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ESPN: Ayton’s brief NCAA Tournament appearance showed red flags

California forward Roman Davis drives on Arizona forward Deandre Ayton (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

After the Buffalo Bulls pulled off a first round upset against the Arizona Wildcats, Deandre Ayton’s flaws on defense were highlighted once again.

Although Ayton had 1.89 blocks a game, the third most in the Pac-12, Arizona and the center struggled on defense this season. ESPN writer Jonathan Givony points out this didn’t change come March as the Bulls embarrassed the Wildcats in a 21-point blowout on Thursday.

Ayton played embarrassingly poor defense all night, giving up 23 points to Buffalo JUCO transfer power forward Jeremy Harris, and looking lost in pick-and roll and help defense. Numerous times, Ayton was caught spinning around aimlessly, unaware of where he was relative to the ball, his man or his place in the defensive scheme, showing that same lack of awareness and overall instincts that makes it difficult for many scouts to see him ever emerging as a plus defender at the pro level. The NBA game is about being able to defend in space, and Ayton’s well-documented struggles here are something the team that drafts him will simply have to live with.

Ayton’s stats may not seem poor on paper with a 98.8 defensive rating and nearly 2 blocks a game, but when compared to other notable big-men Ayton falls short on the defensive side of the ball.

Texas’ Mohamed Bamba is perceived as the best rim protector to possibly enter this NBA Draft class. Bamba averaged 3.7 blocks a game as he broke the Longhorns’ single season block record in only 21 games.

Another strong defensive star is Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. who averaged 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes, more than double Ayton’s 2.25 blocks per 40 minutes.

However, what sets Ayton apart from the rest of the talented big men expected to declare for the draft is his tremendous offensive skill set. Unfortunately for Arizona, Ayton’s skills weren’t at their highest level against Buffalo.

He surprisingly elected to pop out on screens rather than roll to the basket and try to overpower a physically inferior opponent. He missed some good looks around the rim that he normally makes, as well as free throws.

Following the Pac-12 Tournament and Selection Sunday, experts were high on Ayton saying he was in a different class from the rest of the NCAA’s top players and a future Hall of Fame player. Max Kellerman even called him, “Shaquille O’Neal with more skill at this age.” Givony thinks these experts may have been a little premature on those comparisons.

There is no questioning Ayton’s physical gifts, offensive skill level and tremendous rebounding prowess, but he may not be the can’t-miss future Hall of Famer that some college basketball analysts painted him as in the lead-up to this game. He still has a great chance to be the No. 1 pick, and will have a long and excellent NBA career, but it’s important to remember that, like everyone else, he has plenty of things to work on.

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