Deandre Ayton has been a major discussion point for Phoenix Suns fans over the past few seasons. Although he has played consistently, averaging 16.7 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game for his career, there has been much speculation of Ayton and the Suns parting ways.
From rumors of being traded, signing an offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers and being sent to the bench during a crucial elimination game in the playoffs, Ayton’s time in Phoenix has been a topic of discussion.
The former number one pick has been consistent, as mentioned. However, the acquisitions of both Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal in the past six months mean that the big man is now the fourth scoring option on a stacked team, potentially limiting his touches.
Despite all this, the 2023-2024 season may be the year Ayton has a breakout year, if his FIBA play for the Bahamas is any indication.
Ayton has showcased throughout the past few weeks that he is ready to breakout and prove the doubters wrong. His play for the Bahamas has given him the opportunity to be the primary player on the offensive end, with Ayton taking full advantage.
He has put up great numbers for his national team, helping lead them to the pre-qualifying final at the time of writing. His stellar level of play has included a 22 point, 15 rebound double double in a massive upset win against Argentina. Ayton helped lead his team from 18 points down to win the game 101-89.
In the game, Ayton showed signs of great improvement on both the offensive and defensive ends. He was very efficient on the offensive end, shooting 11-16 and getting into the paint for some nasty dunks.
Ayton has been moving well in transition during his stint for the Bahamas. His showcase of his quick movement and strong finishing at the rim in transition is something that is sure to excite Suns fans.
Ayton has been asserting himself and showcasing that he can be effective as a primary option on the offensive end. While Ayton will not be relied upon offensively as much by the Suns, this level of play showcases that Ayton is being aggressive and can definitely run the offence on any given night if called upon.
As mentioned by Kellan Olson of Arizona Sports, Ayton has shown glimpses of improvements on the defensive end. Argentina’s game style forced Ayton to push out to the perimeter and defend, where he showed some good signs of improvement on that end of the floor.
Using his length and height to disrupt shots and passing lanes is an aspect of Ayton’s game that has needed improvement. This past season Ayton only averaged 0.8 blocks and 0.6 steals per game. If his commitment to the defensive end continues into the NBA regular season, Ayton could be in for a massive jump in numbers and impact.
His defensive play will be aided by the hiring of new head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel’s championship experience and commitment to being a defensive minded coach will help unlock Ayton’s potential on that end of the floor.
Vogel has mentioned how excited he is about the Suns’ potential on the defensive side of the floor, specifically mentioning Ayton and wanting to focus on making him an elite rim protector:
"“I think it starts with the big fella. I’ve always had elite rim protectors, and you can get the job done without that, but boy when you got a guy like that in front of the basket deterring everything that comes to the rim. You just get stronger in everything,”"
This focus on the defensive side of the game will be something Ayton will need to continue to develop if he hopes to be a major part in helping the Suns with their championship aspirations. His play for the Bahamas certainly showcase that he has the ability to dominate on that side of the floor. Vogel’s coaching should only continue to enhance that.
Only time will tell if Ayton is ready to make a big leap this season. The Suns have kept him on the roster, despite the number of rumors and the big contract they matched from the Pacers. With his recent play certainly showing upside, Ayton could very well be the driving factor in helping Phoenix bring home championship gold.