Phoenix Suns: Assessing Deandre Ayton’s First Two Playoff Games

Phoenix Suns, Montrezl Harrell (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Montrezl Harrell (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Going into this playoff series against the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, one preconceived x-factor for the Phoenix Suns was Deandre Ayton. If he can win his matchups against the Lakers’ big men, the Suns will have a good chance to win. In the first two games of the series, Ayton has indeed stepped up and shone in his playoff debut.

Every Suns fan has criticized Ayton at one point or another, and I am no exception. Though it is a small sample size, the young center has responded by elevating himself to another level in this Western Conference first-round series. He is averaging 21 points, 13 rebounds on 87.7 percent shooting. Those numbers are all above his regular-season average, and to see them ascend in his first playoff games against LeBron James and Anthony Davis of all people is nothing short of impressive.

Ayton is still attempting around the same number of field goals in this series as he did in the regular season with 12 as opposed to his average of 10. But the difference in his 14.4 regular season points versus his 21.5 playoff points? The efficiency. This 87.7 field goal percentage is incredible. Many of these points are indeed coming as easy dunks, but if Ayton is getting good looks, who’s to complain?

Many people including myself were long waiting for the day where Ayton turns into a 20 point and 10 rebound monster, but for it to come in the playoffs is all too timely. One stat that sticks out comes from the 2020-2021 regular season, where Ayton only had three back-to-back games with at least 20 points. But in his playoff debut, he notched two consecutive 20 point games straight off the bat, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down ahead Game 3.

That is just his impact on offense though. Ayton has said he wants to be the “NBA’s best young 2-way center to ever play”. His defense on Davis in Game 1 was crucial to the Suns’ victory. Although originally guarded by the smaller Suns forward Jae Crowder, Ayton often switched onto him and held him to a quiet night scoring just 13 points and 31 percent from the field.

During Game 1 the Lakers frequently moved Davis at center prompting Ayton to guard him, eventually controlling that matchup and leading to the Suns taking the win. Additionally, Los Angeles played Montrezl Harrell and Davis at the same time, freeing up Ayton for the better matchup based on size.

Ayton played almost as well in Game 2 holding Davis to only seven made field goals, but he finished with 34 thanks to his 21 trips to the free throw line. The Lakers won that game but Ayton remained a bright spot for the Suns.

No matter each game’s result, one of the biggest reasons for the Suns standing toe to toe with the Lakers has to be Ayton’s ascending performances and he will be important going forward. But still with room to improve, he needs to increase his free throw attempts.

Only attempting two free throws isn’t enough to keep down the defending champs. While it’s out of your control to get more fouls called, Ayton can continue being aggressive in the paint to force LA to foul him in the process. As solid 75 percent career free throw shooter, he is more than capable at the line to get easy points.

Blocking shots comes as another aspect for Ayton to build on. Averaging half a block in this small playoff sample size, he is the anchor to Phoenix’s impressive defense. The 6’11 center is arguably the most athletic and agile player in his position and with that advantage, he should be blocking most of his opponents’ layups. Adding more blocks to his game eliminates the Lakers’ small and quick guards from getting points off the backboard.

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Suns fans have to be more than impressed at what Ayton has done in these first two games. The next obvious question: can he play this way consistently? If the Phoenix can end Los Angeles’ hopes to repeat as champions and win this series, Ayton will certainly be a big reason for that outcome.