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We’ve seen a much different Deandre Ayton since March 5

The Phoenix Suns center has increased his engagement and effectiveness since the 8 point, 3 rebound performance

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. The opposition had definitely seen it. Deandre Ayton’s level of play over the past 11 games for the Phoenix Suns has been precisely what the team, and he, has needed.

Prior to the commencement of the 2021-22 season, the Phoenix Suns and GM James Jones decided not to offer Deandre Ayton a max contract deal. While both sides have compelling arguments, the fact is that Ayton has been on a “earn it” journey this season. The ball had been placed in DA’s court, literally and figuratively.

With the playoffs on the horizon, the inconsistency we have seen from Ayton throughout the season wasn’t necessarily a concern, but it was a topic of discussion. You’ve seen it on the Twitter timeline. People have questioned his drive, his aggression, and his intensity as a player. Then you’ve seen the Ayton stans’ backlash to those people. Just look at the comments following the 8 points and 3 rebounds he put up against the Knicks.

Something happened that night against the Knicks. Something changed. While you couldn’t hold Ayton solely responsible for the poor efforts on the boards – he found himself helping his teammates at the rim on defense, leaving the weak side rebounding vulnerable – he was frustrated by his performance.

Ayton changed his focus and approach to his game. He knew that he had to be more involved offensively. He knew that he needed to be better on the glass. Since that game against the Knicks, we’ve seen Deandre’s production change. He’s walking the walk.

Two games later he snagged 19 rebounds against the Orlando Magic. He noted after the game that, “I needed one of those games. I was not doing a good job on securing boards and closing out possessions.”

Ayton is currently fifth on the team in average touches at 42.1 per game. He is second on the Phoenix Suns in ‘points-per-touch’, averaging .41 points every time he touches the ball and (not surprisingly) best on the team in ‘points-per-paint-touch’ at 1.3. That’s right. Get DA the ball in the paint and points will follow.

What is of note when looking at these statistics is seeing the increased level of production by Ayton since March 5. Prior to that date, he was at .39 points-per-touch. Since that date he has averaged .52 points-per-touch. The second metric is the best in the league during that time frame.

Prior to March 5, Ayton attempted 11.3 FGA. The Suns have tweaked their game plan since that date, choosing to give the ball to DA more. Part of that is the game plan. Part of that is that Ayton wants the rock. He has averaged 14.4 shots-per-game since March 5.

“He was dominant in the paint, he was knocking down his short roll, that’s how we need him to play,” head coach Monty Williams noted after a 30-point performance against the Bucks.

He has rewarded this willingness to be involved in the offense with consistent production. He has averaged 19.6 points since that date, including two 30+ point performances.

The debate will remain what Ayton’s value is relative to his contract. Save that dialogue for the offseason. Right now, as he is the process of priming himself up for the playoffs, his focus and execution should be appreciated.