Deandre Ayton had an incredible second quarter against the Denver Nuggets, but was otherwise offensively invisible. Here’s how he can get and stay dominant, and how Devin Booker needs to help.
The Phoenix Suns are proving – fiiiiiiiiiinally – that there is light at the end of this tunnel of losing, and the two players who are at the heart of it is Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker. Booker has the scorer’s mentality, currently tied for the 3rd highest scoring averaging in franchise history, and Ayton has the skill-set to be the kind of inside player that defenses not only have to specifically scheme against to stop, yet still have no idea how to.
There is just one key ingredient missing to upping their already generally consistent play:
Ayton needs to play angry, and Booker needs to feed into it.
If you play NBA2K19, you have undoubtedly heard the in-game interview of Kobe Bryant (multiple times). Honestly, it is a fantastic interview, and is one of the reasons why last season I wrote that the Suns should approach Kobe to be their next head coach.
One of the fascinating topics that Kobe broaches in this interview is the fact that, as a primary ball-handler, he had to read his teammates both before and in the opening minutes of a game to know if he needed to jump out to a quick offensive start, or if he was able to defer to a hot teammate early, saving his own energy for the fourth quarter – should it be needed at all.
Then, much like Michael Jordan, if Kobe felt he was wronged in some way; an opponent disrespected him somehow: an official made a bad call or didn’t offer a continuation or free throws when he believed that it was warranted; he would take it upon himself to immediately take the game into his hands, dominating his opposition offensively.
Devin Booker has been adding that level of anger to his game, seen most recently in the team’s past two outings.
Against both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, Devin Booker has been fouled on a 3-point shot but not sent to the line. Both times the official ruled that the foul occurred on the floor. Both times Booker heavily protested. And both times Booker was right.
Both times Devin Booker immediately found a next gear; a next level; he tapped into the rage tree; whatever, and on the subsequent possession, Booker stared down the opposition and scored an angry bucket.
Like Kobe, Booker read the situation, and played angry, to his team’s benefit.
Against the Nuggets, Ayton had a breakout second quarter scoring 24 points, looking like (after an 0-1 first quarter) that he was on his way to 50.
But it never happened. He was “held” to 33.
The crazy thing is, it appeared that he was held back by his teammates.
Deandre Ayton has certainly had those games in his life where he felt as hot as the proverbial sun and just knew that every time he got the ball in his hands he was going to score.
That was last night too: he shot 16-20.
That’s 80% for you non-math majors.
The crazy thing is, 13 of those attempts were in the second quarter, of which he made 12!
Now why would anger have to do anything with this?
Well, wouldn’t you be ticked off if after going 12-13 in one quarter (and after only going only 0-1 in the first), and you didn’t immediately a get a series of touches early in the third and finished with only 6 attempts in the entire second half?
Granted some of that is coaching, maybe Igor Kokoskov didn’t make a strong enough point to continue going to the hot man at halftime; some of it is selfishness, maybe some players were looking for their own first before looking to Ayton; some of it is defense – although Ayton can score on anybody; some of it is also flow of the game, Phoenix essentially has to be in a half court offense to get Ayton the ball on a given possession.
Any and all of those reasons could be why Ayton was suddenly muted in the second half.
So what could have fixed it?
The Mamba mentality: getting angry.
Sure, Ayton would have had to have gotten “angry” at his teammates, and the last thing Suns fans want to see is a disgruntled team. However, he could have shown some emotion to demand the ball and take over the game himself.
But beyond that, Booker could have also taken another page out of the Mamba mentality rule book and read Ayton the way Kobe used to read Pau Gasol – and got him the ball.
This is a fun young core, and Booker and Ayton are the two prime pieces on the roster. They are young and both learning each other – Ayton too is still learning his place and the NBA game.
But when Booker shows anger he scores the ball.
Ayton needs to show such anger, and Devin Booker should start looking for him more.