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DeAndre Ayton’s No. 1 skill: He’s tough to stop inside and out

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10: Deandre Ayton

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10: Deandre Ayton #13 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates on the court after the team defeated the USC Trojans 75-61 to win the championship game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images / Ethan Miller

In an NBA Draft that looks to be defined by its big men, DeAndre Ayton stands above them all — if not technically in stature, certainly in terms of hype and potential.

The projected top pick in Thursday’s draft has ideal size for a center and the diverse skill set to play in the modern league, which is becoming more and more perimeter-oriented.

“I’m not changing my way of playing. I’m still an inside-out type of player,” Ayton told reporters in Manhattan Wednesday afternoon. “I’m going to start inside and establish myself down low, until I have to stretch the floor.”

The 7-1, 260-pound Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game as a freshman at the University of Arizona, where the 19-year-old spent most of his time at power forward (in part to accommodate a fellow seven-footer in the Wildcats’ frontcourt). This allowed him to showcase more of his skills away from the basket.

About half of his attempts were jump shots last season, and he made 34 percent of his three-pointers and 43 percent of his two-point jumpers, per (the national averages were about 35 and 37 percent, respectively).

Jump shooting is still an area Ayton says he has looked to improve on this offseason. “The NBA three-ball is way further than the college three-ball, so I’ve really tried to add range,” he said.

Ayton is also believed to have the quickness to guard players away from the rim, but his most evident skills are still the traditional big-man staples of interior scoring and rebounding. He shot a staggering 82 percent at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, and grabbed 21 percent of the available rebounds when he was on the floor, the eighth-highest mark in the nation.

He headlines a class of big men that also includes Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., Texas’ Mo Bamba and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr.

Ayton is expected to stay in Arizona and get selected by Phoenix with the first pick, while Bagley could get taken next by Sacramento. If this is the case, it would be the first time interior players were taken with the first two picks in a draft since 2009 (Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet).

Bagley, who averaged 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game at Duke, is considered to have a strong offensive game, but questions linger about his defensive fit at the next level.

“Obviously there will be things I don’t know that I’ll learn,” he said. “Once I get used to the speed of the game, I feel like I’ll be ready to go.”

“At the next level, you have to be able to do it all,” Carter said. “You have to be able to shoot, guard guards, be able to switch pick-and-rolls, pretty much everything.”

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