Joel Ayayi (Joe-el Uh-yah-yi) was the key glue guy of the nearly-unbeaten Gonzaga team, playing point and shooting guard while taking on defensive duties of a three. A native of Bordeaux, France, Ayayi comes from a basketball family - his father played professionally in France and his sister, Valériane Vukosavljević (née Ayayi) represented France at the Olympics and played in the WBNA. Ayayi developed over the course of a four year college career (not including a redshirt freshman year at age 17), helping them team in little ways all over the court. It should be noted that his numbers could have been more impressive if he was not the secondary playmaker and third or fourth offensive option due to sharing the backcourt with potential top-5 pick Jalen Suggs, as well as likely lottery pick Corey Kispert, and future lottery pick Drew Timme, and Gonzaga sixth man and potential future draft pick Andrew Nembhard.
Perhaps the best game Ayayi played in college was a 12 point, 13 rebound, 14 assist outing in a win against Portland - the first triple double in Gonzaga history and the second highest assist number ever (I can only think of who has the highest...). In this game, he shows off his excellent ball-handling in the PNR, passing inside, cutting off-ball, and offensive rebounding, which are arguably his biggest strengths coming into this draft.
Per game: 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 57.5% FG, 38.9% 3PT, 78.1% FT
Advanced: 66.5% True Shooting, 9.6 BPM (6.5 offensive, 3.1 defensive), 0.213 win shares per 40
Physical: 21 years old (turns 22 next March), 6’5” with a 6’7.5” wingspan and 8’5” standing reach, 180 pounds
Defensively, Ayayi was quite good in man coverage as a help defender, using his length to disrupt passing lanes and close out, though his strengths definitely lie on the opposite side of the floor. As mentioned previously and noted in his stats, Ayayi is a really strong rebounder for a guard, despite largely guarding shooting guards and small forwards in the NCAA. He was the second leading rebounder at 6.9 per game (1.6 offensive) and leading defensive rebounder; Drew Timme lead the team with 7 (2.3 offensive). He tended to grab and go a la Russell Westbrook and then look up the floor for opportunities in transition, which sometimes translated to flashy outlet passes, lobs, or long-kick outs. Ayayi also displayed excellent skill at being in the right place at the right time for cuts to the basket, offensive rebounds, and as a jump-shooting release valve. Ayayi shot a team-leading 68.3% on 2 pointers, aided by a remarkable nearly 70% shooting at the rim, excellent push shot floater, and good jumper mechanics. His skill in the pick and roll is remarkable, with plenty of highlight passes despite low turnovers (1.4 per game) that would have only been more common without Jalen Suggs and Andrew Nembhard dominating the ball so much. With the college dominance of Drew Timme and his post ups, Joel would often be on the receiving end of a post kick-out for a three, which he drained at an excellent rate.
A lot of Joel’s strengths and weaknesses were hidden by the star-studded power of that Zags team, especially defensively. He wasn’t the quickest laterally and tended to play very upright with inconsistent footwork. This is especially apparent when navigating through screens, where Ayayi would often take a wide route and get left in the dust, instead of fighting over the pick, which is something that will absolutely be exploited at the NBA level. This “upright” style of play also translated to his shot, where, in spite of his excellent mechanics, he required a bit of space and time to fully square up and fire away - likely the difference between him shooting 38.9% and above 40% from three.
Joel also struggled mightily in late-clock possessions, especially in isolation, as his lack of elite burst and strength made it hard for him to play to his strengths as a finesse player. A tighter handle would also help significantly with this. At only 180 pounds, he will absolutely need to get bigger and stronger in order to deal with the larger players in the NBA, both offensively and defensively.
Watching film of Joel, the biggest thing I noticed was his excellent decision making off of dribble hand offs, in transition, and in the pick and roll, which are all attributes that Quin Snyder prizes heavily in his ball-handlers. I seem him as a mix of Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles without as much of either’s ball-handling or fluid shot-making form, with more rebounding capability. While a lot of his threes came off of post-ups in college, something he will rarely see in Utah, his movement without the ball is great, so that transition would likely be an easy one for him. His game reminds me of a more skilled-passing Josh Hart or Donte DiVincenzo, with slightly less athleticism than either, or a better rebounding, poorer shooting Desmond Bane. With the Jazz not picking Bane last draft and kicking themselves for it, Joel Ayayi may be the closest similar player in this draft, while offering a younger successor to Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson. Plus, his transition to Utah would be greatly aided by his compatriot, Rudy Gobert, and Gonzaga legend, John Stockton. Though Ayayi is currently a weaker defender than all of the aforementioned players (other than maybe Jordan Clarkson), nabbing an immediate contributor with weaknesses that the Jazz’s style of play can help to cover up would not be a bad move, whether that’s at the 30th pick or trading down a bit.
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