Perhaps the biggest improvement in Ayton’s first game against the Sacramento King’s was his improved defensive effort. It was a big weakness for Ayton both coming out of the draft and during his rookie season, and improving at that end is important to his path in becoming a superstar.
The four blocks Ayton recorded in the first game are a good indicator of the increased defensive effort. However, that stat is not a good catch-all metric to display the consistent aggressiveness and awareness that Ayton needs to display.
One of the best ways for Ayton to show this type of defense is by doing what his replacement, Aron Baynes, has been doing in his absence, and that is racking up charges and fouls.
I am not advocating for Ayton to turn into Jarren Jackson Jr. and be in danger of fouling out every game, but he needs to find a happy medium. It is also not smart for someone as important to the Phoenix Suns future, and their current offense to put his body on the line the way that Baynes does each night.
What Ayton needs to do is make more of the hustle plays that Baynes goes for. He needs to contest more shots and be in the right position more often on defense. This might result in more fouls for Ayton which is fine, at least they will all be good fouls and not ones that result from being lazy. With Ayton’s athleticism he will be able to come up with a lot more defensive stops than Baynes if he is able to put himself in the same positions.
The most important thing for Ayton defensively is that he is always engaged and to not shy away from contact. If it results in getting an extra foul or two and even the occasional flagrant, it will be worth it in the long run.