Phoenix Suns: 5 midseason thoughts

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK)
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK) /

Deandre Ayton needs to step up more so that Chris Paul can take a step back.

The third-year center has continued to show flashes of brilliance and frustrating lapses of passivity. Most people expected to see a leap from Ayton as Paul elevated his play to new levels. The consensus is still out.

Ayton’s defense has been very impressive for a young big this season and shows real signs of growth. On the other hand though, his points and shot attempts per game are down. His free throw rate is still surprisingly low for a center that is not a threat from behind the arc. Most interestingly, the plus minus numbers paint the picture that the team may often play better with Dario Saric or Frank Kaminsky to space the floor. Plus minus has its issues as a statistic, but the eye test suggests Ayton could assert himself more and make a bigger impact.

Paul is the opposite in that his fingerprints are all over any given game. He is averaging the 3rd most minutes on the team at 32 minutes per game. He has clearly been the go-to option down the stretch, but it is important to remember that Paul will be 36 later this year. Few players in history have been so effective at that age and even fewer of those players have done it while measuring in at 6ft tall. Relying on Paul too heavily may burn him out too early on or increase his chance of injury. The last thing the Suns would want is to have Paul get injured right before or early on in the playoffs after spending the whole year developing an offense with him as the engine.

The Suns traded for Paul to compete in the present, but the long-term success of the team still lies on the shoulders of Booker and Ayton. Booker has proven himself many times over by now and the basketball world has slowly come around to see why Suns fans have defended him so ardently. Perhaps Paul can help Ayton develop the intangibles and on-court impact that he is capable of, but only time will tell what kind of player Ayton becomes and where he helps lead the Suns franchise.