Deandre Ayton’s Two-Way Growth Is A Key Ingredient In The Phoenix Suns’ Rapid Rise
Deandre Ayton’s game-winning alley-oop in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals was the crescendo to the all-around growth displayed on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Throughout the Phoenix Suns’ dominant playoff run, rattling off nine consecutive victories on the doorstep of a miraculous NBA Finals berth, Ayton’s performance on both ends of the floor has been their true x-factor. Not only is Ayton the first player in the shot-clock area to register a plus-70 field goal percentage over a 12-game playoff span, but he’s also been a dominant rim protector stymying opponents’ strategies.
When Ayton first entered the league out of the University of Arizona, he was raw as can be on defense. During his rookie season, Ayton was targeted regularly and more often than not looked confused. Fast-forward two years and Ayton has become one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA carrying a playoff-best 40.3 DFG% while going one-on-one against Anthony Davis and MVP Nikola Jokic. Through two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Clippers are shooting 10-of-28 (35.7%) when Ayton is the primary defender.
“Deandre has been playing his ass off the whole playoffs,” Suns star guard Devin Booker said of Ayton’s defensive performance throughout the playoffs after going up 3-0 on the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals. “From going from Anthony Davis first to Jokic, the MVP of the league, those aren’t easy matchups. We’re proud of him and his growth.”
The year-by-year growth is apparent as well from the Suns’ former No. 1 overall pick:
Ayton’s upward trajectory as a rim protector has him positioned to soon become one of the most versatile defensive bigs in the NBA, if he’s not already at that level. Unlike three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, whose inability to stay in front of quicker guards was exposed in this year’s playoffs, Ayton excels at switching, seemingly intimidating smaller players who attempt to drive.
Remember, Ayton is still only 22-years-old. At this rate, Ayton already fixing one of his biggest pre-draft concerns shows how moldable of a talent he truly is. Now, when you throw in Ayton’s elite efficiency on offense, Phoenix has a future two-way star on their roster.
Although the offensive numbers for Ayton in the playoffs don’t look gaudy — 16.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 72.6 TS% — it’s the last number that stands out the most carrying a plus-70 true shooting percentage. And in the Western Conference Finals versus Los Angeles, Ayton is continuously punishing them for running primarily small-ball lineups averaging 22 points and 11.5 rebounds on a 74.7 TS%. When you realize Ayton is putting up these numbers while plays aren’t being run for him (15.9 usage percentage) that’s why what the Suns’ big man is doing right now is so special.
The key trait leading to Ayton’s supreme offensive efficiency traces back to restricted area finishing ability. In the playoffs, Ayton is shooting an incredible 82.4 percent around the basket. The Suns’ big man has showcased marvelous touch from close range since first entering the NBA, but he’s becoming a true master progressing throughout his career.
When Ayton is in rhythm, he’s becoming unstoppable. It was on full display Tuesday night during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals when Ayton finished with 24 points on 12-of-15 shooting.
Ayton is making the leap on the biggest stage. It’s one of the primary reasons why the Phoenix Suns are on the doorstep of making their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993.