So far, the Phoenix Suns season are off to a good start relative to what has happened around the team. No Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson’s torn meniscus, Chris Paul’s shooting and scoring at career-low numbers all could have led to a rough stretch. With all those issues, it wouldn’t be wrong to think that DeAndre Ayton might be a big part of that success but so far, the answer is no.
Devin Booker has been playing better defense, scoring more from the line, and taking on more of the playmaking burden while Mikal Bridges is averaging career highs across the board.
Meanwhile, Ayton is scoring a paltry 14.5 points per game and pulling down a career-low 7.3 rebounds per game. Even his field goal percentages are down. So what’s wrong with Ayton?
Watching Ayton play in his 10 games has been underwhelming. He has been in foul trouble in six of the 10 games he’s appeared in, doesn’t box out as much, and barely has any second or third-effort plays, which was a staple of his game. It would look like he’s been coasting out there but the team is still so good that it doesn’t stand out much. The Suns are currently 5th in offensive rating and 2nd in defensive rating, which are the markings of an elite team.
The Suns are succeeding despite Ayton, not because of him
The reason for those high ratings is that the Suns starting five lineup has been decimating teams. With six games played and 67 minutes together they posted a scorching 125.5 offensive rating and a stingy 92.4 defensive rating, but that five-man lineup won’t play for at least 6-8 weeks because of Cameron Johnson’s injury.
The next-best Ayton lineup has been him playing with four shooters (Booker, Cameron Payne, Damion Lee, and Mikal Bridges) and all other lineup combinations with Ayton have been abysmal.
Outside of the starting five, the main reason for the Suns’ great defense has been their all-bench lineup of Payne, Lee, Torrey Craig, Landry Shamet, and Jock Landale. What was expected to be a weaker bench has been carrying their minutes quite well.
With all the good things happening, Ayton’s subpar play has gone unnoticed. Last season he made 117/231 (50.6%) jump shots and 93/141 (66%) hook shots. This season? It’s down to 16/41 (39%) on jump shots and 7/18 (38.9) on hook shots — a far cry from the previous season.
One could say that Monty Williams should give more touches to Ayton, but those touches will just be post-ups and will muck up the Suns’ free-flowing offense. The best way to increase his touches is if he plays hard, runs the floor in transition, and gives second and third efforts on the offensive glass. It’s not pretty, but the team’s identity can’t be compromised for one player. There should be a balance.
Prior to the season starting, Ayton had addressed the offseason contract dispute and the supposed rift between him and Monty Williams, and he has been nothing but professional on those topics, so I’d think that’s all behind him.
If his current play continues, those issues or something related to them might pop up again.
Ayton is a polarizing player because clearly, the gift and talent are there but sometimes the effort isn’t. Putting up 14 points and seven rebounds don’t cut it for a 1st pick max player.
If this continues, trade rumors and discontent will start popping back up again, especially if the Suns don’t keep winning at their current pace.