NBA Draft news: Lakers sign Jalen Suggs’ teammate, Joel Ayayi
The Los Angeles Lakers traded their first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to acquire some guy named Russell Westbrook, but they were still able to land a promising prospect on Thursday: former Gonzaga wing Joel Ayayi.
Following the completion of the draft, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Lakers signed Ayayi to a two-way contract.
Ayayi showed up raw to Spokane, but he turned himself into a winning, do-everything player over three years on campus. In 2020-21. he averaged 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game for the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs and recorded the program’s first-ever triple-double. For the most part, he was the fourth scoring option behind Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Andrew Nembhard.
Ayayi is the fourth ex-Bulldog to join the NBA ranks on Thursday, following Suggs (drafted No. 5), Kispert (No. 15), and Filip Petrusev (No. 50).
Ironically, Ayayi showed flashes of late-Lakers-era Kyle Kuzma last season for the Zags, albeit from a shorter frame.
The versatile 6’5 wing is essentially positionless and served as a Swiss-Army-Knife contributor for Mark Few. He excels at moving without the ball and cutting to earn his looks. That said, he shot 38.9% from the three-point range and 78.1% from the free-throw line in 2020-21, hinting at an enticing 3-and-D potential.
On a loaded Gonzaga squad, Ayayi learned how to play around great scorers and find crevices for open looks.
Joel Ayayi is the best backdoor cutter in the 2021 Draft by a wide margin, imo. Just one of the many great skills he has that I think would make him a solid pick for the Sixers at 28. pic.twitter.com/aKM6ZUvYcm
— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) July 9, 2021
His rebounding average should give you an idea of both his effort and instinctual nose for the ball. Even better, he was one of the best pick-and-roll ball-handlers and around-the-rim finishers in Division I in 2020-21.
His athleticism and length may not translate, though his foundational defensive skills are encouraging. For an undrafted signee, he has plenty of room to grow and his ceiling is relatively high.
Considering the Lakers’ recent track record of developing second-round and undrafted talent — including Alex Caruso, originally signed on the same two-way deal — Ayayi might end up being one of the steals of the night.
Ayayi will join the Lakers’ Summer League roster in Las Vegas, which will include, among others, Zavier Simpson, Dakota Mathias, Yoeli Childs, and Vic Law. The Lakers’ Summer League slate will tip off on Aug. 8 vs. the Phoenix Suns.