Determining the Ceiling of Suns’ Deandre Ayton Before He Hits the Market

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Deandre Ayton has been the subject of nonstop trade rumors since he and the Phoenix Suns lost in the Western Semifinals this summer. I still think it’s very unlikely that the Suns will deal him, but if Ayton is about to go on the cutting block, the Suns need to know what they’re giving up.

Ayton, outside of playing for the Suns, is known as the player drafted ahead of Luka Doncic. In hindsight, Doncic was and remains the better player, but what is it with Ayton that made him the top pick to begin with?

Stretching out to six-foot-eleven and weighing 250 pounds, Ayton is nimble for a big, a solid defender, athletic, fast, possesses a soft touch, and stands equipped with a variety of post moves.

Outside of Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, no other big man carries as complete a game as Ayton. However, his consistency and motor has been a recurring issue since his rookie season.

Especially this past year, it was blanketed by the team’s overall and abundant success. However, Ayton’s energy became a clear problem in Game 7 vs the Dallas Mavericks. We do not know exactly why Ayton’s aggressiveness and eventual minutes dropped off during that Dallas series, but his contract situation likely did not help.

When Ayton is focused, he embodies a scoring hub on offense. When his midrange jumper looks crisp, he becomes unguardable.

Ayton’s hook shot is automatic, shooting 66.0 percent on such shots this past season. Of those makes, 26.0 percent were unassisted as well. DA shot a respectable 36.8 percent on triples albeit a small sample of just 19 attempts. He rounded things out shooting a solid 45.2 from the midrange as well.

Ayton ended up averaging 17.2 points per game for the 2021-22 season, the second highest of his career while averaging the fewest amount of touches. His numbers throughout his first four years illustrate noteworthy growth, only capped off by his figures from this past year:

  • 2018-19, 51.2 touches per game and 16.3 points per game
  • 2019-20, 60.3 touches per game and 18.2 points per game
  • 2020-21, 46.2 touches per game and 14.4 points per game
  • 2021-22, 42.6 touches per game and 17.2 points per game

No matter how you cut up the offense, Ayton resembled an efficient tool for the Suns especially during each of his past two years. He generates high percentage shots due to his size and vision. He does make bad and or risky plays, hence why he is often seen as a good, but not great player.

On defense, we all know Ayton is already good and has the potential to be great, mainly evidenced by his defense on Nikola Jokic two postseasons ago. This season looked rough though, mainly due to his inconsistent effort. But nonetheless, he still held his opponents to a modest 48.4 percent from the field.

Ayton sacrificed touches for the sake of winning because the Suns possess talented players one through four. Like most young guns, Ayton has holes in his game though, mainly being free throws, passing, and consistent effort.

The first of those two can be improved upon, and the latter is up in the air. If Ayton wants more on offense, he needs to apply a more consistent effort overall because the Suns aren’t winning when he becomes a polarizing player.

If the Suns decide they indeed want to ship out Ayton, they’ll want to sign him to a max contract, then trade him later on. Phoenix will get better value that way rather than the slew of rumored players only on the trade block now like Jakob Poeltl, Myles Turner, and others.

Ayton resembles a talent with potential, so he should either come in exchange for older players already better than Ayton, or younger players with similar potential not even sniffing mediocrity.

A new rumor has also surfaced from the Empire of the Suns Podcast, stating that Ayton wants to play as a forward in more of a Giannis-like role instead of being shoe-horned as a center. This rumor is backed by Ayton having mentioned on multiple occasions that he sees himself as a forward.

Next. Who Would Have Won Conference Finals MVP for Suns in 2021?. dark

If this is true, it resembles a major potential change in how the team operates considering Chris Paul’s strong grip on the orchestration of Phoenix’s offense. That’s a lot to unpack, but no matter what happens, both sides need to figure out their contract situation first.