3 Phoenix Suns Observations From Game One vs New Orleans Pelicans

Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns Observation #3: Deandre Ayton is Playing for a Max Contract

In the words of DJ Khaled, all the Phoenix Suns do is win, win, win no matter what—and one Suns player has money on his mind.

That one Suns player is starting center Deandre Ayton.

His teammate and fellow draft class member Mikal Bridges got a massive contract extension this offseason, but Ayton did not. Bridges responded to his team’s faith in him this season by becoming the runaway favorite for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

How is Ayton going to respond to the Suns giving him the cold shoulder? His regular season was nothing special. But this playoff run will decide his paycheck. He needs to dominate each of his matchups at the center position for the Suns to justify going deeper into the luxury tax for him.

Lumbering Pelicans center Jonas Valančiūnas resembles the first man Ayton needs to cook, being arguably one of the most underrated offensive-minded centers in the NBA. So far, so good for Ayton, who dominated Valančiūnas from the jump.

Valančiūnas finished with 18 points and 25 rebounds compared to Ayton’s 21 points and nine rebounds. But make no mistake about it, Ayton dominated Valančiūnas in Game 1. The stat lines are often fool’s gold when analyzing particular matchups, and this matchup was no exception.

If Ayton can ever add a consistent 3-point shot to his repertoire, he will get paid like Denver’s Nikola Jokic or Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid this offseason.

Adding this to his game is going to entice another team to sign him to a max offer sheet at the very least. The Suns never needed Ayton to knock down 3-pointers with his role being to finish around the basket and hit the occasional midrange jumper.

But the Suns might need Ayton to hit triples in future playoff matchups. Doing so promises to make Paul and Devin Booker even more unstoppable while going downhill off of Ayton’s ball screens.

Next. 3 Keys to Winning First Round for Phoenix Suns. dark

For right now though, Ayton is playing like his money depends on it—because it is. And the Suns are playing like this is their only shot at an NBA Championship—because it might be.