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Weighing Deandre Ayton’s good with his bad

Breaking free from the (tumultuous) moment that was Ayton’s game 3 in Suns vs Nuggets

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

It feels a little bit like deja vu to write another post containing the words “Ayton” and “bad” in the headline, but this might be a new rock bottom for the Phoenix Suns big man. Maybe it’s especially strong deja vu because it’s once again Deandre Ayton’s effort that’s coming into question.

Reflecting on a tumultuous ending to the game 3 win for Ayton, the teammate who stepped up in his stead also stepped up to defend him after practice on Saturday:

While I admire Landale being an incredible teammate in a time of adversity, he said it himself: we in the media are free to make our judgements and call things how we see it. I completely believe him about Ayton being a great teammate and the advice giving, but it’s completely fair to expect more from a max big than what the self-anointed “Domin-Ayton” has put forth this postseason.

While we have players’ own expectations at the top of our minds, think back to February at Kevin Durant’s introductory press conference when he said:

“I feel like I still got to prove myself. I want to put good stuff on film every day. That’s the only thing I’m concerned with at this point is my life, is putting good stuff on the film every night.”

I wanted to take a step back, breathe, and get another open-minded look at what Ayton put on film in game 3, focusing on his effort levels on both ends, breaking it down into two categories:

1. Effort deserving of a max contract

I included a couple defensive fouls he had playing what I consider to be good, physical defense but he just couldn’t catch a break from the officials. I worry that when he gets called for fouls in those 50/50 situations, it deters him from further physicality later on whether defensively or offensively.

2. Unacceptable effort for the second round of the playoffs

On almost all of these mishaps in question, you can boil it down to whether Ayton puts in the work ahead of an action, i.e. are you low enough to not give up the baseline or did you run back hard enough to stop Jokic from setting up shop comfortably. At this stage in the playoffs, every second counts and Ayton has to understand the weight of how costly two or three lazy seconds can be.

All in all, considering my very subjective and inexact science of picking out plays, I found an even split of seven good to seven bad possessions. Given how my own thought process as well as many of those online, I’ll give that performance a stamp of “not that bad.” Now, is “not that bad” what we’re hoping to get out of Phoenix’s max contract big night in an night out? Of course not.

I continue to feel exasperated and frustrated by the efforts — or lack thereof — by Ayton now past his fifth regular season. This is not what you hope to get out of #1 overall draft picks, which makes me think back to Devin Booker’s draft slot at #13. Only one of the two were expected at the time they were drafted to become a star, but the other is one that put in the work to capitalize on the talent to make that actually happen. The onus is on Ayton at this point.

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