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Grading the Suns bigs — Ayton, Kaminsky, Saric, Baynes, Diallo

The 2019-20 Suns season is on hold, but we saw enough to grade the players. Let’s continue with the bigs.

Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome back, Suns fans! We continue our positional grading series with an analysis of the Phoenix Suns bigs this past season.

To recap, the 26-39 Suns have played 65 of 82 games in a season now suspended indefinitely. We might see the season resumed in some fashion later this summer, or we might not. We might see a handful of “warmup” regular season games, or we might just see a resumption that starts with the playoffs. But the more likely outcome is that the season is over.

Recently on the Solar Panel podcast, Tim, Espo and I graded every Phoenix Suns player on their season to date compared to the expectation we had of them coming into the season.

Here are our ball handler grades...

Now on to the bigs. The exercise was fun. You would be surprised which player graded out the highest for the season and you might even be surprised who graded out the worst.

Whichever way the 2019-20 season plays out, we have a large sample size on which to draw some conclusions. Who outplayed their expectations? Who disappointed us?

Let’s find out.

First, the grading scale:

  • A- Nearly perfect / far exceeded expectations
  • B- Good. Exceeded expectations
  • C- Just fine- but what we expected
  • D- Disappointing season- worse than we expected
  • F- Get this mo-fo off the team

The Bigs

Today we review the big men in the Suns suddenly respectable offensive and defensive schemes. Head coach Monty Williams did a great job of maximizing the strengths and hiding the weaknesses of every veteran big man on his roster while slowly developing his youngest player, the 21 year old Deandre Ayton.

The Suns defense surged to 19th on the season, 9th in defensive rebound rate, 17th in offensive rebound rate and 22nd in total rebounds. I know, I know, “surge” is a funny word here, but after being one of the worst in the league for years, that’s a big jump! And they did all this without Ayton for most of it. Ayton, who would have ranked 6th in the league in rebounds and 10th in blocks, played only 30 of the Suns 65 games for various frustrating reasons.

On offense, most of the Suns bigs — Frank, Aron and Dario — became threats with the long ball, averaging four per game each. When the shots fell, the Suns were a very potent offense indeed.

On the downside, the top four bigs — Ayton, Saric, Baynes, Kaminsky — were almost never healthy and playing in the same game together. Of 65 games, Ayton missed 35, Frank missed 33, Baynes missed 23 and Saric missed 7. I believe they only converged on opening night and then for a couple December games. And that’s it.

Aron Baynes

Stats: 15.1 PER, 22 min, 11 pts, 5.6 rbs, .5 blocks, 35% from 3, On/Off: -.5, Games Played: 42, Games Started: 28

Top-20 Leader Board- N/A

Baynes came over from the Celtics in a draft day trade that also brought first round pick Ty Jerome to the Suns. The eight year veteran was a salary cap victim in Boston (yet they spent the money on Enes Kanter instead?) and a veritable savior in Phoenix.

Before Phoenix, Baynes was consistently a 15 minute, 5 point, 5 rebound guy who cleaned up messes, boxed out and rarely took shots. The bruiser was always best known for his screen-setting and general body-throwing as an enforcer off the bench, or in a small starting role.

With the Suns, Baynes added “offensive monster” and “basketball god” to his resume while continuing his bruising defense and screen-setting. Baynes became the center of the Suns surge into relevance for a few weeks to start the season after Ayton was suspended, and suddenly looked like one of the best centers in the game.

For 11 games, Baynes threw up 15 points (47% on threes) and 5 rebounds a game to lead the Suns to a 7-4 record (6-4 as a starter). And then in early March, when Ayton sat out for an ankle sprain, he threw up a 61 points in back to back wins over Portland and Milwaukee, draining 13 threes over the two games. The Suns went 2-1 in those last three games before the season was shut down.

But in the 28 games (15 starts) in between those cool stretches, Baynes was objectively bad. He suffered various injuries, looked slow and missed most of his shots (25% on threes). He just couldn’t hold up physically to play much bigger minutes in a bigger role than he’s ever had professionally.

Which Baynes should we grade, in terms of him meeting or exceeding expectations? Frankly, our hungry hearts remember the good Baynes more than the bad one.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: B
  • Greg: B
  • Tim: B

Cheick Diallo

Stats: 16.3 PER, 10 min, 4.8 pts, 2.9 rbs, On/Off: -6, Games Played: 44, Games Started: 2

Top-20 Leader Board- N/A

Cheick arrived in Phoenix last summer on a one-year deal after playing three years in Orlando in a very small role as a 5th or 6th big man in a rotation. He has always flashed athleticism, but lacks the skills to be a stretch four or the size to be a center.

