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Breaking down Deandre Ayton’s strong game 5

Phoenix Suns center continues to deliver

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Deandre Ayton’s night wasn’t jam-packed with highlight dunks and momentum-changing blocks in the Phoenix Suns big Game 5 win over the Pelicans. He didn’t have a near-career high in points. He did not have the kind of night that Mikal Bridges had.

Ayton did, however, have the kind of game that gives a lot of credence to the kind of player he can be in these playoffs as well as going forward after general manager James Jones signs him to the contract that Ayton has so firmly proven he deserves.

It was a mostly below average game in the box score for Ayton game in game 5 (19 points on 62% shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and no steals or blocks) relative to his averages over the series (20.2 points on 68% shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks).

So what about his game 5 stood out so much to me?

Showcasing strength

This was the aspect that stood out most to me during Ayton’s big game. He was much stronger and more aggressive moving with the ball that improves upon the ball security issues I’ve noticed throughout the series.

Oftentimes, that leads to finishes like this:

It also includes this finish that was challenged by Monty Williams and overturned to give Ayton free throws and give CJ McCollum a foul.

Or solid moves with the ball that just miss, like this drive that really impressed me all things considered:

Defensive awareness

Ayton has really started to lock in on this end play in and play out, as he did during last playoffs as well. I imagine this is the last year that he’s not in Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

He’s reaching a point of effectiveness on this end that allows him to take on multiple assignments like he does here, shifting from Valanciunas to McCollum to Jones:

As well as this play, where Ayton takes the switch onto McCollum comfortably and forces him into the toughest possible shot attempt:

And is still able to be the Bahamian Beast (trademarked to Shaq on Inside the NBA) inside when he needs to be, giving up no ground to Valanciunas here:

Playmaking as an offensive hub

The league’s best big men have all become somewhat of a nucleus / control center for their respective offenses. Some examples:

  • Nikola Jokic, as a point guard who can bully his way inside
  • Joel Embiid, whose post offense opens up windows for others
  • Bam Adebayo, who operates as an elite playmaker on the short roll

In game 5, Ayton is showing off more of his own form of the hub elements. Since he’s averaging 20.2 points per game in this series, the Pelicans have to respect the rim threat that he’s posing against their defense.

In turn, this rim gravity opens all sorts of things for the Suns to make their jobs easier. Sometimes that looks like a simple kickout pass from in or around the paint:

Other times, it’s just handing the ball off to someone, screening away their man, and freeing up the action:

And other times, it takes the shape of finding cutters from the mid-post:

Mastery of the system

Those who follow me on Twitter know how impressed I was with the twin tower lineup that included Ayton — alongside JaVale McGee — in its 2:46 of game time to just about close out the first quarter. The duo was +9 in under three minutes and both utilized the spacing to perfection.

Those full minutes:

My thoughts from Twitter:

Noticed some really interesting quirks with the dual big lineups during my rewatch. One of my favs is a defensive setup that kinda looks like a 2-1-2 zone with Ayton being the 1 stationed near the free throw line sort of in the Giannis free safety role. (The possessions take place at 3:23 in the video and a bit at 2:49)

Willie Green sat Valanciunas after about a minute of the Ayton-Mcgee lineup to try and force Monty’s hand. Monty held firm and it worked.

What this means going forward is that Ayton has absolutely earned a max contract and will likely live up to it over the course of the next however-many years it ends up being. I know we’ve all heard it before and know it to be true, but its important to acknowledge none-the-less.

It also means that even as Devin Booker makes his return like he may for game 6, Ayton deserves a large chunk of this offense to be built around him. I hope we see more 3-plus assist games from Ayton in addition to the games we know he’ll have, like when the hook is falling, or the roll game is working, or he’s dominating inside.

Ayton is a big that can do anything and be anything, so the Suns should allow him to reach that.

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