Phoenix Suns: Getting to the line more is key for Ayton

Phoenix Suns Deandre Ayton (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Deandre Ayton (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Through his first two NBA games, Phoenix Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton’s biggest offensive weakness appears to be a lack of trips to the foul line.

In the Phoenix Suns first game of the regular season, Deandre Ayton looked dominant. In their second game, he looked exposed. But in both games he showed the same weakness: the lack of ability to get to the free throw line.

Ayton attempted just two free throws in each of the first two games, for a total of four in 59 minutes of play so far. On those few trips, he shot 3-4, or 75 percent, similar to his college clip of 73.3 percent. That’s less than we’d expect out of a player with his soft touch, but it’s still decent for a big man, and his sweet jumper suggests he can improve on this number.

Post play has been getting fazed out of most NBA offenses, but the Suns were still able to get Ayton a good number of looks down low. And even when he catches at the high post, he still has the ability to work it deeper into the paint. So why hasn’t he gotten to the stripe more?

A lot of that just has to do with inviting contact rather than avoiding it, and for a player with Ayton’s strength, there’s no reason to shy away from getting hit. He has tremendous body control, which would help him finish through contact and get the and-one, and he shoots well enough to capitalize on consistent free throw attempts.

The Phoenix Suns offense would be helped by Ayton getting to the foul line more. Other than the easy points, trips to the line also allow a team to control the tempo of the game. The clock stops, and everyone gets a breather. If Ayton could get fouled more often, other than helping his stat line, it would help the Suns slow things down if an opposing team goes on a run.

Ayton got to the line 5.5 times per game in college, so it’s possible these first two games were a fluke. But the quality of post defense in college compared to the NBA is the difference between trying to hit a 70 mile per hour fastball and a 100 mile per hour fastball. Only the best players can score efficiently in the post in the NBA, and that efficiency relies heavily on volume free throws.

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Hopefully Deandre Ayton can get to the line more in the next few Phoenix Suns games and show that the lack of foul shots in his first pair of games was just an outlier and nothing to worry about.