There are some things in this world that frustrate you to your core; things that cause your blood to boil and your temper to flare. These pet peeves test your patience and cause the synapses in your brain to fire. People who don’t use their blinker. Someone who uses 48 coupons in front of you at the grocery store. Deandre Ayton. Yeah? Yeah, he frustrates me as well...but not for the reasons you may think.
Deandre Ayton is continually a polarizing topic for those who follow the Phoenix Suns. The third-year center has massive expectations following his #1 overall selection in the NBA Draft, and for that reason the expectations are (mostly) justified. When you use that kind of draft capital on a player, the return on your involvement relative to their production is high.
We’ve heard the reasoning for frustrations from Ayton’s performances: his ability to catch the ball can resemble Alex “Brick Hands” Len, his affinity for finesse around the rim should be replaced with tenacity and aggressiveness, his isn’t always engaged, he doesn’t roll hard enough, and his scoring is down. In short, he isn’t what many want him to be.
While many of these points have traces of validity, none address what grinds my gears. My grievance with Deandre Ayton?
The Phoenix Suns don’t allow him the opportunity to be successful late in games.
I’ll get back to that statement here momentarily. I know what you are saying, thinking, and preparing to comment below about. “But John, the team is allowing him the chance by starting him every night and, if he did some of the things you listed above with more regularity, he would be the center we want him to be”. Heard.
What I see when Deandre Ayton fumbles the ball or isn’t rolling hard to the basket is a third-year player who you can see thinking. He is a guy who has played in 156 career NBA games at one of the hardest positions in the league. He is learning.
Think back to the 2017-18 season, when third-year player Devin Booker was beginning to flourish. He scored 24.9 points per that season, but it was a season of peaks and valleys along the way. Yes, he showed flashes of potential, scoring 35 or more points 7 times. But he had 11 games with 15 or less points and two games with only 9 points. I know he wasn’t a number overall pick, but he was given the keys to the organization and Ryan McDonough said, “drive”.
Ayton is progressing at the rate he should be but there still is opportunity to increase his usage and progress his abilities and confidence. The Suns haven’t game planned effectively to increase his growth opportunities. At times it appears that his teammates lack confidence in getting him the ball (insert “because of his hands” comments here). In late game situations they have had the chance to close out opponents and ease our stress levels while watching.
A simple pick and roll with Chris Paul and Ayton would increase the likelihood of a quality possession given the options that are available coming off of it. But the screens don’t come. The rolls don’t happen. Ayton does not touch the ball unless he crashes the glass.
Ayton has an 18.9% usage rate which, compared to other starting centers in the league who have played in 25 or more games, put him at 13th in the league. This makes sense when you see the names above him on the list - Embiid, Vucevic, Sabonis, and KAT to name a few - because he isn’t the primary or secondary option on this offense. For those who want a top-of-the-league center as it pertains to statistical production, you won’t get it from Ayton because Phoenix has chosen not to deploy him in such a manner.
Here are Ayton’s usage percentage numbers by quarter along with his points in those periods:
Here are Ayton’s usage percentage numbers by quarter along with his points in those periods:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) March 31, 2021
Q1: 21.6% usage rate, 4.5 pts
Q2: 17.9%, 3.4
Q3: 18.2%, 3.8
Q4: 17.5%, 3.4
And the @Suns scoring by quarter:
Q1: 28.6 pts
Correlation? You decide...
Why is the guy who has the second highest eFG% (61.4%) on the team (behind Mikal Bridges) not being used as often as he should in the final quarter of the game? I mean, the dude has an offensive rating of 124.
Clearly it is because other members of the team are contributing at such a high clip that his points aren’t needed, right? Surely the 4th must be the Suns best scoring quarter.
Is there a correlation? Maybe. Maybe not. There are too many outside factors and variables to confirm that the Suns scoring in the 4th dips as Ayton’s usage rate falls.
Moving towards the playoffs, a time in which every possession in the last 5 minutes has the weight of an Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft, the Suns will need to rely on Deandre Ayton for scoring. He needs to know what it feels like to take over in the fourth. The closest this has happened in recent memory is the victory in Chicago when Ayton posted a 4-4 4th with 8 points and 3 blocks as Phoenix dominated the Bulls on the way to their 21st win of the season.
Think back to third-year Booker. He gained confidence via repetitions. The Suns allowed him chances to succeed — and fail — and he grew into the player he is now because of it. Although the Suns don’t need Ayton to perform in the same capacity as Booker did in 2017, focus should be paid towards developing his confidence.
This is an observation of ways to improve a playoff bound team. I understand and appreciate that. Perhaps it’s Monty’s direction not to get Ayton involved late because he wants him to crash the glass, because he wants him to be more assertive defensively.
I would just enjoy seeing Chris Paul make a conscious effort to feed Ayton late in games when he slips a screen because I am tired of yelling, “he’s open” and “pass now!” at my television while watching. My dog looks at me like I’m an idiot.