MADRID (NBA/Liga Endesa) - New Zealand international Kirk Penney offered some good insight to Gustavo Ayon of the New Orleans Hornets when he was asked about his former Fuenlabrada teammate on Saturday night.
Penney, who had just torched Valencia Basket for 27 points and led his team to a 76-69 upset win on the road, played alongside the 2.06m Ayon this season before the Hornets acquired the Mexican forward before Christmas.
"Gustavo is such a joy to play with," Penney said to FIBA.com.
"He moves unbelievably well off the ball for a big guy.
"He runs the floor better than any of us, and he's a big guy.
"You've seen him in the NBA that he's already playing so well.
"He's so gifted, so active."
So for those who feared Ayon, the Liga Endesa Player of the Month for November, was headed for a season on the bench with New Orleans, you need not have.
He is not only playing, but quickly making his mark.
After brief appearances in his first four games, Ayon played 13 minutes against Minnesota and 20 in the ensuing clashes with Memphis and Portland.
Against the T-Wolves, Ayon had seven points, four rebounds, a block and a steal while in the clash with Memphis, Ayon finished with nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.
On Monday night against Portland, Ayon had eight points, five boards, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
When the Hornets met the $1.5million (€1.2million) buy-out clause to acquire the 26-year-old from Fuenlabrada, they clearly knew what they were doing.
Going To Europe
Ayon had played in America before.
He was in Mexico's national team at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship in Las Vegas.
Ayon also represented his country at the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship in Puerto Rico, and most recently at the 2010 Centro Basket Championship.
When Fuenlabrada signed Ayon to a four-year contract in late March 2009, he had just led Halcones UV Xalapa to the Mexican title.
When he arrived in Spain, Ayon wasn't ready for the rigors of the ACB.
He played a total of five games with Fuenlabrada through the 2009-10 season.
Ayon spent time with CB Illescas in the LEB Plata and with Tenerife Rural in the LEB Oro.
His only full year in the ACB turned out to be 2010-11, when he averaged 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Those numbers jumped dramatically this season when he averaged 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds in 10 Spanish top flight games this season.
Fuenlabrada tried to convince Ayon to finish the season in Spain but with his opportunity in the NBA in front of him, he elected to go.
"You don't replace a player like Gustavo," Penney said.
"You just try to fill the hole with a collection of players."
Getting the right NBA opportunity
Now the question is, will he make it in America?
The early evidence suggests yes, Ayon has the tools and the work ethic to be a player in the NBA.
He is also in the right situation.
The Hornets are struggling and looking for players that can help.
"It's tough (to make it)," said Penney, who had some spells in the NBA but wasn't able to cement his place in the league.
"It all comes down to opportunities.
"If you play, you produce statistics.
"Gustavo is most definitely someone that can play in the NBA.
"It's the same with (Minnesota's) Ricky Rubio, who's got confidence and is playing unbelievably.
"But he's getting an opportunity."
Ayon didn't arrive in New Orleans beating his chest, telling the city that he was the cure to their ills.
He knows the NBA is different to the Liga Endesa.
"Spanish basketball is very tactical, very difficult to adapt to the tactics," he said.
"In the NBA, there are more physical and athletic players."
Hornets fans would like nothing more than for Ayon to duplicate his numbers from this season at Fuenlabrada.
"It's totally unrealistic at this point," Ayon said.
"It's going to take time, this is a big change for me.
"There is going to be a period of adaptation to the league, to the culture, to everything.
"Once I'm settled, I'll try to improve every day and do the best for the team."
Ayon, it appears, is ahead of schedule.