Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton can elevate his game by inviting contact

Phoenix Suns Deandre Ayton (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Deandre Ayton (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton has plenty of offensive potential, and he can improve quickly by inviting contact around the basket.

Phoenix Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton is playing 30.6 minutes per game, 13th among all NBA centers. Despite that, he’s attempting just 2.4 free throws per game, which is 31st among centers.   Part of the issue is the Suns getting the ball to Ayton down low, but an even bigger reason is Ayton’s unassertiveness offensively for large stretches of the game.

There isn’t a center in the league playing more minutes and taking fewer free throws than Ayton. There are five centers attempting more free throws per game than Ayton while also playing at least ten fewer minutes, including former Suns lottery pick Alex Len.

What makes it even more disappointing is that he actually shoots foul shots pretty well. His 75.3 percent is nothing special, but it’s high enough that trips to the line for Ayton are still more efficient than most shots from the floor.

Considering Ayton shoots well from the line, there’s no reason for him to avoid contact. And on top of that, he also finishes well through contact, possessing both the strength and body control to finish through fouls and get and-ones.

Any list of the the NBA’s top centers has to start with Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis in some order. It’s no coincidence that those two are also the leaders in free throws attempted among centers, with Embiid taking 10.2 and Davis taking 8.6 per contest.

Embiid and Davis are far and away the scoring leaders among centers, and they’re among the best defenders in the NBA. Elite defense isn’t realistic for Ayton in the short term, but that kind of scoring is. In a few years, it will be a disappointment if Ayton isn’t one of the top scoring centers in the league. He has the talent to potentially get there.

A common criticism on Deandre Ayton is his perceived lack of effort. The easy-to-make comparison to Richaun Holmes‘ energy doesn’t help free Ayton of that narrative. Ayton could change this by being more aggressive on both ends of the floor, starting by inviting contact on the offensive end.

Ayton getting to the line more often would improve the Phoenix Suns’ ability to dictate pace, and his efficiency from the stripe would help the team hang in the game on poor shooting nights.. It would also be an opportunity to get talented bigs around the league into foul trouble.

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Deandre Ayton shows a great deal of offensive potential, but a major weakness is his ability to get to the foul line. Working on inviting contact when he drives or posts up would immediately pay dividends for the Phoenix Suns and elevate Ayton’s game.