Deandre Ayton had some good moments this season, but when games mattered most, he slipped back into bad habits. That has to change.
The Phoenix Suns played some of their most meaningful, yet ultimately meaningless games in the Disney bubble. Every game was a must-win and it was the closest to a playoff atmosphere Devin Booker has seen in this professional career.
Under this pressure, Devin Booker shined. He averaged 30 points per game compared to 26.1 points per game in the pre-coronavirus season on his way to making First-Team All-Bubble and could have arguably been named Bubble MVP.
Booker made it clear that when the stakes are high, he is at his best.
Deandre Ayton will need to step up in big games for the Phoenix Suns.
Comparing anyone to Devin Booker might not be fair, but Deandre Ayton did not have nearly as much success under the bubble spotlight.
He saw his points per game drop from 19 pre-hiatus to 15 in the bubble, and his rebounds fall from 12 per game down to 9.5.
When the games matter most, the best players step up their game; they don’t shy away. Unfortunately, there were so many times during the bubble where Ayton played passively instead of meeting the moment.
Phoenix Suns fans are somewhat used to seeing this lack of aggression, as it has been a point of frustration since the first time he stepped on the court in a professional uniform. However, Ayton played passively even for his standards, especially on the offensive end in the final few games when the Suns had all the momentum.
In the final four games, Ayton averaged just 11.8 points per game, which was just fifth-best on the team, just ahead of newcomer Cameron Payne. He also didn’t make a 3 on his four attempts, which was the one area early in the bubble where he showed more impetus.
Things that are shiny and new are more fun, I suppose.
Four (or even eight) games in an absurdly abnormal situation do not define a player. The sample size is way too small and who knows how quarantine may have affected his psyche. However, I can’t help but watch other stars shine in the playoffs and wonder if that level of killer instinct is inside the Phoenix Suns’ big man.
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On top of this lack of aggressiveness, we also saw the other side of Deandre Ayton that has haunted him in his young career: his immaturity, or perhaps more poignantly, his absent-mindedness.
Ayton forgot to get COVID tested the day before the Suns’ game with the Oklahoma City Thunder and it caused chaos before the early afternoon game. The end result was a rushed, late arrival to the arena and him missing the first quarter.
Monty Williams defended his young star, as any good coach should, saying he, himself, has almost forgotten to get tested too sometimes, but it is yet another example of Ayton simply not being mentally present.
Hopefully, Ayton is watching guys like Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, and Jayson Tatum in these playoffs, and taking notes on the type of focus and aggressiveness that is required to excel in the NBA in pressure-packed moments.
He will need it when the Phoenix Suns make the playoffs next season