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Sean Miller talks Deandre Ayton’s defense, shooting, fit with the Phoenix Suns, and more

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Miller doesn’t agree with the concerns about Ayton’s defensive ability

California v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the Phoenix Suns decide whether they want to select Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft, Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller joined Suns.com podcast “The Outlet” to shed some insight on his former player.

Here are some of the things Miller had to say about the 7-footer. You can listen to the entire podcast here.


Miller on how Ayton stacks up to other players he’s coached at Arizona...

“He’s the most talented player and the best player that we’ve had in the nine years that I’ve been the head coach at Arizona. And I say that with tremendous love toward Deandre because we’ve had some excellent players.

“A year earlier you could have called me about Lauri Markkanen and I think Lauri’s rookie year with the Bulls speaks for itself. We’ve had Derrick Williams who was the No. 2 pick in the draft, Aaron Gordon, we’ve had some many good players really that when I make the statement I’m making, I make it because I think there’s a separation between Deandre and everybody else. I think he’s a once-in-a-life type of player for a coach to have, just because his physical ability is so unmatched and yet he brings a skillset with that and a work ethic and smart mindset that I just don’t know you have many players, considering he’s 19 years old, that check the box at the level that he does in all three of those areas, especially the first area, which is just his physical superiority.”

Miller on Ayton’s work ethic...

“I think Deandre has always been the best player in every gym that he’s walked in, and sometimes that might make somebody lazy or almost not as good of a teammate that he otherwise could be because things have been easier. In Deandre’s case, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. He handles pressure exceptionally well.

“In fact, I think the bigger the challenge, the bigger the game, the more pressure that’s attached to his moment, he rises to the challenge. Every single time that he’s supposed to practice, that he’s supposed to lift weights, he takes it serious. In one year with us, he might have missed one day of practice.

“... At his height and size, the pounding that he takes, for him to miss just one says a lot about his durability and really maintaining a work ethic in all that we ask him to do.”

Miller on Ayton’s personality off the court...

“He’s a great teammate. He’s very fun and engaging person with a bubbly personality. He can really relate to anybody, young people and older people, and his teammates, whether an NBA veteran or his peer who may be an NBA rookie.

“He has a great way about him that he’s very, very likable. He’s also smart in that he doesn’t trust just everybody. Him knowing who’s a good person, who’s not. For his age, I think he has a great way about him. I can’t say one negative word about Deandre whether you ask me about his work ethic, his personality, his natural ability. He’s just an amazing kid and fun person to be around.”

Miller on Ayton’s jump shot...

“He definitely improved from last summer until the spring. He came to us with a natural shot. His ball rotated the right way, it just had really good mechanics and the scary part in describing Deandre is it’s not like he’s played basketball since second grade or he’s had a trainer since sixth grade, and always been in the right place at the right time to be an NBA player.”

“Growing up in Nassau, his family sacrificed a lot in allowing him to come to the United States by himself. He did it at an early age and he’s learned a lot on his own and that’s what you really marvel about.

“His upside is unbelievable because he doesn’t have the repetitions that it might appear shooting the ball, but he has great touch and a natural shot. I think in time, he’ll be a very good NBA 3-point shooter. He might not shoot five or six a game, but if he’s standing behind the 3-point line and open, I think early in his career that will be a good shot for him. He’s a very good free-throw shooter. He just has an unreal touch, which often times you don’t see with somebody with the size that he has and the natural athleticism as well.

Miller on Ayton’s fit with Suns guard Devin Booker...

“I think Deandre would complement anybody and I’m sure Devin Booker vice versa. That would be a heckuva 1-2 punch and also two very young talents. … And I think you throw Josh Jackson in there, and we know Josh very well, I think you’d have three extremely talented young players that would all complement each other and make the future of the Phoenix Suns very bright.”

Miller when asked if he’s excited about the possibility of Ayton staying in Arizona...

“Yes. I think my reason would be for his family. His mom has sacrificed, gone through a lot, relocated to Phoenix, and grown to love Phoenix, not because Deandre went to the University of Arizona. I think Phoenix in itself was right for her family, right for her, it’s a place she enjoys, and for this to work out where Deandre can be, in his early year sor for a long career, in Phoenix that would be a true gift for Deandre’s family.

“And for Deandre, for him to be attached to a lot of people here in Tucson, the University, a lot of people that love him, it will only help him and make him that much more comfortable from day one.”

Miller on Deandre’s defense being a weakness...

“I think that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I think people that would judge that didn’t really watch him very closely at Arizona and the reason is, unlike most players like Deandre in their one year of college, they’re the center. It’s easy to put them in the middle of a 2-3 zone and allow him to roam the front of the rim and protect, and then he gets to the NBA he’s a fish out of water. He doesn’t understand the terminology and all that it takes, especially in today’s NBA game of defending the pick-and-roll.

“But not only did we only play man-to-man, but Deandre played with another 7-footer, Dusan Ristic. And unlike the NBA, it’s not as if we can look at our personnel and make a trade that benefits our overall personnel. You play your best players, you play your most experienced players. And having Dusan and Deandre in the game together made perfect sense.

“But what it forced Deandre to do as a 7-foot, athletic 18, 19-year-old is defend four-men. They’re small in the NBA these days and in college sometimes it’s a 6-foot-6 great 3-point shooter. And having to switch pick-and-rolls, having to guard perimeter players that can really do a lot of versatile things away from the basket, he did that every day and then he did it in all 37 games that he played in.

“There were times where we stretched him to his limit. Where we asked him to do an awful lot. But I think for his own development, you can watch him, and he has a great sense of what it’s going to be like next year for him. Because in college he didn’t play the 5 hardly at all. If he would’ve played the 5, he would’ve played man-to-man.

“He played the 4 about 85 percent of the time. And we played man-to-man almost the entire game. So watching him defensively, if you want to say he didn’t block as many shots, well he didn’t guard the rim. He played with another center. He was the four-man. So his shot-blocking numbers won’t be what they would have been if we played him a different way.

“However, his ability to switch and do some things that not many guys his size can do, I think you can see with your own two eyes that he can do. He also progressed quite a bit in the year that he was year and I think that will only help him in his transition from college to the NBA. So that’s a question I like to answer because I think anybody that goes down that path is somebody that doesn’t understand the game.”


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire