It didn’t take long for Deandre Ayton to treat Joel Embiid like an ex-girlfriend who brought her hot date to the party. Treating him like he doesn’t exist and finding other things to look at even if it is the wall.
I expected intimidation from Embiid and that Ayton would back down and shuffle his feet a little, but the only way to get better against the best big men in the NBA is to face them up and play your game. See where you land when it comes to playing against a future league MVP. Measure yourself against the best. Show them that you belong Ayton, because you do and we all know it and we have seen it before. This Suns team is showing that they are a piece away from being a title contender. That piece is the Ayton we saw during this stretch:
- 1-18 @ Memphis: 18 points, 16 rebounds
- 1-20 @ Houston: 26 points, 17 rebounds
- 1-22 vs Denver: 27 points, 13 rebounds
- 1-23 vs Denver: 17 points, 13 rebounds
It wasn’t just the stats that he put up, it was the attitude he presented. The Suns did go 1-3 during that stretch but a lot was lost on the offensive side of things from many players at the time. I was finding myself trusting that Ayton more and more.
Remember that those games did happen and I am not hayton on Ayton and I am not saying that I saw Bigfoot. We all saw the best version of Ayton and I just want it back. Embiid will be a close Defensive Player of the Year award winner this year, but even Embiid knew that he could take the day off on defense without putting up a fight on the defensive end.
Everything that was notable from Saturday’s against the Philadelphia 76ers about Ayton took place in the first half. In the second half, I was not missing Ayton, like in prior games when the Suns lacked the matchup inside and we needed Ayton's size. I was wondering if Saric could just stick it out for six more minutes to finish the game.
The way that Dario Saric was able to touch, bump, and push Embiid around down low was not expected but maybe should have been. That is the player Saric is and of course we would love for Ayton to learn from Saric on how to use those hips down low.
To start the game, the jump shot needed to be decisive by Ayton, but he instead to not touch the ball and not want the ball. After the game, on The Suns Jam Session Podcast, John and I talked about how it is ok to shoot the ball now that Embiid does, and he is efficient doing so… that should be Ayton and actually is Ayton.
Embiid’s big brother mentality shrunk Ayton to think too much and shy away from the Suns offense. Even when Cam Payne was on the floor, Ayton didn’t want any part of the pick-and-roll, neglecting a pass.
Ayton was able to get open but you can see that he was out of sight from the ball handler, at times Devin Booker. The arms would be thrown up as if to say, “I am open and because you didn’t pass it to me this time I will take a couple plays off.”
Making excuses is something we all grow out of eventually or maybe never. He may never admit to it, but from tip off until the limited minutes in the second half, you can see the excuse already bottled in Aytons brain. The Suns pulled off a great win without much contribution from Ayton. They might be something we see more of in the future. Lets see how he fairs in the Magic game.
Ayton starts the game by playing hide and seek with the offense. Now, I am thinking that this might be the game plan. Hide Ayton and pull his defender with him to improve the opportunity for a good look at the rim for his teammates. He is now a diversion, I guess?
The game between the Magic and the Suns is slowly becoming a blowout. This should not be a reason for Ayton to take the night off. Coach Monty Williams is looking for hard played minutes no matter the situation. When games begin to really matter who can Monty trust?
Back into the game, Ayton played a couple solid minutes after a jump ball. He wanted the tip and he got it. You can see the outstretched arm reach for ownership of the ball. The rest of 2nd quarter, he was stellar from defense on switches and showing that hustle plays on offense pay off for second chance points. You can see Ayton grow a few more inches in making his presence known.
Putting the Magic away and owning the court is something you can see in Ayton to start the 2nd half. Running the fast break with Paul to completion on a laying and then hustling back to body up Nikola Vucevic. Any hope for a short handed Magic team might be crushed in the hands of Ayton. At the time it is only two minutes into the 3rd quarter so I need to settle down.
The energy was still up for Ayton the rest of the game and the understanding that that the screens needed to be set hard and the passes made crispy.
The stats wont show it but the alertness was there from Ayton against the Magic. The stats come when his drive is there.
Body language grade from both games: C+