Another week, another chance to debate Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton’s value in the NBA.
He’s a prototypical center, a man who can both defend the rim and score at the rim, can make shots outside the paint and move his feet enough to effectively defend shots outside the paint.
He’s good, but he’s not a difference maker on either offense or defense. He won’t bend playoff series after playoff series to his will, and does not have the attack-first mentality to make that transition one day.
He’s one of the most athletically gifted players in the league, but also one of the most okay with being okay. Is he a competitor? Absolutely. Does he want to turn your career into a corpse on the way to the rim? No.
I have often argued that most every NBA team would love to have Ayton manning their center position, including the contenders. But the reality is that Ayton truly has become a middle-of-the-pack starting center in a league where players just seem to get more talented every year.
In a recent series by The Athletic, the Suns’ Kevin Durant ranked as the top small forward in the league and Devin Booker ranked as the top shooting guard. Bradley Beal came in 5th in the same shooting guard list. They are all considered among league’s top 40 players at any position.
But among centers, Deandre Ayton came in just outside the Top 10, and outside the top 65 players overall.
The list makes sense, doesn’t it?
- Nikola Jokic
- Joel Embiid
- Anthony Davis
- Bam Adebayo
- Rudy Gobert
- Domantas Sabonis
- Robert Williams III
- Jarrett Allen
- Myles Turner
- Brook Lopez
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Deandre Ayton
Jokic and Embiid have won the last three MVP awards. Anthony Davis has anchored a championship defense and just signed an extension that will pay him up to $66 million a year.
Bam Adebayo and Rudy Gobert are annual Defensive Player of the Year finalists, with the latter being fetching one of the biggest trade hauls in NBA history just a year ago. Domantas Sabonis is an All-Star in both conferences.
Williams, Allen, Turner and Lopez are defensive anchors for some of the most formidable defenses in the league. Karl-Anthony Towns is the self-proclaimed greatest shooting big man in NBA history.
You might believe Ayton is just as good as anyone outside Jokic and Embiid, but Ayton is the one who had the bad year last year while all those players excelled.
At least Ayton is above the Tier 5 group, which includes Al Horford, Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Vucevic, Clint Capela, Jakob Poeltl, Kevon Looney, Alperen Sengun, Walker Kessler and Ivica Zubac.
DA has the talent and skills to rise into the upper echelon of NBA players, not to mention just centers. Now he needs the motivation, and maybe a new coach in Frank Vogel will do the trick.
He had a great run with the Bahamas this past week, helping them go 4-0 in group play to earn a chance at making the Olympics next summer. That run included a pair of wins over Argentina, ranked 4th in the World, on Argentina’s home court. Already, just winning this tournament is the furthest the Bahamas have ever gotten. Ayton was a big part of that 4-0 record, as he averaged a tourney-leading 13.8 rebounds along with 15.5 points and often pumped up his teammates in fourth quarter huddles to help close out tough wins.
Now he just needs to bring that energy to the Suns in 2023-24.