Could Deandre Ayton at power forward work for the Phoenix Suns?

Phoenix Suns General Manages James Jones recently noted that Deandre Ayton could play power forward. Might that actually work in the new offense?

When Deandre Ayton was selected first overall by the Phoenix Suns, the immediate expectation was that he would enter the league at the position his body appears to be best built for: center.

However, Ayton, who played a lot of power forward at the University of Arizona alongside center Dusan Ristic, himself even noted early last season that he would like to play power forward if given the opportunity.

Former Head Coach Igor Kokoskov refused, demanding that Ayton learn and develop his inside game before moving to his outside one.

But now with a new Head Coach, Monty Williams, and the strategic working tandem of he and Jones (something that was not the case with Jones and Igor presumably being that the now Assistant with Sacramento was the favored hire of former of General Manager Ryan McDonough), a new direction can be taken with the now second-year player.

The question is, could it work?

It depends: can he shoot for the outside at a clip that would make him effective enough to demand a defender glued to him at all times?

If you watched any games last season, you did see that he was not fond of banging in the post (on either end of the court).

While he was originally compared to Shaquille O’Neal, the stark difference between the two was that Shaq loved to use his body as a battering ram to get his way, while Ayton appears to prefer a much lighter touch.

This is equally as apparent on the defensive-end of the court as Shaq averaged a whopping 3.5 blocks per game his rookie season whereas Ayton managed a meager 0.9.

In sports, as in life, one generally would prefer to hide their weaknesses to prevent it’s blatant exploitation. Therefore, Keeping Ayton out of the post where he is most uncomfortable would presumably allow for his offensive game to take off, thus making him a more explosive scorer.

He’s always going to have his moments in the paint where he size will allow him to dominate smaller defenders, but if he is pushed out on the wing or even the perimeter, and he is an effective shooter, not only does that open up scoring opportunities for him, but it keeps the lane more free for the drivers and slashers Jones is obviously attempting to acquire a bulk of.

On the opposite side of the ball, while one cannot necessarily be a “power forward” defensively, by playing him side-by-side with center Aron Baynes, for instance, aside from switches, the combination at the same time will too keep Ayton on the perimeter, avoiding the banging down low that is obviously a weakness.

Thinking long-term as well, while Dario Saric is here now,  there is no guarantee that he will be a Phoenix Sun for the long-haul.

Although entirely dependent upon how well he succeeds in Monty’s offense this season, he may be a long-term fixture, but if he does recede into the darkness and sign elsewhere in 2020, then Phoenix will be out of a presumably capable stretch-four.

Let’s not fool ourselves either: Frank Kaminsky is not the answer.

Finding legitimate stretch-fours (which appears to be what James Jones is targeting for power forward) is far more difficult than finding a big body for down low.

Of course, I personally argued for the draft selection of Ayton with the perspective that finding a legitimate scoring center is more difficult to find than a passing point guard. The truth is though that Aron Baynes could  hypothetically be a starting center for Phoenix doing all of the defensive things that Ayton doesn’t want or can’t do while allowing Ayton’s offensive game to be the bulk of his focus.

Baynes wouldn’t play 35min a game, but considering that he could at least wear down a starting center early allowing Ayton to keep his legs for the later stretches of the game, a philosophy and system could be worked out to accommodate such a rotation.

Fortunately, I believe that Jones’ quote about playing Ayton at power forward really did seem to simply be a reference about playing power forward in short spurts.

That said, such an idea would also imply that he would do it more often in 2019-20 than he did his rookie season.

Could that mean that in close, defensive struggles, Baynes will need to be in to counter a big, physical center, allowing Ayton to focus on the offensive end rather than exhaust himself (or potentially get himself pulled due to foul issues)? In those situations would Williams be comfortable enough playing Ayton at the four to allow such match ups to take place?

Very likely, although certainly not at the expense of the flow of the offense over a complete game.

I do think that Ayton is a center and is there to stay, although it would be nice to see him be a little bit more physical on both ends of the floor, while still occasionally stepping out to take a 3.

A perfect example of what he could  evolve into is a Karl-Anthony Towns-type player rather than Shaq, eventually attempting between three and four 3’s per game (Towns averaged 4.6 making 40.0% in 2018-20), while still playing the majority of his game down low (Ayton attempted 47.8% of his shots from 3-feet and in; last season Towns attempted a career-low 29.7% from that range; while Shaq’s career-average was 53.6%).

Jones did also note in his interview that Ayton is not a “center” but is a “modern-center,” which would seemingly imply that he might evolve more into the Towns style of play rather than the Shaq.

Either way, his potential ability to play power forward does mean that they expect him to be a very versatile offensive player, which if the case, will only mean that he still has a chance to be one of the more dominant bigs in the league today – and in the end, isn’t that really all that the Phoenix Suns and their fans want?