There have been times this season when Deandre Ayton has lacked aggression, but he seems to be turning a corner over the last five games.
On Saturday night, the Phoenix Suns played the most exciting game of the NBA season. Watching the game, you’d never be able to tell it was between an 8-24 Suns team and a 12-20 Washington Wizards team. Ultimately, after three overtimes, the Suns were unable to extend their winning streak to five, falling to Washington 149-146.
It was a disappointing game for sure. Missed foul shots cost the Suns down the stretch. It took 63 minutes to decide the winner. It would’ve been so nice to beat Trevor Ariza with his new team. It would’ve been ever nicer to get that fifth straight win. And worst of all was the way the Suns lost, mismanaging the final possession and not getting off a game tying shot before the buzzer.
But there are plenty of positives to take away from this game and the last five games as a whole. The Suns young core has fully stepped up its game, including Josh Jackson, who had been the worst player in the NBA for the opening stretch of the season. They found an effective rotation built of almost all young players. And most importantly, their effort was the best it’s been all year.
Of anyone on the team, the player who stepped up his effort the most was Deandre Ayton. Saturday was a prime example. Ayton had 26 points and 17 rebounds, including an enormous eight offensive rebounds, in 38 minutes. He also got to the line five times, a decent total and double his season average. He threw his body around all night, eventually leading to an understandable and acceptable sixth foul to end his night in the second overtime.
Ayton was cleaning the glass all game, creating extra possessions for the Suns in a close game where they needed every chance they could get. He was on the floor for loose balls during the overtime period. He was finishing through contact around the basket. It was everything we’ve wanted to see from him all season.
Defensively, Ayton wasn’t very good. He had a block and a steal, but opposing center Thomas Bryant literally didn’t miss a shot, going 14-14 from the field for 31 points, far and away a career high for him. Ayton has the potential to become a solid defender, but right now he’s not, and it won’t happen overnight. And that’s okay. All anyone can ask is for Ayton to play his hardest, and he certainly did that tonight.
Ayton is extremely talented, but at times he’s been frustrating to watch. There were times this season he seemed disengaged for long stretches, and he made a comment implying he gave up that led to his only game coming off the bench this season. We all hoped to see a bit more of a killer instinct from Ayton.
Lately, we’ve gotten just that. Ayton’s energy over the last five games has been by far his best of the season, and he’s been asserting himself consistently on offense. There are still areas of his game he can improve, but as a rookie, none of those are too concerning right away. The biggest and most legitimate concern with Ayton was his motor, and it looks like he may be finally turning a corner in regards to his on-court presence.