The Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young have received a lot of hype since they were drafted in 2018, which has unfortunately overshadowed the very strong play of Deandre Ayton to start his career. Getting suspended for 25 games in a season shortened due to COVID-19 certainly doesn’t help. Still, the majority does not accept or appreciate the solid work that the Suns big man has put in since he came into the league.
Shaquille O’Neal and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only other centers in league history to have at least 17.1 points and 10.8 rebounds at 21 years old. Keep sleeping on him if you insist but Ayton sure is in good company.
Yes, he could use some work on different aspects of his game but so can every young player. Luka and Trae will likely always be defensive liabilities; Deandre can be a legit two way force.
There is a lot of talk about how poor his defense was when he came into the league but the truth is the Suns’ defensive rating is better when he plays, his shot blocking is nothing to scoff at and he’s already better on that side of the ball than he was projected to be at this point.
Bleacher Report recently made a piece on the top centers in the NBA, where Ayton ranked 7th.
Let’s take a look at the top centers in the league and see where the top pick from the 2018 NBA Draft should actually land.
First, let me say I agree with the players behind him. Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge are really good players but they are definitely behind Ayton. One is a basic rim running, hustle big that you would love to have on your roster but isn’t a star and the other two are on the decline at this point
Now, let’s view who Bleacher Report placed ahead of the young Suns center.
Nikola Vucevic was ranked sixth and while the 2019 All-Star is a heck of a big man, he will be 30 years old in October and has likely seen his best days. While he made 1.5 three-pointers per game at a .329 clip this season, he had a .540 true shooting percentage compared to .571 for Ayton. “Vooch” had almost twice as many assists (3.7 to 1.9) and had a better defensive rebounding percentage (29.4 to 27.0). On the other hand, Deandre had better offensive (13.5 to 7.6) and total (20.1 to 18.1) rebounding percentages and almost twice as many blocks (1.7 to 0.9).
Surprisingly enough, comparing a player that doesn’t shoot threes to one who does, Vucevic shoots a worse percentage on jump shots (38.5% compared to 41.0%). Ayton is just starting out his career, is oozing potential and is far from unlocked and arguably already better. I’ll move him up a spot here.
Bam Adebayo was ranked fifth and in my honest opinion, it’s a bit of a toss-up here. Both of these players can be a force in the league for years to come. Bam is a better defensive player at this point (3.6 defensive win shares compared to 1.3) and racks up more assists (5.1 to 1.9) but Ayton has better offensive (13.5 to 8.7), defensive (27.0 to 25.0) and total (20.1 to 17.2) rebounding percentages and a higher block percentage (4.5 to 3.8). I’m going to move Ayton ahead another spot on a technicality here. Adebayo played 58 percent of his minutes at power forward this season.
Coming in at fourth was Rudy Gobert, who in a constantly changing league that has gone away from the old school type of centers has decided not to change but rather make it work for himself. He is one of the best defensive players in the league and a true anchor in the middle for the Jazz. Take him away from the basket and he isn’t as effective but good luck doing that. He has a 69.8 field goal percentage, a 31.3 defensive rebound percentage and a 4.8 block percentage. Overall, Ayton has a chance to be a much better all-around center but at this time, due to his great play on the defensive side of the ball, the Frenchman stays put.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic came in at third, second and first respectively and are three of the best players in the game. While Ayton has the potential to join that group in time, he is a ways off for now.
I rank Deandre Ayton as the fifth best center in the league as of right now. If he can improve defensively, he jumps ahead of Gobert and his goal should be to get himself to the same level as KAT as the next stage in his development. He has the size, athleticism and tools to do that.
If he can keep improving, it’s only a matter of time. The first place to show improvement is during the NBA Restart in Orlando, where the Suns will play eight seeding games against the league’s best teams.
“His body looks unbelievable,” head coach Monty Williams of Ayton said this week during the Orlando training camp. “He’s done a very good job of taking care of himself. Maybe because we’re young and genetically gifted, a lot of our guys look great. Cory sent out a bunch of videos [during the quarantine]. [And since returning,] DA’s had a number of weeks in the program to get himself in great shape.”
Ayton knows he’s got to keep ratcheting up the performance too.
“I feel like I’m in my third or fourth year and I know what I’m doing now,” he said. “So it’s not really me being told what to do but me understanding and finding what’s available and being a playmaker. Book and coach see it, so we just collab our differences and really just make things happen, whatever’s best for the team.”
The Suns start with three intra-squad scrimmages before the eight-game slate of regular season games. All of the Suns intra-squad scrimmages will be shown on Fox Sports Arizona, beginning next week with the first scrimmage on July 23 at 5:00 PM AZ Time, followed by scrimmages on Friday and Sunday. Be sure to tune in!
*Editor’s Note: Khaleel joins Bright Side after a number of years covering the Suns for other online outlets. Please welcome Khaleel to the best of the best when it comes to your Phoenix Suns!