Ayton vs. Bagley: Who won the battle of the top two picks?

ByKevin Pelton and Mike Schmitz ESPN logo
Sunday, July 8, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- When the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings tipped off in NBA summer league action Saturday, the anticipated matchup between the top two draft picks Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III wasn't actually a matchup. Instead, Bagley was guarding Suns forward Dragan Benderand Ayton went against Kings big man Harry Giles.

By the end of the night, however, we'd seen plenty of Ayton and Bagley squaring off in a game that revealed how both top picks are dependent on teammates to set them up for efficient offense as they begin their NBA careers.

Unfortunately, neither Ayton nor Bagley yet have those teammates -- at least in Las Vegas. Phoenix particularly struggled getting the ball to Ayton in the post, turning the ball over three times on passes to Ayton in the first quarter and at least five times for the game. When Ayton was able to get the ball down low, he was effective. The first time that happened, Giles fell down and Ayton went in for a dunk. Later, Ayton finished through contact from Bagley for an and-1.

For both players, the going was rougher away from the hoop. Bagley in particular favored facing up his defender -- either Ayton or Bender -- and looking for the flat-footed jumper rather than attempting to drive. Bagley would have been better served attacking the basket, as he missed all seven shots he took outside the restricted area en route to 5-of-13 shooting. One of those was an air ball over the outstretched arms of Bender and his 7-foot-2 wingspan.

By contrast, Ayton was largely a bystander on offense when he didn't get the ball inside via post-up or out of the pick-and-roll. Ayton was even more efficient inside the restricted area (7-of-7) but made just one of his four shots from beyond that distance.

Without the teammates necessary to get them the ball in position to score on a consistent basis, Ayton went and got it on the glass. He staged a fierce battle with Bagley for offensive rebounds, pulling down five of them among his 12 total rebounds.

When Bagley was able to secure one of his six defensive rebounds, he showcased his ability to grab and go, pushing the ball in early offense. That resulted in perhaps his most impressive score of the night, a rolling lefty hook. It also produced one of the game's biggest highlights for Phoenix, when 2017 No. 4 pick Josh Jackson materialized out of nowhere to reject Bagley's layup attempt.

Ultimately, the No. 1 pick got the better of the first of what should be many meetings between Ayton and Bagley, both drafted to Pacific Division teams. Despite his difficulty getting the ball, Ayton finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, a better indication of his ability than a quiet summer debut on Friday night. Bagley, who had 15 points and seven rebounds, was less efficient offensively. He'll hope to even the count in a setting with slightly more meaning than the NBA summer league. -- Kevin Pelton

Next matchup to watch: July 8

Magic vs Grizzlies, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) -- Mo Bamba vs. Jaren Jackson

One of the more highly debated positional battles of the 2018 NBA draft, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mohamed Bamba will square off in Thomas & Mack on Sunday in a battle of wingspans, rim protection, and floor spacing.

Jackson put together a strong Utah Summer League shooting the ball, knocking down 10-of-18 3s while covering ground impressively on defense. The 18-year-old Jackson still has room to improve as an offensive playmaker, rebounder, and inside-the-arc scorer, which will all be tested by Bamba's 7-10 wingspan.

Bamba showed flashes in Orlando's lone game so far, knocking down a couple of perimeter jumpers while still working to find consistent effort and ferocity.

Both are more long-term prospects than immediate impact contributors, so it will be interesting to get a brief window into how Bamba and Jackson stack up at this stage of their development. Jackson could also get some looks defending Magic second-year forward Jonathan Isaac, giving fans a look at his coveted defensive versatility. -- Mike Schmitz

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