On Friday night, Suns rookie Deandre Ayton had himself a game. He posted 23 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals and a blocked shot.
When he was on the court against the two-time defending world champs, the Suns were plus-3 on the scoreboard in a game they lost by 10. He attacked All-Star DeMarcus Cousins relentlessly, and you’ve got to see his full court steal and finish. It was glorious.
That’s a 20 year old rookie against the world champs, folks.
People nitpick Ayton’s game, his hustle, and his ultimate ceiling. Many of the Suns’ most ardent supporters can’t shake watching someone else’s rookie as much as their own and for that reason likely won’t ever really appreciate Ayton for what he is.
He’s also not even being noticed by the larger Phoenix metropolitan area, because the Suns are nine years into a playoff-less skid and apathy has reached new levels this year. No one is commenting on the Suns’ best young big man in 15 years.
Locally and nationally, Ayton won’t win Rookie of the Year, even though anyone who’s posted his numbers in history have won it every time.
Not with the season that step-back sensation Luka Doncic is having. Doncic has been wonderful. Truly breathtaking sometimes. He’s averaging more points that Ayton and playing on a better team. He deserves every accolade he gets.
Doncic deserves to win the Rookie of the Year award.
But I feel like it’s important to place Ayton in history, both in the vaunted Suns franchise and across the league as well. Take his however you want. Feel free to minimize. Just pray you don’t look back on this season and wish you’d have extracted just a bit more joy from watching one of the league’s best rookies in years.
No rookie in the 51-year Suns franchise history has had more points and rebounds by the All-Star break. Not Amar’e Stoudemire. Not Shawn Marion. Not Walter Davis. Not even Alvan Adams.
The 23-year old “Sweet D” was tremendous with 24.2 points, 6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game as a rookie, with a 57.7 true shooting percentage.
The 21-year old Alvan Adams — who still works for the Suns to this day and collects selfies with other ROYs — was incredible as well. He posted 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
Both won the Rookie of the Year award. Adams in 1976 and Davis in 1978.
Stoudemire was the Suns’ other Rookie of the Year award winner, back in 2003. He was a revelation after being taken with the 9th overall pick, posting 13.8 points and grabbing 8.8 rebounds. Those numbers don’t compare to Ayton’s.
Other notable rookies in Suns history can be found here. Marion, the original Inspector Gadget with multiple 20-10 seasons, posted just 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds as a rookie. Kevin Johnson had 12.6 points and 8.7 assists per game that spring after being traded to the Suns as a rookie.
Yeah, sure, if you only look at one franchise, the picture is myopic. So let’s look at Ayton’s rookie season league wide.
The only rookies in the last 20 years with more points and rebounds than Deandre Ayton by the All-Star break?
- Karl-Anthony Towns — four years ago
- Blake Griffin — eight years ago
- Tim Duncan — 20 years ago
All three won the Rookie of the Year award. Griffin and Towns were even unanimous picks. Duncan is a certain Hall of Fame player.
But Deandre Ayton won’t win the Rookie of the Year award this year. The award has historically gone to the highest scorer and better highlight player, and that is Luka Doncic.
So, Ayton will likely go down in history as just another rookie in the year of Luka, even amongst his own team’s fans. Sometimes I think no one is more apathetic about Ayton than Suns fans, and I see more Luka highlights shared on my Suns-oriented social feed than I do of Ayton.
And this highlight? That’s a seven-foot-one, 250 pound rookie, folks.
Maybe start noticing this kid, Suns fans.
He’s pretty good.