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Big leaps the Phoenix Suns need to win a ring, Part 2: Deandre Ayton rise to All-Stardom?

Part Two of our Phoenix Suns preview series laying the case for a player who’s improvement could put the Suns over the top

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

By many measures, the Phoenix Suns as a team appear to have reached their peak. They first tied a 53-year franchise record for playoff wins (14, in 2021), and followed that up with a franchise record in regular season wins (64, in 2021-22) before that playoff flameout that no one can properly explain, even their opponent.

The Suns may have reached that peak, and the only direction from here could be down. But we don’t know that for sure, because sometimes the next peak is only visible after you’ve reached the current one.

The Suns may have a lot further to climb, but for that to be true we will have to see some dramatic internal improvement from some of these guys.

We have no idea who is actually going to improve this coming season.

What we can do, though, is rank the players the Suns most desperately NEED to improve this coming season, whether that improvement is likely or not.

Here are your candidates:

  • Devin Booker — to top 8 player in the NBA
  • Deandre Ayton — to top 20 player in the NBA
  • Mikal Bridges — to top 30 player in the NBA (published 8/18)
  • Cameron Johnson — to top 50 player in the NBA
  • Cameron Payne — to top backup point guard in the NBA

Let’s take them one at a time, with a little help from the Bright Side staff.

Already posted:

Today, our own Tom Aizenberg shares why he thinks the most likely ‘big leap’ comes from Deandre Ayton.


Deandre Ayton — to top 20 player in the NBA

Why it needs to happen:

Deandre Ayton is one of the best centers in the league and has few real weaknesses. That being said, he is more of a jack-of-all-trades center. This would be fine if he was elite in any category but instead he’s just very good. He can score, he can defend, he can rebound and occasionally can make some jump shots too.

But unless you have multiple elite level perimeter players it is hard to win a championship without a top tier big and Ayton is not quite in that tier.....yet.

How it can happen:

Ayton needs to be able to create more offense on his own. When Booker is not on the court Ayton should be able to expose any mismatch easily. Force a double team every time you’re in the paint. And on defense, the rim protection has to improve. There are some defensive instincts that Ayton will never be able to develop because they come naturally to some and not others. But to be his size and to average under a block per game is pathetic.

Likelihood:

Tom: Ayton’s natural talent combined with his age makes me believe the sky is the limit for him. However, he has also shown minimal improvement since entering the league as a stud rookie. I believe that Ayton can be as great as he chooses to be. So if he puts the work in he can make that leap and make his first all-star appearance in 2023

Dave King: I agree with Tom that DA can be as great as he chooses to be, while also maintaining that DA has indeed made significant strides as a player since entering the league. He has always been great as a scorer at the rim, but as a rookie he was a spectator on defense and more than half of his offense involved taking shaky mid-range shots when the defense sagged off him on the high-post catch. Now, entering his fourth year, Ayton is the anchor of a championship-level defense and has added more wrinkles to his offensive game, including an almost unstoppable jump hook in the paint and turnaround baseline jumper while getting better on that middy when it comes in the offense. DA has the capacity to be an All-Star. He could have been an All-Star last year if not for missing a chunk of time before voting finished (knee, COVID, non-COVID illness) and I think it’s likely this year if he stays healthy and emotionally engaged.