an exceptionally gifted passer. He’s a pick-and-roll savant who sees plays develop on the court before they happen. He has a tight handle and a Harden-esque step back jumper. Oh, and he’s 6’8’’.
Ayton Hive: The only thing Harden-esque about him is his defense.
Doncic Hive: Really?? That’s all you got from that? I’ll admit that his lack of explosiveness and athleticism limits his defensive upside. But he’s a really smart player; he’s a great team defender.
Ayton Hive: “Great team defender” is just something people say about bad defenders. Remember how we used to shield criticism of Steve Nash by touting his great team defense? But we all knew he sucked.
Doncic Hive: I just think that it’s a lot easier to hide a bad defender on the perimeter than a bad defender down low. Your center is supposed to anchor your defense. You can get away with having poor perimeter defenders as long as you play solid team defense.
Ayton Hive: A Booker-Doncic backcourt is a recipe for disaster defensively. Do you really want to Josh Jackson to have to guard the opposing team’s point guard every night?
Doncic Hive: You’re right. Neither Doncic or Ayton is going to solve this team’s defensive woes. But just think about offensive potential of a Booker-Doncic-Jackson backcourt with Coach Igor at the helm. That’ll be fun to watch. Three guys at least 6’7’’ that can all handle the ball and pass? That’s the perfect foundation for a modern NBA offense. The possibilities would be limitless.
Ayton Hive: The offense better be fun to watch when you’re giving up 130 points a game. Seriously, though. I think Doncic is great, but when there’s a generational big man on the board, you have to take him. Especially considering our history. We’ve never had a big man like THAT before. Plus, he’s a local product. You have to appease the fan base. If the Suns passed on Ayton for some foreign guy, the fan base would RIOT.
Doncic Hive: That’s a stupid way to look at it. I couldn’t care less what other Suns fans want. I’m a REAL Suns fan. I want a championship. We can’t be making decisions based on our past personnel. We have to be looking towards the future. Sure, Ayton is a 90s throwback who may placate the nostalgia of older fans for a game once dominated by bigs. But Doncic ignites the imagination of the younger generations eager for the game’s progressively positionless future.
Ayton Hive: The NBA is cyclical. Sure, the Warriors are the NBA’s “it” team now, but you’re not going to out-Warriors the Warriors. You have to try something different. Look at all the young talent coming up across the league: AD, KAT, Embiid, Porzingis, Jokic. The big man is on its way back, and the Suns need to make sure they have one.
Doncic Hive: You just contradicted yourself. You say the Suns should do something different to counteract the current trends of the NBA. Then you say they need a big man because that’s the way the NBA is trending. Should they follow the trends or not? I think they should execute their own vision. Right now, that seems to be acquiring as many versatile players as possible to be able to compete with any style. Doncic is the perfect archetype for that. He can run your offense, he can play off the ball, he can even play a small-ball 4 in a pinch. You can force teams to go small, but you can’t necessarily force them to go big with how spread out the game has become.
Ayton Hive: You’re overthinking all of this. When you have the number one pick, you have to pick the best player available. You have to pick the player that has the highest ceiling that has the opportunity to be a top 5 player in the league. The Suns aren’t good enough to justify drafting for need or for a system. They just need to acquire as much talent as possible. Plus, DeAndre Ayton actually wants to come to Phoenix. Do you know how hard it has been to get anyone to want to come here in the past 10 years?
Doncic Hive: It’s easy to get people to come here. The problem is getting them to stay. This has gone on long enough. The Liga ACB playoffs are on soon. Closing arguments...go!
Ayton Hive: It all started with a coin flip in 1969…
Doncic Hive: Maybe without monologuing about the Suns’ entire cursed history…
Ayton Hive: Fine. Guards and wings are a dime a dozen in today’s NBA. Big men with DeAndre Ayton’s combination size, athleticism, and skill are extremely rare. (They’re literally called unicorns.) They’re the type of players worth tanking for. His upside is too tantalizing. Passing on a guy like that can set your franchise back for years. Even if it’s not an exact comparison, there’s some truth to his “Shaq-Kobe 2.0” comment. With him patrolling the paint and Booker attacking from the perimeter, you have the perfect inside-out core to build around. He’s who the fans want. He’s who the players want. (They all watched a game together after his workout.) He’s going to go #1. And it will be glorious.
Doncic Hive: Above all else, the Suns need a culture change. The first step was hiring Igor Kokoskov and his versatile, free-flowing system. Now, they have to take it a step further and draft the player tailor made for it, Luka Doncic. Passing is contagious, and Doncic is patient zero. He’s not only a great talent, but he makes his teammates better. He comes from a winning culture in Real Madrid and was a key component in Slovenia’s EuroCup title run all while playing with and against grown men. THAT’S the type of guy that can shift the culture of a franchise. I have no doubt that Ayton will be great and could lead the next Suns playoff team. I just think that Doncic unlocks a higher potential for the Suns in their ultimate goal and could lead the first Suns championship team.
Ayton Hive: Yeah, but he’s slow.