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Why Deandre Ayton is worth all the tanking for NBA teams: ‘He’s the anomaly’

Why Deandre Ayton is worth all the tanking for NBA teams: ‘He’s the anomaly’

NEW YORK – The NBA scout lives an anonymous, omnipresent and thankless existence, pinballing from concierge lounges to aisle seats to rental car counters in search of the next great prospect. Often, the only validation of their itinerant lifestyles comes from checking their Marriott point balance. Many seasons, the entire scouting process is viewed with skeptical resignation by those involved. The scouts wake up predawn, sprint for connections and plod through traffic only to find a morass of mediocre talent.

But it’s years like the 2018 NBA draft that make the slog worthwhile even for the most jaded scouts, especially for those franchises attempting to out-tank each other. This NBA draft class offers the most promising collection of elite big-man prospects in the past decade, an unusual collection both in quality and quantity.

Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Texas’ Mohamed Bamba and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. make up the best collection of high-end centers and power-forward prospects in a draft class in some time. That grouping doesn’t include another high-end talent, Missouri’s 6-foot-10 freshman forward Michael Porter Jr., who scouts expect to play more on the wing and perimeter in the NBA. The only recent draft class with a cluster of comparable big men came in 2007, with Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Spencer Hawes as top-10 prospects.

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In the mock-draft universe, there’s not a ton of consensus on who’ll go No. 1. There are infatuations with Luka Doncic, a Slovenian guard who may be the most accomplished young European prospect to ever enter the NBA. But the reality is that few around the NBA can conceive anyone other than Arizona’s Ayton being picked No. 1. Yahoo Sports checked in with a half-dozen scouts this week, and all of them saw him as the draft’s No. 1 pick. One scout said the chances of him going No. 1 are 95 percent. Another chuckled at the notion of anyone else going No. 1. “He’s the anomaly,” said a veteran NBA scout. “The guys in our league would get a chuckle out of [there being no consensus in the mock drafts]. Deandre Ayton is the freakiest of them all.”

Ayton is 7-foot-1 and his body is already a chiseled 261 pounds. The most frequently used comparison is Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, a 7-footer with uncommon versatility, shooting range and footwork.

“He’s different,” said Washington coach Mike Hopkins. “You occasionally see someone and say, ‘That’s different.’ When I saw Ray Allen and Allen Iverson for the first time, I said, ‘That’s just different.’ The way [Ayton] moves, blocks shots and dunks angry. And then goes and hits threes. It’s scary.”

Arizona coach Sean Miller said the most consistent feedback he’s gotten about Ayton is the rare confluence of his raw athleticism, soft touch and versa

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