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Suns centers are on quite a roll

With Ayton’s return, the Suns now have three highly productive centers in their rotation

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Possibly for the first time in Phoenix Suns franchise history, the Suns are deep at center. They have three different centers on the active roster who can post very good numbers when given the majority of the minutes in a game.

Starting center Deandre Ayton has posted four double-doubles in seven games, including a rare 21 points and 21 rebounds game, while — as Ayton missed six games to injury — backup JaVale McGee posted 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Houston and Frank Kaminsky dropped 31 points and 6 rebounds in a game against Portland.

“When it comes to things like that, all you can do is to just be so happy,” Ayton said of McGee and Kaminsky playing so well in his absence. “To be around that type of environment and that culture. especially seeing Tank (Frank Kaminsky) perform. That was insane, you know. I actually felt like a fan.”

The Suns have won all six of the games without Ayton, compared to four of seven when he plays. He returned to the lineup on Monday night to post 22 points and 12 rebounds in 33 minutes of play (backups JaVale and Frank combined for 5 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in the other 15 minutes) to help beat the Minnesota Timberwolves and extend the Suns overall winning streak nine games — the most a Suns team has won in a row in more than a decade.

“I was telling everybody, make sure we bring that same energy as the last game!” Ayton said with a chuckle. “Don’t try to take the L when I’m back!”

Most of the team struggled to make shots, but Ayton made sure to deliver by making 10 of 14 shots until the All-Stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul could close it out in the fourth.

“I tried to make sure on my end, I guess everybody telling me I brought the energy up in the game,” Ayton said. “I knew my teammates were just coming off a back to back, so I knew I had to bring it. They complimented me by making sure I was in the best spots on the floor, just feeding me the ball and we all played together.”

Overall, Suns centers have been very productive this year, no matter who has been in the lineup.

DA, Frank and JaVale leveled off on a per-36 minutes basis

  • Deandre Ayton: 18.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks
  • JaVale McGee: 20.8 points, 14.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.1 blocks
  • Frank Kaminsky: 18.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks

Of course, you know that a per-36 comparison between guys who play totally different minutes can be quite misleading. If a player posts 6 points and 6 rebounds in 6 minutes of play against another team’s backups, you cannot just say ‘he’s a 36/36 guy if given starter minutes!’. I mean, I suppose you can say it but it wouldn’t be true.

A better comparison is to only look at games these three centers have player a majority of a game’s minutes.

DA, Frank and JaVale playing the majority of the center minutes, on a per-game basis (24+ minutes in a game)

  • Deandre Ayton (7 games): 15.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks
  • JaVale McGee (2 games): 12.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.5 blocks
  • Frank Kaminsky (4 games): 18.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks

Even that can be a bit misleading, depending on the competition they each faced. Ayton played against a tougher schedule than either McGee or Kaminsky had to face.

On an individual matchup basis, Ayton’s opponents at center have included Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis/Dwight Howard, Jusuf Nurkic, Richaun Holmes, Jarrett Allen and Karl-Anthony Towns. That group includes an MVP and 13 All-Star games among three of those opponents.

JaVale’s two big-minute games have come against Holmes and the center-challenged Rockets, while Frank has played against Jonas Valanciunas, Clint Capela, Nurkic and Steven Adams. All good players, but no All-Star games among them.

JaVale and Frank have stepped up huge early this season, much in the way that Aron Baynes stepped up in 2019 when Ayton was out for an extended time (25 game suspension) and when Dario Saric was a great fill-in last year any time Ayton missed time.

Big props to James Jones for getting those guys on the roster for a time of need, without them complaining about minutes when Ayton is healthy.

“The team we have here, everybody loves each other,” Ayton said. “Every win counts. We need everyone to win a game.”

Monday night’s postgame also marked the first time Ayton has been available to the media since former NBA player turned ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said Suns owner Robert Sarver had called Ayton a ‘lazy n-word’ and refused to extend him on a max contract last offseason.

Arizona Republic reporter Duane Rankin asked excellent answers, to which Ayton gave really solid responses.

Ayton denied even knowing about Rose’s comments, and says he hasn’t been worrying about what is out there on social media.

“If [Booker and CP3] can block it out, I can block it out too,” Ayton said. “It’s just contagious with how they carry themselves, with the social media, with anything. You can pick and choose what you want to look at.”

Watch the interview right here.