In the preseason and even in the early regular season, Cheick was a breath of fresh air with his energy and, especially without Ayton around, flashed athleticism that was desperately needed on an otherwise slow-twitch front line. He even showed a good floater game and touch around the basket.

As the season wore on, though, Cheick’s star diminished a bit. He really is limited as a player beyond energy bursts for a few minutes off the bench. We had hoped he would be a diamond in the rough, ready to blossom on a team that needed it.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: D
  • Greg: C
  • Tim: D

Deandre Ayton

Stats: 20.4 PER, 33 min, 19 pts, 12 rbs, 1.7 blocks, On/Off: +3.5, Games Played: 30, Games Started: 25

Top-20 Leader Board*: Field Goal Percentage. .548 (14th in league) *Among entire NBA, would have been 6th in total rebounds, 3rd in offensive rebounds, 6th in DFG% allowed on volume, and 10th in blocks... but did not play enough games to qualify

Ayton came into his sophomore season in the NBA a lot of promise as well as a lot of question marks. Preseason predictions had him repeating his rookie season (16/11/.9) unless he added a three-point shot, with low expectations on his defensive impact at any point in his career. Many expected that the pairing of Ayton and Booker as franchise cornerstones would be a defensive nightmare with a low ceiling. His primary “for sures” were availability and finishing around the basket.

The Ayton we saw in 2019-20 was quite different in many ways. His efficiency around the basket dipped a bit and he missed 35 of the team’s 65 games. However, he somehow flipped the switch on the defensive end, becoming a force that could turn games and ultimately raises the ceiling on the Booker/Ayton pairing for the long term. Ayton proved he could switch out on the perimeter and stop the ball, as well as track a driver all the way to the basket after a pick to block the shot or force a miss. His interior defense, both on-ball and weak side, got a ton better as well. He also started blocking shots more often, nearly doubling his output from the rookie year into the top 10 of the league. Opponents shot much worse against Ayton than their season averages.

In some ways, Ayton exceeded expectations (defense) and in other ways he fell short (games played, lack of shooting range). I personally love his potential for year three, but I don’t have a good memory of year two. Dragging him down for me is that 25 of those 35 missed games were self-inflicted (suspension, PED).

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: D
  • Greg: B
  • Tim: C

Frank Kaminsky

Stats: 14.5 PER, 22 min, 11 pts, 4.9 rbs, 34.8% from 3, On/Off: -1.5, Games Played: 32, Games Started: 13

Top-20 Leader Board: N/A

Frank Kaminsky came to the Suns after four disappointing years in Charlotte. He occasionally started, occasionally dropped entirely out of the rotation and rarely played well enough to warrant a second contract from the Hornets. Toward the end of his 4th year, he and the same mutually decided to let him become an unrestricted free agent. He had basically played himself into an NBA journeyman role.

When the Suns came calling, Frank jumped. Most of the time, I loved what Frank brought to the team regardless of expectations. Here’s a big who played well enough to start at center when Ayton and Baynes were both out, and pushed through for almost a month on a broken kneecap because he knew the team needed him. He always had a positive attitude and often had a positive influence on a game.

Kaminsky got hurt (knee) and ended up sitting out for the year just after the new year began. In his absence, the Suns really missed his long-range shooting ability.

Since most Suns fans expected very little from Frank this season — most had him on the deep bench, with even Cheich playing over him — the only conclusion is that he exceeded expectations by a lot.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: A
  • Greg: A
  • Tim: B

Dario Saric

Stats: 13.3 PER, 25 min, 10 pts, 6 rbs, 34% 3pt, On/Off: -2.1, Games Played: 58, Games Started: 50

Top 20 Leader Board: N/A

Saric came to the Suns in a draft day trade that also brought rookie Cameron Johnson, in exchange for the 6th overall pick (Jarret Culver).

He came with a reputation as a starting-quality power forward, having started in each of his Philly and Minny stints. Of his three NBA seasons, his best was year two for a playoff Sixers where shot 39% on threes with almost 14 points and 7 rebounds per game.

What we got in Phoenix was mostly just that, except a bit worse shooting than he should have produced considering a great number of his threes were wide open. Saric would flash a very good game or two or three, but then relatively disappear for a while. I suppose the Suns offense didn’t fit Saric as well as one might have hoped. If Kaminsky had been healthy all season, Saric might have lost his role sooner. Saric always made the smart basketball play, which helped the Suns become respectable every night, but he did not turn the tide on many games in the Suns favor.

Still, Saric brought to the same what most people expected. No better, maybe a little worse. The impending restricted free agent just might find himself allowed to hit the open market without restrictions.

Grades (relative to expectations) —

  • Dave: C
  • Greg: F
  • Tim: D

How about you guys and gals? Would you agree that Frank is the one who MOST outplayed expectations, while Ayton and Saric ultimately disappointed?

What grades would you give the Suns bigs this year?

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