In the last 12 months, the Suns have had changes in their: head coach, point guard, ownership, bench crew, and in many other places. However, outside of Devin Booker one thing that has remained the same: the big guy down low, Deandre Ayton, the Bahamian monster, ready to pulverize all that is in his way.
Center, 6’11” 250 pounds, 25-years old
Going into his sixth season as a professional, Deandre Ayton is once again projecting to be a focal point of Phoenix’s success. After an offseason of trade rumors around his name, the University of Arizona Alum is poised to take another leap in his game with the center whisperer, Frank Vogel, as head coach.
Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million dollar contract offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers a summer ago that was immediately matched by the Phoenix Suns, keeping Ayton contractually under the Suns salary cap until the 2026-2027 season.
His contract average $33.2 million, which is the seventh highest for a center in the NBA.
Throughout his career Deandre Ayton has always been a productive scorer. Skilled with a nice touch, Ayton continues to take smart shots around the basket, leading to easy points for Phoenix. He has helped balance out an offense that has been predominantly initiated by guards the past few seasons. Last year Ayton shot 58.9% from the field, ranking ninth in the entire NBA for best percentage.
Ayton is also a dominant rebounder. Over the last three seasons, the big man ranks 14th in double-doubles. When motivated and in the right situation, Ayton can compete with the league’s best on the glass. With Phoenix now thinner than ever down low and projecting to be worse defensively than they have been in a few years, it’s important that he stays dialed in on the boards to prevent second-chance opportunities for other teams.
He’s also a solid free throw shooter in the regular season. While only taking three-a-game last year, Ayton shot a respectable 76% from the free throw line in the regular season, making him someone you can trust in close games down the stretch.
Motor, motor, motor.
It’s been a problem with him for a couple years now, but there have been numerous occasions in the past few seasons about Ayton’s drive when it matters most. His apparent issues with Monty Williams are now irrelevant with Frank Vogel as head coach. It will be important for them to create a strong relationship early on so the center can help the team be the player that they believe he can be when he is locked in, the player that they drafted with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Performances like his Game 7 against Dallas in 2022 and his Game 3 stinker against the Denver Nuggets this past season need to be things of the past for Ayton and the Suns to get over the hump and win the franchise’s first championship. With Frank Vogel, a coach who has helped numerous bigs take their games to another level, it is a plausible scenario that he doesn’t shrink in the bigger moments.
Playoff free throws. While Ayton is a solid free throw shooter in the regular season, the playoffs are a different story. Last year in ten playoff games, Ayton shot an abysmal 52.2% from the line. In 2022, Ayton shot a poor 63.6% from the charity stripe, both horrific percentages.
One Key Factor
How he plays defensively. Phoenix has a lot of interesting defensive pieces this year. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are legit defenders, Josh Okogie may be limited on offense, but he plays super strong on defense, and Keita Bates-Diop, an offseason signing, appears to be a versatile defender who has the ability to guard multiple positions.
None of these players, nor any player on the Phoenix Suns can have the impact that Deandre Ayton can have on the Suns defensively this year. He needs to stay mentally locked in at all times, even if players like Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid are busting his chops, even if he’s not getting the ball as much as he likes, an issue that many big men experience, he must stay determined and committed to anchoring and protecting the paint from any opposition that cares to walk in on his rule.
With Monty Williams gone it almost feels like a fresh start for Deandre Ayton. I do believe that Vogel’s presence will for sure help the center get better and be more consistent on a game-to-game basis when it comes to effort. However, with too many mouths to feed in this Suns offense, I expect a similar level of production on the offensive end, with Ayton remaining the interior presence that can help Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, and Kevin Durant operate at their peaks but not overstepping them.
On the defensive end I expect Ayton to be strong and a net-plus, being apart of another 50 win Suns team for the third time in his career.