Deandre Ayton was the Portland Trail Blazers’ headliner in the three-team mega-deal that sent Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. Portland reportedly had its eye on the 25-year-old big man for awhile, even discussing a potential Ayton-Jusuf Nurkic swap with the Phoenix Suns independent of any Lillard trade.
The Bahamian big man was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft that featured Trae Young and Luka Doncic for a reason. He’s big, athletic, skilled and physically gifted. Even in a league that doesn’t value centers the way it used to, Ayton is one of the few that stand out.
It’s that value – that skill set – that makes him a part of the franchise’s core moving forward and why ESPN’s Zach Lowe named Ayton as one of his five most intriguing players of the 2023-24 season.
Deandre Ayton’s offensive, defensive versatility make him a Blazers X-factor
Ayton was on Lowe’s list with Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, San Antonio Spurs guard Devin Vassell, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey and New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley.
Lowe said of the only big man in his group:
"Ayton remains the rare center big enough to jostle against behemoths in the post, nimble enough to contain pick-and-rolls around the 3-point arc (including on switches), and so fast as to be a problem running the floor.ESPN’s Zach Lowe on Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton"
Those three skills are more beneficial to this Portland team than they were to any of Ayton’s Suns teams. Nurkic could battle against bigs down low for the Blazers, sure; he never has, and never will be, described as “nimble” and is certainly not a center who can cause defenses problems by outrunning them in transition.
Robert Williams III, acquired from the Boston Celtics in the Jrue Holiday trade, is the only other center on the Trail Blazers roster outside of Ayton who has a shadow of that skill set.
Williams is 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds. Ayton is 6-11, 250.
Lowe is right; how Deandre plays in Portland will certainly be intriguing to watch. Will he be the sometimes passive and – whether or not the word is fair, soft – big man who showed up often in Phoenix? Or will he find a way to be aggressive and, as he put it himself, be DominAyton?