The Phoenix Suns started Deandre Ayton at power forward on Friday night against the New York Knicks. At least, on paper. In reality, not so much.
There has been a background, albeit somewhat whispered debate throughout Ayton’s suspension and Aron Baynes‘ emergence about whether or not Ayton would resume his starting duties upon his return.
One thought during this discussion was if Baynes should start at power forward alongside Ayton at center. This seemed to be the most likely scenario if the two were to pair up in the front court. However, the general consensus has always been, who should start at center, Ayton or Baynes?
While there was talk before the season surrounding the notion Ayton could see time at the power forward spot, the talk primarily revolved around him shooting the 3. Since he has shown no indication through his first few games back he will make that part of his repertoire (he much prefers ill-advised 18-footers), the idea of starting him at power forward never really floated around amongst thousands of Suns coaches on Twitter.
But for the only Phoenix Suns coach that matters, Monty Williams, it did.
Although, after watching the first few minutes of the game, Monty seemed to keep his center outside the 3-point line and his power forward exclusively in the paint.
It reminds me of one of Coach John Calipari’s famous quotes surrounding his recruitment of Anthony Davis. To paraphrase:
"“When I was recruiting Anthony Davis, he told me he wanted to play shooting guard. And you never want to lie to kids, so I told him, ‘Sure, you can play the 2. But just so you know, I post up my shooting guards a lot.'”"
In an era of modern basketball that skews to position-less players, traditional roles can become a bit of a blur, and exact positions are in name only.
Deandre Ayton himself echoed this sentiment after the game:
"“Coach is smart. He did it in a way where I’m a four on paper, but on the court, I’m still a five in a way (smiling). I guard the 4s, but I still do the 5 offense, not shooting.”"
So like most great headlines, the details become less thrilling one you drill down into them.
The big question moving forward is how productive this lineup can be, regardless of the position designations.
According to Monty Williams, they used that starting lineup against the Knicks without even practicing, which might explain why things looked a little disjointed. Like most things NBA, it will all come down to match ups in terms of how long they can be be on the court together.
The underlying dilemma is both Baynes and Ayton need to play and maximizing each of their minutes is a puzzle Monty is trying to figure out. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this developing conundrum and see how he elects to play it.
Suns fans will get their chance when the Memphis Grizzlies come to town Sunday night for the second game of this long home stand.