DeAndre Ayton was taken first in the 2018 NBA draft, two choices before Luka Doncic and four before Trae Young. It was easy to criticize the selection and Ayton as a player, considering how good Doncic and Young are as players. But in his first two seasons inthe league, the Suns didn’t surround him with a good team, but more specifically a good point guard. Ayton is a good low-post scorer, but that is not what wins basketball games in today’s NBA.
He is more than just a scorer on the low block, as he has excellent touch in the lane and a sneaky efficient mid-range jumper that makes him a threat to drive to the basket. Most of all, he is great as a roll man in the pick and roll and great at running in transition and being in a position with his soft hands to catch passes and finish with his nice touch in the lane.
Last season the Suns shocked everyone in the Bubble and went undefeated behind an explosion from Devin Booker and a better all-around offense. The only true point guard on that roster was Ricky Rubio, who was solid, but there were no backups, and Rubio was not the best backcourt running mate for Booker. The Suns went and addressed this issue in the offseason and traded for aging point god Chris Paul.
Ever since CP3 left the Clippers, people said he was going to be washed up, but in the four seasons since leaving LA, he has exceeded expectations at every stop along the way and proved the haters wrong. He has attributed a lot of this to his switch to a vegan diet. He got nicked up in the first round against the Lakers this year, but that was a freak shoulder incident, and he seems to be healing well from it. Paul is a true floor general and seems to have unlocked the Sun’s offense. Whenever he is on the court and handling the ball, the Suns will get a good shot. Whether that is Chris pulling up from mid-range, driving and kicking to a shooter, or finding his floater in the lane.
Ayton and Paul together have been a joy to watch this season, as Paul understands the big man so well. He understands that to keep him motivated on defense and committed to running the floor and rolling hard to the basket, he must humor Ayton and give him multiple post touches every night. Humor isn’t the best word, as Ayton is efficient in the post. He shoots 57% on hook shots and 46% on fadeaways (regular season). He also shot 50% on shots between 8-16 feet during the season, with some of those being on shots he takes after facing up from a post touch.
What makes Ayton and Paul a special duo is how much they love to run the fast break, and how efficient both of them are at filling lanes and making good reads that lead to great shots. For being six one on a good day, CP3 is an exceptional rebounder, and he doesn’t allow the defense to get set and immediately looks to push the pace and gain a numbers advantage.
Teams typically have to run true centers against the Suns to stop Ayton from getting any shot he wants inside on offense, but typically those centers just lumber up and down the court and don’t have the stamina or athleticism to keep up with Ayton. DA has recognized this fact and as soon as he grabs a rebound, or a teammate does, he either outlets it to a ball-handler and takes off sprinting, or just starts cooking down the court and almost always beats his man down. He then puts his hands up, showing that he is ready for a pass.
If he does receive the pass, he is excellent at keeping the ball above his head so smaller defenders can’t reach in and strip him clean. Paul is excellent at hitting Ayton in stride for a layup or dunk and the two are must-see TV when on the court together.
Last night the two played exceptional, even though they didn’t light up the stat sheet. Paul had 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 11 assists, while Ayton did his part with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Paul only had 7 points going into the 4th quarter but decided to take the game into his own hands, and more actively look for his shot. He had two almost identical shots from the right elbow on two consecutive possessions, and then looked like he was trying to get to that spot again but instead blew by the much slower Campazzo and got an and-one floater to go down for him. And then the next possession it was obvious he was feeling it, so he got Paul Milsap on him in an isolation and drilled a difficult step-back three from the left-wing. In four straight possessions, he went from having 7 points to 17. That goes to show just what Paul’s numbers would be like if he didn’t make the focal point of his game to get his teammates involved.
Ayton was involved from the opening tip, scoring 7 of the first 13 for the Suns, including a thunderous one-handed jam on a feed from Paul after slipping a pick and roll. He was solid in the lane all night, and efficient on his post touches again.
Kevin Durant had a dominant performance last night, but we have come to expect that from the Slim Reaper by now. The most surprising performances of last night were CP3 and Ayton dominating the Nuggets down the stretch. Whenever I write about a team, I seem to make some bold prediction at the end that ends up jinxing that team. So I will not say that I expect the Suns to make a deep playoff run, I will instead say that they are an exciting team to watch, and I wish nothing but the best for him in his future.