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When the Magic signed-and-traded Ryan Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets for Gustavo Ayon, many Magic fans were probably displeased. Anderson was one of the sole bright spots on the team last season, while Ayon is hardly six months removed from toiling in complete basketball obscurity. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound 27-year-old had been nowhere near the NBA radar as he spent the early portion of his career between his home country of Mexico and Spain. Even when Hornets general manager Dell Demps brought him over to New Orleans last summer, it was to a team decimated by both offseason trades and injuries, one that few people would willingly watch all year.
Those who watched, though, were pleasantly surprised. Ayon broke into the Hornets’ rotation early in the year last season and stayed there, displaying a smart game to go with nimble feet and constant effort. As such, he shot above Eduardo Najera and Earl Watson (bet you didn’t know that) for the position of best Mexican NBA player, as well as ensuring that his 3-year, $4.5 million deal would be a huge bargain.
The first thing that meets the eye with Ayon, as mentioned, is his smart play. Ayon rarely does the things he’s bad at — 60 percent of his shots came in the immediate basket area, where he converted 65.4 percent of his attempts, as he left his jumper in the closet more often than not. This definitely seems like the right decision, as he shot only 36.5 percent away from the basket all year.
Ayon’s shots come mostly in the flow of the offense, as he struggles to create off the dribble. MySynergySports.com classified only 26 possessions all year as ones where Ayon isolated, and they mostly ended badly, as he averaged just 0.42 points per possession. Things weren’t much better in the post, where he averaged 0.52 points per possession in 33 possessions.
Ayon actually has a pretty solid first dribble -– he likes planting himself at one of the elbows, faking a handoff to a guard curling around him, then dribbling hard to the rim -– and he uses this combined with his speed to get by some of the league’s slower big men defenders. However, if that first dribble doesn’t gain him an advantage, he is often lost, left with no choice but to barrel into an array of defenders and throw up an awkward layup. It is a weapon to be used only in very favorable matchups, and Ayon definitely seems to realize that his iso game is not his strength.