The Phoenix Suns are clinging to first place in the Western Conference for dear life. It may stay that way for the remainder of the season to center Deandre Ayton excellent play.
Comparing him to dominant centers like Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing would be disrespectful to those NBA legends. Ayton’s particular skill set is more reminiscent of the Houston Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon’s presence in the paint.
His unique combination of footwork and post abilities, basically his jump hook, has proven to be a vital weapon that the Suns have perfected this season. Ayton is now averaging 16.5 points, 10rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in just under 29 minutes per game in 40 appearances, making him one of the NBA’s most potent big men.
Ayton has been one of the most notable beneficiaries of Chris Paul’s mentoring. Since the Suns acquired him before last season, When Paul arrived, Deandre Ayton numbers, particularly his scoring average, took a hit as he lost several touches as latter wanted to give the ball to other teammates to get them rolling.
He did, however, improve in one area, namely his field goal %.
Ayton’s efficiency increased from 54.6 percent in the 2019-20 season to an eye-popping 62.6 percent the following season, thanks to lobs, offensive rebounds, and creating his shot in the paint. He’s improved his field goal percentage to 63.9 this season, which is a small but significant increase that has pushed the Suns to the best record in the league.
According to the analytics, Ayton was a piece of the puzzle during the Suns’ first playoff participation in 11 years, anchoring the team’s defense against players like last year’s MVP Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis.
MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Bahamian had some flaws against the more physical Milwaukee Bucks. The team led by eventual Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the fact that he has taken on the challenge since being drafted is commendable.
Some of Ayton’s critics have observed him in the past. A tendency to be dragged out of the paint and his lack of tenacity in fighting for 50/50 balls. But these are all correctable if the correct emphasis is on them during workouts.
According to the website Cleaning the Glass, Deandre Ayton effective field goal percentage is in the 85th percentile. The majority of his points come from just inside the free-throw line. Therefore, he’s in the 95th percentile.
Ayton is now shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc on 0.3 attempts per game. According to Reddit, it could be a hidden weapon that he employs more frequently during the postseason.
All of them, including teammate Mikal Bridges, received lucrative extensions this summer. Unfortunately, Ayton was unable to win his five-year. Because team owner Robert Sarver was hesitant to approve it, the maximum contract was $172 million.
With Paul expected to miss the rest of the regular season, three-time All-Star Devin Booker will have to assume the role of key playmaker. Ayton will have to be more involved in the offense’s flow.
If the Suns duplicate their success from last season, it’s a practical conclusion that general manager James Jones will commit to Ayton. As their center of the future, they persuaded Sarver to overpay the 23-year-old.
Two reasons Suns must not yet give Deandre Ayton a max contract extension.
1. Ayton must show that he is deserving of a maximum contract.
According to the numbers, Ayton’s max agreement guarantees him a salary of $34.5 million to $41.4 million each year until the 2026-27 season. Over the next five years, that is an absurd amount of money to give to anyone. Ayton still has to prove that he is worth that kind of investment, regardless of how much progress he showed this past season or how good he was during the 2021 NBA playoffs.
In the regular season, Ayton put up great numbers of 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks. The former Arizona star showed significant progress in his third NBA season. Deandre Ayton established himself as the Suns’ defensive anchor. That dispelled the notion that he was a defensive liability, which he was one of his early critics. He was also an effective offensive inside presence for Phoenix, and he became a nightly double-double danger.
Ayton wasn’t the focal point of Phoenix’s offense. During the regular season and playoffs. He only attempted 10field goals on average. Because of his weak offensive game, maybe he will not get many touches. Ayton has yet to develop into the type of player. The Suns can go to the post to get a bucket. Similarly, while he can hit the occasional perimeter shot (from mid-range or beyond the arc), he hasn’t done so frequently enough to be a legitimate danger from that distance. Ayton should improve his scoring with a more sophisticated postgame and more range in his shooting.
2. Phoenix can match any offer for Ayton next summer.
As previously said, the Suns are unlikely to hurry Deandre Ayton re-signing. The 6-foot-11 center will become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2022 if neither party can strike an agreement by October 18th, the rookie extension deadline. As a result, if Ayton gets a new contract with another team next summer, Phoenix will be able to match it. Of course, this provides the Suns with additional time to consider extending that maximum deal to their desired No. 1 pick from the previous season.
The critics who claim Phoenix’s Finals run was a mistake have already spurred the incoming fourth-year big man’s desire. Perhaps the added motivation of demonstrating to the Suns front office that he deserves the max contract will push the Bahamian to improve his game to the All-Star level. If Phoenix hopes to make a return trip to the Finals and exact revenge for their tragic loss a year ago, they’ll need a more motivated and inspired Deandre Ayton.
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