The Phoenix Suns are 10 games into their 2022-23 season and the road before them is beginning to be mired by the potholes and speed bumps. I know the season isn’t perfect and no team’s journey is. Every road to the postseason is one filled with challenges, adjustments, and the overcoming of obstacles.
This season will be no different for the Suns as they have already lost two power forwards early in the season. The first, Jae Crowder, chose not to show up for the season unless there was a contract extension beyond this season in hand. The second, Cameron Johnson, has suffered a torn meniscus and will require surgery. This injury, if fully repaired rather than clean can take four months to recover from so, again, the path before them will be difficult.
The Phoenix Suns fear forward Cam Johnson has suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee, sources tell me and @sam_amick. Testing so far indicates the meniscus injury, and Johnson is receiving further evaluations and imaging.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 5, 2022
Prior to the season, the power forward position was already an area of concern. Knowing that Jae Crowder wasn’t going to play, the depth behind newly appointed starting power forward Cameron Johnson was murky. Torrey Craig? Jock Landale? Dario Saric? How Monty Williams would navigate the minutes behind his starter was going to be important as the season progressed.
Now with him gone, it is paramount that somebody steps up.
That somebody must be Deandre Ayton
DA’s received his bag, although it might not have been in the manner in which he wanted. But nonetheless, he is a top six paid center (based on average annual value) in this league earning $33M per year. Yet through 10 games he is 14th in points relative to starting centers in the league, 29th in rebounds, and 16th in field goal percentage.
Oh, and he’s 4th in personal fouls per game.
Thus far this season, relative to other starting centers Deandre Ayton is:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) November 8, 2022
- 6th highest paid center (AAV)
- 14th in PPG (14.3)
- 29th in RPG (7.8)
- 16th in FG% (57.0%)
- 4th in PF (3.9) pic.twitter.com/f4zinfsGfK
Chris Paul’s offensive regression thus far this year, although I view it as a good thing as it allowed his fellow teammates an opportunity to accelerate their games, has left an opening for points production with the first team unit. Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson all took turns as that second scorer, but no one has been consistent.
Ayton must see an increase in touches and an increase in productivity for this team to be successful. The primary challenge standing in his way? Deandre Ayton.
So how can Ayton step up?
Thus far this season he is averaging a career high 3.9 fouls per game, which vastly eclipses his prior career high of 2.1 fouls in his second year. You can’t be an offensive force and provide point production for your team if you’re constantly on the bench in foul trouble. That is what we have seen early on from Ayton this season. Early in this season’s games, the screws have been tightened and DA has suffered the price.
It is time for Deandre Ayton to play as a more cerebral player. Step one: stop fouling. Devin Booker needs him out there alongside him putting the ball through the cylinder. He can’t afford to not be present in the game.
If the Phoenix Suns have to consistently rely on the scoring of Cameron Payne, Damian Lee, and Landry Shamet for points from the second team unit, that record of theirs will get pretty close to .500 in a matter of a few games. Your best scorers need to be present.
Looking forward to hearing all of the Ayton Stans on Twitter justifying his lack of production. “But John, he’s really good in the third quarter on Tuesday night games!”. “Had he not been injured, it’d be so much different!”. Really? had he scored 20 points rather than just 4 in the game against the Pelicans, his scoring average would jump all the way to the 11th best scoring center in the league.
It’s okay, Ayton Stans, and it’s going to be okay. Players are allowed to be looked at critically and it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. You can still love a player and be critical of their performance. You know that, right?
It’s quite simple, really. Stop fouling, stay on the court, be elite. He can do it, he just needs to be present on the floor. The #1 ability the Suns need from him right now is availability.
Devin Booker can only carry this team so far. Batman needs his Robin.
Okay, stop fouling. Check. The next opportunity for Ayton to contribute and fill the void left by Cameron Johnson and Chris Paul’s offensive regression is to attack the rim. ATTACK!
Take a look at the top centers in the league. Now take a look at their free-throw attempts per game. Let’s go but those who are ahead of him in salary, shall we?
- Karl-Anthony Towns: 4.5
- Nikola Jokic: 5.7
- Joel Embiid: 9.7
- Rudy Gobert: 4.8
- Anthony Davis: 5.1
- Deandre Ayton: 2.1
We’ve said it in the past. Deandre is a “finesse” center, opting to go around the opposition rather than to go through them. The best way you can help your team, however, is to do just that. Impose your will. Get to the line. Get those extra points and put the opposition in foul trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, Ayton has had some quality performances thus far this season. He’s on the right track and what he brings defensively is irreplaceable. His lateral quickness, shot, deterrence, and his ability to switch is elite. It’s a little harder to find metrics to display that.
But we need more from him. He’s a top 6 paid center in the NBA and the production isn’t matching the contract up to this point. It is still early in the season and the team is learning what life after Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson is going to look like. Our hope is that it looks like Deandre Ayton playing at an all-star level.
He has the ability, nobody doubts that. That’s why he was the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. We’ve been saying it for five years now, but the time has come to walk the talk for DA.
Devin Booker will get his, but Deandre Ayton needs to ensure that he gets his as well.