NEW YORK - The Phoenix Suns used their first No.1 overall pick in franchise history to select towering Bahamian teenager Deandre Ayton in the 2018 NBA draft on Thursday (Friday morning, South African time).
The 19-year-old Ayton was expected to go first to the Suns who like the seven-foot (2.1-meter) center's size and skill which he used to dominate in US college basketball last season with the Arizona Wildcats. "It means the world to me, you know my family and coaches know the hard work I put into this game to really try and be successful and achieve all my goals," Ayton said.
The Suns are hoping Ayton can help turn around a team that finished with just 21 wins against 61 defeats, the worst in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings used the second pick to take power forward Marvin Bagley who played with Ayton for one season at a high school in Phoenix, Arizona.
Slovenia's Luka Doncic was chosen third overall by the Atlanta Hawks, who then turned around and traded the European star's rights to the Dallas Mavericks for fifth pick Trae Young and a future first round draft pick. It was a big night for the big men in this NBA throwback draft at Barclays Center arena in New York.
Besides Ayton and Bagley, other big men to go early included Wendell Carter (Chicago Bulls), Jaren Jackson (Memphis Grizzlies) and Mohamed Bamba (Orlando Magic). All five are six-foot-10 or bigger. Jackson went fourth overall, Bamba was sixth and Carter one back in seventh.
Ayton has been compared to Shaquille O'Neal and with less emphasis on traditional centers in recent years this draft is considered old school. This is the first time since 2007 that a half dozen players six-foot-10 or taller were chosen in the top 10.
Born in the Bahamas, Ayton, who turns 20 next month, moved to Phoenix during high school and says the majority of his family now live in Arizona. Ayton believes he could form a partnership in Phoenix with Devin Booker similar to the Lakers' famous O'Neal-Kobe Bryant dynamic duo which dominated the NBA.
"It means a lot to me because the fans there are amazing, they are the best fans in the world," he said. "I'm really happy to be a part of the Phoenix Suns now because we can really start a winning legacy with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson and all those other guys. You know they're great, we're a young team and we're ready. I'm just happy to be a Phoenix Sun."
Doncic, who recently won the Euroleague MVP award, travelled to New York just days after sealing the Spanish league championship with Real Madrid. This is not the first time the Hawks have quickly traded the number three overall pick. In 2001, the Hawks made Pau Gasol a top three pick only to trade him to the Vancouver Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The Cleveland Cavaliers used the eighth pick to take Alabama guard Collin Sexton.