Like a 2033 Jack Nicholson film, something’s gotta give.
The Phoenix Suns have hit a crossroads. A team that relies heavily on its guard-centric offense has been compromised. Devin Booker is out for a month. At least. We will have to patiently wait until he is reevaluated following the aggravation of a groin injury.
Mentally preparing myself to watch the Suns play without Devin Booker again. pic.twitter.com/V2V83uI5Vg— Suns Are Better (@SunsAreBetter) December 23, 2022
Chris Paul is 38 years old. He can still navigate and facilitate the offense, get to his spots, and sink his patented mid-range jump shot. Asking him to do so with regularity, however, and hoping that he can carry a team for a month is down right irresponsible.
Neither is hoping that Landry Shamet will give you 31 points a night consistently, when healthy. Cameron Johnson is still injured, so you are offensively compromised there as well.
What does this mean? It’s time for Monty Williams to seize this opportunity and run the offense through his max center, Deandre Ayton.
After a 4 point, 7 rebound performance against the Toronto Raptors on Friday, you wonder if it’s going to happen. Or if Ayton is capable of even doing so.
When you take a step back, and you look at the offensive production of Ayton through his first 4+ years in the NBA, you’re surprised. That is, unless you are a diehard Suns fan. Because you know that he doesn’t get the rock nearly as much as he should. And when he gets it, he doesn’t necessarily do with it what he should.
His efficiency would make you think that he should. Here is how he’s shooting percentage numbers look by season, as compared to centers who started at least 10 games in the NBA:
- 2018-19: 58.8 FG% (17)
- 2019-20: 55.0 FG% (18)
- 2020-21: 62.6 FG% (10)
- 2021-22: 63.4 FG% (11)
- 2022-23: 61.9 FG% (11)
While DA is efficient, Monty doesn’t utilize him enough. This is a debate that doesn’t even involve a debate. It’s simply a fact. With high efficiency numbers as a center, you’d think that he’d be a top 10 shot attempt guy.
Let’s look at his shot attempts as compared to other starting centers with 10+ games played in the NBA through his first 4+ seasons:
- 2018-19: 12.2 FGA (14)
- 2019-20: 15.3 FGA (7)
- 2020-21: 10.0 FGA (23)
- 2021-22: 12.0 FGA (13)
- 2022-23: 12.7 FGA (10)
I can already hear the first correlation between these statistics. As Ayton’s touches have gone down, the team has won more games. His career low 10 field-goal-attempts in 2020-21 was the year the team went to the NBA Finals. His second lowest shot attempt season led to 64 games.
It can be frustrating. Many ask, “Why doesn’t Monty Williams utilize him better within the offense?”.
You start to notice the variables, however. Again, Phoenix is a guard-centric offense. They’ve run everything through Chris Paul and Devin Booker over the past 2+ seasons. Booker has averaged 19.6 shots since Ayton arrived. Ayton sacrifices his offensive metrics for the betterment of the team.
This stretch by Ayton while Book’s been out has really hit home how much he sacrificed last year in the way of offensive touches and raw stats. Absolutely a max worthy player— sreekar (@sreekyshooter) December 17, 2021
Oh, and the entry passes. You can’t pass the ball to yourself, right? I don’t think the Phoenix Suns have rostered a player who can make a quality entry pass to Deandre Ayton since he arrived in Phoenix.
Devin Booker has been out before. What has this meant to Deandre Ayton? Season by season, here is how Ayton has performed in games in which Booker has missed:
Since 2018, Deandre Ayton's number with Devin Booker in the lineup (including postseason):— John Voita (@DarthVoita) December 30, 2022
DA's numbers without Devin Booker (including postseason):
+/-: -98 pic.twitter.com/JHyNKAWFqI
Again, you have a plethora of variables. Who was healthy at the time? Who shouldered the offensive load when Booker was out? Was it a starter? Did somebody come off the bench, a la Landry Shamet, and provide the scoring that the team needed?
Regardless of the answer in the past, we have to look to the future.
These next four weeks are a prime opportunity for Williams to begin to shift his offensive philosophy. It should be written on the whiteboard prior to every game: “Deandre Ayton will get 25 shot attempts”.
Even if the team doesn’t win, it will give this offense a new dimension that will be immensely helpful when Devin comes back. The chance is there, and Monty Williams must take advantage of it. Add sets for DA. Allow him the chance to work on things. Get him the reps.
Nothing but good things can happen.
While statistics aren’t everything, they sure have an impact on All Star voting. With Devin Booker sidelined, the chances of anybody in purple and orange making an appearance in Utah for the All-Star game in February is minimal. We all know who is going to be the starting center in the All-Star game for the Western Conference. Nikola Jokić is once again putting together an MVP-like season. The guy just continues to get better.
If the Suns choose to focus their offensive attack by running it through Ayton over these next 4+ weeks, you could see him put up the type of numbers that could land him in an All-Star jersey.
Here is where Deandre Ayton currently ranks in a plethora of categories, as compared to other starting centers in the Western Conference who have started 10+ games:
- Points: 18.1 (6)
- Rebounds: 9.7 (8)
- Assists: 1.9 (11)
- Blocks: 0.8 (10)
- FG%: 61.9% (4)
- +/-: -0.4 (12)
It’s not out of the question that a center who has one Western Conference Player of the Week this season under his belt could impress the coaches enough to earn a spot in Utah. You talk about goals? The Suns celebrated every goal they could achieve last season. This is one they should aim for.
Focus on feeding Deandre Ayton, allow him to add wrinkles to his offensive game, get him to the All-Star game.
When Devin Booker returns, the Suns will truly have a second scoring threat on this team. That has been a challenge up to this point in the season. It’s Devin Booker and everyone else. Carrying this team has caused him an injury. The Suns have to change that. It’s not Mikal Bridges. When Johnson returns, it’s not him. It’s the guy you were paying maximum salary to.
Here’s a fun little statistic for you: dollars per touch thus far this season.
Taking center's annual salary and dividing it by their average-touches-per-game:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) December 30, 2022
Do what you will with that one. The Suns have to change it. Maximize your value. Now is the time to do so.