He had some impressive baskets in the post via direct calls to get him involved in the areas of the floor he’s most comfortable operating from.
The premise was not unlike how he was featured in their first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans from last season, but it showcased some evolution from him, via the short roll, as I mentioned in my “Stephen’s Study,” from Tuesday postgame.
A lot of people, including myself, have had a scope on his short-roll playmaking and decisiveness in attacking while in the advantage with the pass.
That dynamic is very important. However, I do also feel that Ayton finding a feel for scoring on the short roll is equally as important, especially looking at how teams have attempted to get physical with him on the catch in the short roll in instances prior, to testing his comfortability and decisiveness away from the block.
Three reps from Tuesday presented opportunities for growth for him, in which he succeeded.
Let’s dive into the film.
First play here, we’ll see Chris Paul bringing it up and setting up shop free throw line extended for a staple, their empty side pick-and-roll.
Taj Gibson now in for the Wizards, even at his advanced age, was versatile with rolling coverages in pick-and-roll.
At times he was “weaking” the screen (think ice coverage but influencing the ball handler to their weak hand). Other times he was in a drop. Here, he’s at the level and putting a hit on Chris Paul.
A huge part of Ayton's evolution has been understanding what type of roll situations demand him to generate looks in the halfcourt.
His understanding of what each pick-and-roll coverage demands from him, especially pertaining to whether it’s Paul or Booker he’s in tandem with, has been a key to unlocking his evolution as well as the Suns’ in their halfcourt process.
His processing speed, as well as the speed he operates at in the roll dynamic, are where they need to be now. As we see him notice that the hit is on Paul, so he opens the gate in transitioning to the roll, his hands are already up and ready to receive the rock.
As he catches, we see another part of his evolution, via the move after the dribble. He goes with an elusive euro step, protecting himself from a potential charge, then makes it count with a signature soft-touch finish.
Next, we’ll see him catch on the short roll late in the shot clock.
He gets jammed early by Gibson to stop his momentum toward the basket, forcing him to make a decision out of triple threat, while also under some solid ball pressure.
Does a great job staying composed while navigating to the half circle, below the free throw line, then using post-type play to create separation then getting into a pick-up point where he can comfortably finish the play.
Lastly, we’ll see him adjust his roll based on the coverage being applied to Bridges.
So it’s “ice” on Bridges, where Bridges’ man as well as Ayton’s man are trying to squeeze him and pin him on the sideline.
Ayton processes and doesn’t get too deep into his roll, and properly positions himself to be the release valve. Then settles into the perfect position to catch and release on another soft-touch finish that gives the defense hardly any time to react.
These are very subtle, but they are reps that he’s been compiling and attacking with seemingly more intensity. They’re also reps that the Suns are organically generating as teams show extra attention to their primary handlers in pick-and-roll.
Him, firstly, establishing himself as a short-roll scorer, especially early in games, will have a trickle-down effect on how teams are pinching in to show help on him within the advantage double teams present underneath them.
That, in turn, will enable a better blend of both his scoring and play (as an in-addition) because lanes for cutters or the space for shooters will increase, generally generating a better flow for them in the advantage.
These opportunities also allow for unique paint touches for Ayton.
He’s presently fourth in the NBA in paint touches, with 10.9 paint touches per game. That ranks behind, but in the same neighborhood as:
- 1st - Rudy Gobert (11.7)
- 2nd - Jarret Allen (11.5)
- 3rd - Antony Davis (11.4)
He’s presently second in total points scored via paint touches as well, at 315.
These are different from the traditional post entries with him positioned on the block, which have seen an uptick this season, but function in a manner still advantageous to him as he puts his bid in to become the next member of the “Middy Committee.”
Keep an eye on his decisiveness when teams show extra attention at the point of screens, as, his early recognition of coverages and what they demand from him on the roll will continue to be a key cog in the evolution of his game and the Suns half-court attack, specifically with succeed against playoff-style defenses in mind.
A Monty saying that rings true is “reps remove doubt,” and these reps, regardless of opponent, are absolutely invaluable to their big man.
Apply the context of Chris Paul being the elite pick-and-roll wizard that he is, as well as the uptick in double teams Devin Booker is seeing on a per-game basis, and you get a picture and understanding of why Ayton growing both comfortable and decisive not just blending short-roll playmaking to the fold, but also why his short-roll scoring is just as imperative.