There is a buzz about. I’m not talking about the Charlotte Hornets kind, but one around the Phoenix Suns. Multiple levers are being pulled and countless observations on the state of the team are being made. It is a team that is currently without a coach, has two superstars on the roster, an aging point guard, and a center who has yet to provide his price for value paid.
The Kevin Durant trade with the Brooklyn Nets set in motion more things than many expected.
Phoenix leveraged their future for “the now”, especially considering how many draft picks they sent to Brooklyn to obtain the 34 year-old Durant. In an effort to make that trade with Joe Tsai, Mat Ishbia also threw in Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Jae Crowder.
We know the rest of the story, how the depleted wing depth ultimately led to an evisceration at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Second Round.
But for those Suns fans who instantly became Nets fans due to the players involved in the trade, we witnessed something quite interesting. We watched Mikal Bridges begin to blossom into a player that we all believed he could be.
Bridges was showing signs of growth when Devin Booker was injured at the beginning of 2023. In his last 23 games with the Suns, Bridges averaged 19.3 points. That was quite the increase in production from his first 33 games of the 2022-23 season in which he averaged 15.8 points. With Booker out, Mikal began to find himself as an offensive player.
In total, Bridges averaged 17.2 points last season as a Sun, a career high. Then he went to Brooklyn. In 27 games with the Nets, Bridges averaged 26.1 points. In four-and-a-half seasons in Phoenix Mikal scored 30 or more points a total of 3 times. In 27 games with the Nets, he did so 12 times.
We are all rooting for Bridges. He’s one of ours. And now there’s a byproduct to the Mikal growth that has become quite an interesting topic of conversation:
Was Mikal Bridges being held back by the system in which Monty Williams implemented? If so, is the reason to believe that Deandre Ayton was being held back as well?
I also spoke with a source today that told me teams & GMs think the Suns didn't do a good job of maximizing Ayton full potential and look at the rise of Mikal Bridges as an example as to why they should pursue Deandre Ayton. The Suns will have plenty of options to upgrade roster!— FLEX From Jersey (@FlexFromJersey) May 12, 2023
Deandre Ayton‘s presence on the roster is one of the most interesting topics that the Suns have to navigate this off-season.
He’s entering the second year of a four-year deal in which is averaging $33.2M per season. Good, bad, or indifferent, he has not provided production for $33.2M a year. Simply look at how like paid centers are utilized in their respective offenses:
- Anthony Davis: $37.8M, 23.7 usage %, 17.2 FGA
- Deandre Ayton: $33.2M, 18.6 usage %, 13.2 FGA
- Bam Adebayo: $32.6M, 23.7 usage %, 14.9 FGA
- Karl Anthony-Towns: $31.6M, 25.3 usage %, 14.8 FGA
Ayton was never truly an option in the Suns’ offense. Monty relied on a guard-centric approach, and Ayton was asked to sacrifice his offensive engagement for the betterment of the team as a whole.
Monty is now gone.
There are two modes of thinking here as the Sun attempt to move forward:
If you bring any new head coach, will that individual incorporate a system that sees an increase in Deandre Ayton‘s usage and production? Ayton is paid like the third musketeer, but he has performed like Chevy Chase.
The other method of thinking, especially amongst opposing fan bases and potentially within their organizations, is that making a trade for Ayton will garner the same effect that the Bridges trade did. That, again, he was in the wrong system. That Phoenix utilized him incorrectly.
"You could be getting the next Mikal Bridges!" @Burnsy987 & @Gambo987 discuss the appeal of #Suns center Deandre Ayton around the #NBA. pic.twitter.com/GWgOj81bkA— Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports (@BurnsAndGambo) May 19, 2023
If this is the case, the Phoenix Suns can trade him and add depth. Much needed depth. In the process they could obtain someone who could play the five and get the production that they desire from that position for the contract paid.
It will be fascinating to watch how Phoenix handles this unique position when July draws closer and the potential to start discussing deals becomes available.
The first domino to fall is who will they hire as head coach. Will it be somebody who knows how to utilize Ayton and maximize his talents? Or is it somebody who would prefer to run plays for guards and wings, historically relying on the center position to be somebody who mops up the rebounds and scores on putbacks?
We’ll be here to talk about each domino as it falls.