Deandre Ayton of the Arizona Wildcats reacts after dunking against the USC Trojans during the championship game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Wildcats won 75-61. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Draft Q&A: Hawks assistant GM Jeff Peterson on Deandre Ayton

Part of Jeff Peterson’s responsibilities as Hawks assistant general manager is to oversee the team’s scouting process. That’s a particularly important role this season as the Hawks own the No. 3 draft pick in addition to Nos. 19, 30 and 34. 

I recently sat down with Peterson to get his thoughts on eight top prospects in the 2018 draft: Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mo Bamba, Michael Porter Jr. Wendell Carter Jr. and Trae Young. Over the next several days I’ll post some lightly edited transcripts of those conversations. 

Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona 

Height/weight: 7-foot-1, 250 pounds (listed) 

Age: 19 (July 23, 1998) 

Hometown: Nassau, Bahamas 

ESPN draft projection: No. 1 to the Suns. 

(Click here for my report on Ayton from a March trip to Tucson, Ariz.) 

Q. (Cunningham) Obviously Ayton is a physical marvel. What are some other things that make him a top prospect? 

A. (Peterson) I think that’s a great starting point: just from a physical and athletic standpoint he’s pretty unique. There is no doubt that he will be able to translate to an NBA game from that standpoint. He’s pretty mobile, agile. Someone that big, that size that can move the way he does is pretty impressive. This year he showed the ability to make shots. Of course, he can still improve in that area but it’s not like he’s a non-shooter. Made some 3’s, made some mid-range, made some good short corner jump shots. So I think he has a pretty good foundation to work with there. From a passing and decision-making standpoint, I think there are some positives there, as well. He got double-teamed a bunch because if you don’t he’s just going to score on you. Defensively, he will have to improve because you watch these (NBA playoff) games and they are switching everything (on screens). It’s hard for some of these bug guys to move and keep them in front of you. It’s an area where he can improve, for sure. Rebounding, man, he goes above the rim to get it. There is a lot to be excited about with him. 

Q. I’ve watched him play on TV and went out to Tucson to see him, and it seemed like his defensive awareness isn’t so hot sometimes with rotations on drivers and things like that. When you look at that, how do you determine if that’s just lack of instincts, lack of motivation, not taking coaching etc.? 

A. Yeah, I think it’s a combination of all of it. The challenging part is to pinpoint which one weighs the most out of that. Because if it is just a coaching issue, then you probably have some confidence that you may be able to address that. But if it’s a lack of willingness, then it’s like, OK, that’s when you have to dig in a little bit more and say, Why aren’t you rotating? If you see it and you know that’s what you are supposed to do, why aren’t you doing it. Sean (Miller, the Arizona coach) had him switch a little bit toward the end, which he showed he can do some. But, again, he will have to get better in that area. But I think he has a baseline to be a good defender. It’s just when he gets here at this level he’ll have to realize, Hey, I’ve got to focus because if not I’m going to get scored on a lot. 

Q. For his size and athletic ability, you would expect more production on blocked shots. Is part of the evaluation figuring out why? 

A. I think so. That one is a little bit more challenging to pinpoint. He has the physical and athletic characteristics to get way more blocks but sometimes he just doesn’t. This is helpful to talk to him — now, we didn’t get to talk to him in Chicago (at the combine), of course — but you put the video on with him and say, Why didn’t you go block this? See what he says. Hear his explanation. We are sitting here guessing. Well, let’s see what he says. But where we are picking (in the draft) we won’t have that luxury. (Note: Ayton skipped the combine and isn’t likely to meet with teams other than the Suns, who own the top pick. That’s a typical strategy for a player projected to be the No. 1 overall pick.)

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