Phoenix Suns: 5 big awards for the season’s 1st quarter

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Deandre Ayton
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images /

No. 4: The Phoenix Suns’ Dog-Kicker Crystal goes to Deandre Ayton.

This is, in no way, meant to normalize the kicking of one’s dog.

It is a figurative reference. This fine bauble illustrates the frustration Suns fans felt while considering Deandre Ayton’s mammoth potential — and then seeing it occasionally come to fruition this season.

Ayton entered Saturday night’s game in Dallas with a 60 percent success rate on 2-point field-goal tries (let’s just say he’s not yet ready for primetime, hitting only 2-9 from 3-point range), with the same assist average (1.9 per game) as last season.

His 18 points and 17 rebounds in the victory over the Mavericks didn’t hurt the perception that he’s quickly figuring things out.

The primary sign of encouragement, though, is that only three NBA players are putting up better rebounding numbers than is Ayton. The No. 1 overall pick from 2018 was at 12.4 rebounds per game entering Saturday, good for fourth in the league.

On defense, Ayton has flashed promise, too. He’s been part of a Suns defensive renaissance this season after an inconsistent — albeit abbreviated — 2019-20 season. Per advanced stats, the Suns defensive rating has improved from 112.27, ranked 17th in the NBA, to 108.0, good for seventh in the NBA.

It won’t be easy to secure a Western Conference playoff spot — the Lakers, Grizzlies, Jazz and Rockets owned the top four spots in Defensive Rating entering Saturday’s games — but Ayton’s attitude is playing a big role toward his statistical improvement.

Let the sleeping dogs lie.