The Suns and restricted free agent Deandre Ayton came to an agreement on an extension the hard way last week, with Phoenix instantly matching Indiana’s 4-year, 133 million dollar offer to the former #1 overall pick.
Phoenix wanted Deandre Ayton on a four-year extension all along, and despite how dysfunctional the path was to achieving that goal, they got it done. It’s a win for the Phoenix Suns, who are fighting to keep a championship window cracked open while simultaneously negotiating to land Kevin Durant to support Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
In the end, this could be a win for Deandre Ayton too, as he’ll be approaching free agency again at age 27, but it’s only a win for Ayton if he locks in and makes massive strides over the course of his second contract.
Ayton hasn’t always gotten a fair shake from NBA fans, who constantly point out that he was selected ahead of Luka Doncic and Trae Young, but he has been a good player on what has become a contending team.
Still, you don’t have to be one of the fans that has had Deandre Ayton under a microscope over the last four season to know that there are some massive holes in both his game and his approach that led to a contract standoff with the Suns rather than an automatic offer for a 5-year max rookie deal.
While Ayton has the body and skillset of a dominant 90’s center (in a game that has largely evolved past the need for one), Ayton struggles to hold onto the basketball in traffic, and his lack of physicality is enough to drive both young fans and NBA oldheads insane. Over his four year career, Ayton has only 47 more made free throws than he does turnovers. While Ayton is a solid shot-alterer, he’s averaged less than one blocked shot per game over the last two regular seasons combined.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Ayton’s game is in the area of consistency, both in-game and over the course of a full season. There are very few players that put up more first quarter points per game at the center position, with Ayton ranking 4th last year at 5.9, behind MVP Nikola Jokic (7.8), all-star Karl Anthony-Towns (8.4), and Philadelphia franchise player Joel Embiid (8.5). Ayton’s production falls precipitously once the fourth quarter hits, ranking 19th amongst centers with 3.1 points per game, one spot behind his own 2021-2022 backup JaVale McGee. In addition, while Ayton has averaged a double-double for four consecutive seasons, he actually has more games played without a double-double over the last two seasons (54) than he does games with a double-double (53).
Combine that with his PED suspension, his admission that he stays up most nights playing video games, his public declaration that he “doesn’t like the big man role,” and his reported feud with Suns coach Monty Williams that spilled over onto the court in a game 7 western conference finals blowout loss, and you have some serious questions about whether Deandre Ayton will ever meet his potential.
We know what a dominant center’s attitude and leadership is supposed to look like. We saw it in Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and more (None of whom, by the way, had their best FG% season come anywhere close to Ayton’s career average of 60%). Ayton has natural skills that could put him that same conversation some day, but Ayton has been quoted as saying his NBA goal was to achieve his second contract, and it’s not unreasonable to think that if this money robs him of any motivation to improve, he could be in the same conversation as an Andrew Bynum or Jahlil Okafor instead.
At this point, it’s up to him.