Welcome to the third and final installment of Tank Watch 2018, where we take a look at this year’s top prospects and grade their fit with Memphis’s projected 2018-19 roster. In the first part, we broke down the strengths, weaknesses, and potential fit of Michael Porter, Mohamed Bamba, and Trae Young. In part two, we looked at Marvin Bagley and Jaren Jackson. Today, we’ll focus on the two players widely considered the best prospects in this year’s draft: DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic.
DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona, 19.7 years old, 7’0, 245 lbs
Right now, it’s easy to look across the NBA and see “unicorns” everywhere: guys like Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Nikola Jokic doing things that have never been seen before in the league’s history. Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton has unicorn potential, and because of that, he’ll likely be the first overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Ayton is an incredible athlete for someone his size and is a fantastic finisher around the rim with both hands. He has a nice jump shot and should be able to hit mid-range jumpers from his first day in the NBA, and his sound mechanics mean that his range should extend to the three-point line within a few seasons of development. The problems with Ayton are on the defensive end: despite his intimidating size and impressive foot speed, he often gets caught out of position on defense. He also has a lower freshman block rate (4.3%) than NBA players such as Frank Kaminsky (5%) and Jahlil Okafor (4.6%), two players known to be bad defenders. When compared to other elite big men in this year’s draft, Ayton ranks far behind Jaren Jackson (14.3%) and Mo Bamba (12.9%) but ahead of Marvin Bagley (2.6%). Ayton is a combination of Karl-Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins offensively, but needs to improve his defense to be a star.
Pairing Ayton with Marc Gasol would be a bizarre fit, but could legitimately work, at least on the offensive end. Both Gasol and Ayton dominate in different ways offensively, and both are good shooters, so lineups with both could work on the offensive end. Defensively, the pairing would be forced: it could work against some lineups, but would be unplayable against teams that like to play small-ball. Ayton is a dominant big man offensively, and despite his defensive shortcomings, he has the skills to improve on that side of the ball. Therefore, if the Grizzlies won the lottery and obtained the first pick in the NBA draft, they should take a long look at DeAndre Ayton.
Fit with the Grizzlies: A-
Luka Doncic, G, Real Madrid, 19.1 years old, 6’7, 218 lbs
While it may be considered blasphemous to take a European prospect with the first pick in the draft, Luka Doncic is no ordinary Euro player. Doncic has been playing in Europe’s top league, the Euroleague, since he was 16 years old in the 2015-16 season. This season, he’s been thrust into a huge role because of injuries to Real Madrid’s starting point guard, Sergio Llull, and he has responded by being the third-leading scorer in the entire league. The only two players scoring more than Doncic are Alexey Shved and Nando de Colo, two former NBA players. However, Doncic affects the game in so many ways other than his scoring. He is a dominant passer the same way prospects like Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons have been in the past two drafts. He’s also an outstanding ballhandler, a great rebounder for his position, a solid defender that racks up steals and has a great understanding of passing lanes, and a good three-point shooter with a gorgeous shot. However, Doncic is not an elite athlete, and because of that, will struggle to score in isolation situations in the NBA. Despite this, at 6’8, he knows how to use his frame to his advantage, and as he bulks up and continues to develop his arsenal of crossovers, he should improve his scoring.
While you should never draft players strictly based on fit, Luka Doncic would be a phenomenal fit with the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis has been missing a scoring guard that can hit threes at will for the last ten years, and Doncic would immediately be able to step in at shooting guard and fill those roles. Thanks to his elite passing, he would also allow Mike Conley to play off-ball more often, where he theoretically would be able to run through mazes of screens to generate open looks from the outside. So don’t treat Luka Doncic like a typical European prospect, because he isn’t. He’s already a star and would be a great option for the Grizzlies should they obtain the first pick in the draft.
Fit with the Grizzlies: A+
Written by: Jacob Boughter
Edited by: Colin Castleberry