Deandre Ayton has Phoenix Suns fans thinking positive vibes at the moment a week after catching their wrath. An inside look at his numbers for the 2019/2020 season show fans reason for more optimism.
An analytical look at the Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton shows a second year player that has made significant strides in rebounding and defensive awareness. While his recent 26 point and 21 rebound game against the Knicks was the highlight of his abbreviated 11 game season (game recap by Ian Millimann), the season statistics show vast growth in some of his weaker attributes.
Draft experts and player evaluators were most concerned with Deandre Ayton’s defensive ability coming out of the University of Arizona. His offensive prowess was thought to translate well to the NBA, but he had poor defensive fundamentals. He also primarily defended power forwards in his lone college season, not the center position as he would in the NBA.
Let’s take a look at some defensive statistics comparing his rookie and sophomore seasons:
STAT 18/19 Season 19/20 Season
Def FG% 48.7% 34%
Def FG% Under 6 Feet 62.8% 44.6%
Blocks Per Game 0.9 1.6
Block Percentage 2.6% 4.6%
The eye test is what led me to look into Deandre Ayton’s advanced defensive statistics. Outside of a few highlighted moments in his rookie season, Deandre played soft on defense and rarely used his unique athleticism and length to help the team defense. This year seems to show a more engaged Ayton on defense, with harder challenges and more physicality than the norm. The statistics back this up.
His blocks have almost doubled in his sophomore campaign with a similar rise in his block percentage. Surprisingly, if he qualified with games played, his 4.6% block percentage would have him tied with Rudy Gobert through 1/16/2020.
More impressive is the outstanding defensive field goal percentage stats that Deandre Ayton has put up through his eleven games this season. He’s improved the overall field goal percentage opposing players shoot against him from 48.7% last year to a ridiculous 34% this season. That’s third in the NBA for players who have played in more than 10 games this season; outpacing players such as Karl-Anthony Towns (44.4%), Rudy Gobert (39.7%), Clint Capela (47.2%), and Joel Embiid (48.6%).
Just as impressive is opposing players’ field goal percentage when shooting inside six feet. For the 19/20 season, Deandre is allowing opposing players to shoot only 44.6% in this range. That improved from 62.8% last season and would rank 5th this season of players 6’10’’ or taller who have played more than 10 games.
It’s possible, even likely, the statistics noted are not sustainable for the season. His overall defensive rating of 103 is below the league average (100); but much better than the 113.3 from last year. The overall poor rating is a direct result of his limited defensive awareness which leads to poor defensive rotations. Young big men generally improve their defensive rotations with time.
The numbers do show a 21-year-old center who is very effective at deterring easy baskets when he is in the paint. If he improves his defensive rotations, Deandre Ayton should be a very good defensive center in the NBA.
Deandre Ayton is on trajectory to be an elite rebounder in the NBA. Comparing his rookie season with his sophomore season:
STAT 2018/2019 Season 2019/2020 Season
Offensive Reb per Game 3.1 3.7
Def Reb per Game 7.1 8.3
Total Rebounds per Game 10.2 12.0
Def Reb % 26.1% 30%
Off Reb % 11.1% 12.9%
Total Reb % 18.5% 21.2%
Let’s put the 19/20 season (11 games) into perspective. If Ayton qualified with minutes played on the NBA leaderboard, he would rank 5th in offensive rebounds per game, 11th in defensive rebounding per game, and 8th overall with his 12 rebounds per game.
The advanced rebounding metrics are just as kind to Deandre. His 30% defensive rebounding percentage would rank 10th this season, with his 12.9% offensive rebounding percentage coming in 8th overall.
Deandre Ayton came into the NBA with elite offensive footwork, athleticism, length, and offensive skillset. His ability to score in the NBA was never in question and was reinforced with one of the most efficient rookie offensive seasons from an NBA big.
Deandre Ayton’s NBA ceiling could be decided directly on his defensive ability and engagement to improve. A slight dip in his rookie season offensive numbers has been more than offset by improvements on the glass and more importantly, the defensive numbers that show a vastly improved agitator in the paint who both blocks and deters shots.
Ayton’s defensive ability and toughness have improved in his sophomore season, showing what Phoenix Suns fans what they want: Deandre Ayton is getting better.