The Portland Trail Blazers are on a mission to return to the postseason and contend for an NBA championship. To achieve this, they are pinning their hopes on their new starting center, Deandre Ayton. With a fresh start in Portland, Ayton has the opportunity to make a leap in both production and reliability, becoming the cornerstone of the team.
In a three-way trade that shook the NBA, Damian Lillard was sent to Milwaukee while Ayton made his way to Portland from Phoenix. The Blazers acquired a former No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 draft who has the potential to thrive in a new environment.
Ayton has showcased his skills, averaging 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in his five seasons with the Suns. Shooting an impressive 59.7% from the field, Ayton's ability to finish inside and his solid midrange jumper make him a valuable asset on the court.
The Suns made the decision to trade him to Portland in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic and Nassir Little. As part of the deal, the Suns also received Grayson Allen from the Bucks.
It is rare for a player drafted No. 1 overall to struggle and then later find success with a different team. One example is Andrew Wiggins, who was chosen as the top pick in 2014 by the Cleveland Cavaliers but was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves before even playing for the Cavs. Although Wiggins didn't live up to expectations in Minnesota, he found a new role in Golden State as the third option behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, contributing to the team's success.
Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani, Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, Pervis Ellison, and Joe Barry Carroll are examples of top picks who never reached their full potential, often due to injuries.
However, Ayton has had a significantly better start to his career compared to those players. Looking beyond the No. 1 overall picks, we can find inspiration in the story of Lauri Markkanen. Drafted seventh overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2017, Markkanen struggled during his time with the team. He was eventually traded to Cleveland in 2021, where his performance didn't improve.
But in a surprising turn of events, Markkanen's fortunes changed when he was traded to the Utah Jazz in 2022. At the age of 25, he emerged as an All-Star, averaging a career-high 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Markkanen's remarkable improvement earned him the title of the NBA's most improved player.
If Ayton follows a similar trajectory, the Trail Blazers could quickly find themselves back in the playoffs. At 25 years old, Ayton has the potential to make significant strides in his game, just as Markkanen did. This could propel the Blazers to success sooner than expected.
When it comes to big men drafted first overall who initially struggle and later find stardom elsewhere, Ayton could become a remarkable outlier. The combination of his talent and the right environment in Portland could be the catalyst for his remarkable transformation.