Buzzer beating alley-oop finishes and lockdown defense against the game’s best centers will get you a punched ticket to the NBA Finals, but not a rookie contract extension—at least according to the Phoenix Suns.
Earlier today, the deadline to lock up Deandre Ayton and avoid an awkward “prove it” season, capsulated by restricted free agency, came and went.
Even though everybody expected the Suns and their former first overall pick to reach an agreement at some point this offseason, that last bit of sand trickled through the extension period’s hourglass this afternoon, with Ayton still empty-handed.
Instead, Phoenix extended Mikal Bridges this past weekend. He contributed mightily toward his team’s Western Conference conquest last year, averaging 13.5 points per game while shooting 42.5 percent from three. However, the Suns still took Ayton several picks before Bridges a few years ago during the 2018 NBA Draft, making their choice to grant him a deal over Ayton still somewhat puzzling.
But Phoenix’s decision to also ink a deal with sharpshooter Landry Shamet hit more like an earthquake, rather than unexpected gust of wind.
Shamet has yet to play a single regular season minute for the Suns, having been with the team for only about two months now. He came over from the Brooklyn Nets, completing a deal that sent away hard-nosed point guard Jevon Carter and a first round pick.
Calling these decisions “controversial” simply does not do them enough justice. The Suns just finished off a season proving their young core as arguably the game’s best, but they now look disinterested in maintaining it.
What have the Phoenix Suns Taught us by Extending Landry Shamet over Deandre Ayton?
With their actions today, the Suns made one thing clear above all else: they want to play the modern game.
Ever since Michael Jordan’s emergence, team’s have broken away from the basketball’s oldest unwritten rule, which argues that you need a star big man to win a title. Over the last five seasons though, this trend spiked dramatically, with teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets essentially ignoring the center position entirely, playing smaller guys like P.J. Tucker and Draymond Green down low.
This “small ball” ideology works in accordance with the more modern, analytically-minded approach to the game, which values the 3-pointer and floor spacing above above all else. To the traditional center, those attributes are foreign, naturally leading to the position’s fall from grace.
An ability to shoot the triple is the only thing able to save bigs at this point, hence why players like Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, and Jokic all still hold value. However, Ayton remains estranged to the long range shot, averaging just 0.2 3-point attempts per game for his career.
Having considered all this, the Suns chose to lock up their best 3-point shooter last year in Bridges, and another promising one in Shamet, rather than Ayton—who at this point still lacks the modern game’s most appreciated traits.
The Suns clearly stand committed to building a team this way, even favoring it over Ayton and his ridiculously high upside. Quite frankly, this feels odd, especially considering how modern basketball thinkers despise the mid-range jump shot, which remains a “go to” offensive tool for both Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
This also goes without saying, but Suns also look financially crunched right now with Paul’s new contract and Cameron Johnson becoming eligible for extension as well next year. However, if they really saw Ayton as a priority, they surely could have figured it out between all their transactions this offseason.