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SBN Reacts: There is a path to Deandre Ayton setting the Suns single season record for rebounds per game

Anything is possible if the effort matches the production.

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Clippers vs Suns in Los Angeles, CA Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NBA. Each week, we send out questions to the most plugged-in Phoenix Suns fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.

Phoenix Suns’ center Deandre Ayton hasn’t cracked the top 10 in rebounding average per season in franchise history through his first five seasons. He’s big. He’s talented. He’s a physical presence. He’s absent from the list. This was a topic that we discussed earlier this week and, in the same breath, noted that the Suns organization as a whole hasn’t been successful at grabbing boards relative to other franchises’ success rate throughout history.

When comparing their top rebounding performances for each NBA franchise, the Suns’ best seasonal average sits in 25th place. Paul Silas’ 12.53 rebound average from 1971 is the benchmark that no one has surpassed in 52 years.

If you need a reminder as to who possesses the greatest rebounding-by-average seasons in Suns history, here is the list:

Suns All-Time Leading Rebounders by Average

Paul Silas 1971 12.5
Neal Walk 1973 12.4
Charles Barkley 1993 12.2
Paul Silas 1972 11.9
Curtis Perry 1975 11.9
Shawn Marion 2006 11.8
Charles Barkley 1996 11.6
Shawn Marion 2005 11.3
Charles Barkley 1994 11.2
Charles Barkley 1995 11.1

Maybe you’re shocked, maybe you’re awed. Maybe it’s exactly what you expected. Deandre Ayton is absent from the list above, and initially it generates questions about his drive and desire to rebound.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a solid rebounder.

Arizona Sports 98.7FM hosts Dave Burns and John Gambadoro discussed this topic upon learning that DA hadn’t had a greater impact on the boards thus far in his career as it relates to overall rebounding average. Ayton’s best rebounding season was 11.5 in 2019-20, although he only played 38 games that season. A 25-game suspension followed by COVID cut short his totals. In 2020-21, a season in which he played 69 games, Ayton averaged 10.5 rebounds in 30.7 minutes played.

Minutes played. That is the statistic Gambo honed in on.

After hearing of this statistic, Gambo observed that Deandre Ayton plays less minutes than Paul Silas did in 1971 and therefore would not have the opportunity to grab as many rebounds. And he’s correct. Paul Silas played 38.5 minutes in 1971, which is a full six minutes more than DA’s highest minutes-per-game output of 32.5, set in his shortened 2019-20 season. It’s 7.9 minutes more than Ayton’s career average of 30.6 minutes played.

That is a big gap.

It’s a valid observation and it prompted me to put forth a table in which we look at the top rebounders per minute in Suns franchise history. Using 30 minutes played per game as the line of demarcation (because if we didn’t, the top rebounder per minute is JaVale McGee), you’ll see that Deandre Ayton is much more productive than I initially gave him credit for.

Suns All-Time Rebounds Per Minute

Curtis Perry 1975 34.0 0.350
Paul Silas 1971 36.3 0.345
Deandre Ayton 2021 30.7 0.344
Deandre Ayton 2019 30.7 0.334
Neal Walk 1974 31.1 0.328
Deandre Ayton 2023 30.4 0.328
Charles Barkley 1993 37.6 0.325
Neal Walk 1973 38.4 0.323
Charles Barkley 1995 35.0 0.317
Charles Barkley 1994 35.4 0.316

The eye test, as Dave Burns noted, tells us otherwise. Whichever side of the fence you walk on the Great Ayton Debate, you should acknowledge that too is valid. We’ve witnessed numerous occasions in which the effort did not appear to be there. The opposition would be playing volleyball with the rebounds while Ayton watched like a fan in the front row. It does happen. It is a real thing. It is part of the narrative that DA is aiming to change.

These specific instances, particularly in the modern NBA with our ability to repeatedly share these events over and over, have given the impression that this is the norm rather than the exception. That is what creates the debate. Production over effort. If you look at the statistics, they are telling us otherwise. If we extrapolate them a little bit further and look at the top 10 rebounders per minute this past season, once again utilizing 30 minutes as our line of demarcation, Ayton was the seventh-most productive rebound in the NBA last year.

Rebounds Per Minute: 2022-23

Rudy Gobert 30.7 0.379
Anthony Davis 34.0 0.369
Giannis Antetokounmpo 32.1 0.367
Domantas Sabonis 34.6 0.356
Nikola Jokić 33.7 0.352
Nikola Vučević 33.5 0.329
Deandre Ayton 30.4 0.328
Jarrett Allen 32.6 0.300
Joel Embiid 34.6 0.293
Julius Randle 35.5 0.280

When it comes to the Ayton rebounding debate, two things can be true. He is a statistically able rebounder. And he can do more relative to effort. These factors are what our SBN Reacts readers had to navigate as they answered a question about whether Ayton would set the single season record for rebounds per game.

Given his rate of rebounding, there is a possibility that Ayton can set the franchise mark for most highest rebounding per game average in Suns history. It wouldn’t take much for DA to do so, if he puts forth a little more effort and is more engaged on the boards, which is a possibility this season.

Let’s math it!

Ayton has averaged 30.6 minutes throughout his career and 10.4 rebounds, which equates to .340 rebounds per minute. If he is to average 12.54 rebounds per game, which would put him past Paul Silas’ total in 1971, he would have to log more minutes. At his career .340 rebound per minute rate, he would need to average 6.3 more minutes per game, which would equate to 36.9 minutes.

There is a path, but it is unlikely. Only Jayson Tatum (36.9), Kyrie Irving (37.4), and Pascal Siakam (37.4) averaged that many minutes or more in 2022-23. If Ayton were to break into the top 10 in Suns’ history, however, we would simply need to continue his rebound per minute rate and do so in 32.7 minutes, adding 2.1 minutes to his career average. That is something we could witness in 2023-24.

Of course, this is like navigating the per 36 metric, where we expand and extrapolate numbers in the effort to understand a player’s implied impact. With more minutes comes more fatigue, with more fatigue comes less energy, with less energy comes less desire to grab rebounds. So this is all speculative.

It’s highly improbable that Denadre Ayton sets the single seasons rebounding average record for Phoenix, but it is possible. And it is possible that he breaks into the top 10.

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