It wasn’t long ago that Deandre Ayton was dominating his first preseason, turning heads around the league, and looking like a force of nature.
But that was just the preseason. Ayton turned in an impressive rookie season, but it was nowhere near the beat-down he gave the handful of teams the Suns faced in early October.
The same test will face him in this year’s preseason. The Suns announced their preseason schedule on Monday, and the four teams they face will each challenge Ayton uniquely.
The Trail Blazers were an obvious choice — Phoenix for some reason play them in the preseason every year. Strong, experienced centers like Hassan Whiteside have always challenged Ayton, but in Year Two, you’d hope those struggles subside a bit. However, considering the other three teams on the slate, Ayton might well be looking forward to facing Whiteside.
In a home-and-home with Minnesota in the spring that Suns fans will remember as the day Derrick Rose buzzer-beat the Suns, Karl-Anthony Towns absolutely dominated. His game is unique and difficult to contain, but Phoenix had no answer for him. Ayton missed both of those games, so Towns will be a fascinating first go for the Suns’ center as he opens his sophomore campaign.
Similarly, Marvin Bagley III made the Suns look silly late in the year, and Ayton doesn’t have the excuse of missing that game. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft outclassed the top overall pick, so Oct. 10 is an opportunity to avenge that defensive clunker.
Finally, perhaps the most intriguing individual matchup for Ayton throughout his rookie season, Nikola Jokic, awaits at the end of the preseason for the Suns. Perhaps Jokic won’t play much anyway, but between his near-perfect triple double early in the season and Ayton’s 24-point second quarter at home later in the year, the two provided entertaining mano a mano performances throughout the season. Round Four will be fun to watch as the preseason comes to a close on Oct. 14.
That’s just what I’m watching. There will be much to glean from the preseason, including the Suns’ schemes on both ends of the floor under new coach Monty Williams. We will get to see how Devin Booker will be used, what the rotation looks like, how much the rookies and free agent additions play, and a ton more.