Hey Suns fans, you’re not the only ones wanting Deandre Ayton to be more aggressive when he gets the ball near the basket.
Sure, he’s productive. With 18 points and 16 rebounds versus Memphis on Monday, Ayton became only the third player in the last 20 years to post 2,000+ points and 1,300+ rebounds in his first 121 NBA games, joining Blake Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns in that small group.
Sure, he plays defense. Ayton once again ranks in the top five of defensive field goal percentage allowed near the rim and in the top 10 from anywhere on the court, among those who defend at high volume. For the second year in a row, Ayton has the best defensive rating on the team among regular rotation players.
But offensively he’s been a mess. He doesn’t dunk it enough on the pick and roll. He doesn’t punish opponents who switch smaller players onto him. Doesn’t seal them off and make them pay with turnaround jams enough.
Suns players and fans know that this the next necessary stage of his development — to make things easier on his teammates by hyping them up with ferocity and drawing more fouls on finishes, which puts the opponent on its heels.
On Monday, Ayton’s 18 points included five dunks, five free throws, no midrange settlers and a lot of happy teammates.
“We’ve been on him…I think last night was turning the page for him and noticing what he’s capable of,” All-Star guard Devin Booker said of Ayton’s game.
Booker wants to see THIS Ayton every game from now on. I’m not sure that’s in Ayton’s DNA to suddenly become super aggressive all the time, but he can repeat the mentality of Monday’s game over and over for sure. Dunk it, rather than lay it in. Draw a bit of contact on the way up. Finish through that contact.
Ayton has had four games of 5-plus free throws among his first 12 of this season. He didn’t have his fourth such game last season until game 16, and the year before that it wasn’t until game 30. He’s taking fewer mid-range jumpers. Progress, slow and steady.
“That’s all he’s been hearing for the past week is being more ferocious in the paint,” said Monty Williams of Ayton after Monday’s game. Williams said they all know Ayton’s got it in him to be more aggressive.
“I’m going to keep challenging him to be that,” All-Star guard Chris Paul said of Ayton. “All of us are so hard on him because we know what he’s capable of.”
Yes, we all know what Ayton is capable of. He’s got the talent, the body, the health to be one of the very best players in the game. He’s already one of the game’s best rebounders and defenders. He just needs to turn his offensive game into something opponents fear too.
Ayton takes a lot of criticism on this team. More than he deserves. He’s like the little brother who spends his days just screwing around rather than applying himself to the best of his abilities.
The 22-year old Ayton is the youngest rotation player on the team these days — no one else is under 24, and no one else has such little college/pro basketball experience. But on a team that wants to win every single game, Ayton needs to grow up quickly.
Now it’s just a matter of how quickly.