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On Deandre Ayton’s playmaking potential following career night vs Utah

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Deandre Ayton wasn’t exactly centerstage in wrapping up a close loss in Salt Lake City on Friday night as the Phoenix Suns fell to the Utah Jazz 133-134.

On a night where Devin Booker (49 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists) and Lauri Markkanen (38 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) went back and forth trying to earn their team a win, Ayton (17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, career-high 8 assists) was showing out in an area where he doesn’t usually.

Following the 8-assist night, Ayton is averaging a career-best 2.1 assists per game, and it’s worth breaking down, especially as it follows such a bad stretch of turnovers — 4 turnovers in 5 of the previous 11 games, 2.5 per game over that stretch.

There were two types of dimes that showed up most often against the Jazz, so those are the two groups of dimes we’ll focus on:


Just by nature of being linked to Domantas Sabonis in so many trade rumors over the year, I feel like we’ve taken note of how little of Ayton’s offense is centered around dribble handoffs. That took a big turn on Friday as four of his 8 assists vs Utah were handoffs, and three of those went to Book.

It’s hard to filter handoff stats for individuals to get quite the analysis we’re looking for, but as a team, Phoenix has gone from bottom 5 in the league in handoff frequency in 2021-22 to 15th this season, and Ayton has obviously been a big part of that.

As you can see in the clips, handoffs are a great way to get guards going downhill as they catch, especially when you’re Booker and you often draw a crowd even away from the ball.

But it also works to weaponize the big to get downhill, and I’m still not seeing enough of downhill Ayton for my liking. Once you can even out the frequencies of whether Ayton is going to give up the ball or keep it, your offense’s optionality really forces the defense to be honest.

Kicking from the offensive glass

Over his last three games, Ayton is now averaging 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. His OREB% is up to 10.1% on the season, up from 9.3% a season ago, and the Utah game was his fourth best OREB% mark on a game-by-game basis (14.3%).

When Ayton’s able to turn those extra possessions from 0 into 3 points like he did on two occasions, it greatly turns defensive rebounding efforts against their opponents; as defenders collapse to chase the rebound, Suns shooters wait out on the perimeter for Ayton to find them.

At risk of sounding like an always-broken record, the playmaking is what most positive flashes are for Ayton: super promising, but desperate for any real level of consistency. Just skimming through the game log, this is one of only three games this season with 3+ assists for Ayton.

Yes, 8 assists in one game is legitimately impressive, but going eight games between games like this is a problem because it doesn’t force defenses to adjust accordingly.

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