After leading his team through a stellar run through the postseason a year ago, and starting off this season with a bang, Bahamian big man with the Phoenix Suns DeAndre Ayton is being recognized as one of the top centers in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Sporting News publication had Ayton ranked as the number seven center in the league entering the season, and just recently, he was included on a list of top-10 rim protectors by NBA.com.
The Bahamian, who entered his fourth season in the NBA without the max extension he was looking for, is gradually proving his doubters wrong. Sporting News stated that he could be playing with a chip on his shoulder this season, and so far, it appears to be that way.
Ayton is averaging a double-double for the fourth straight season – turning in 17 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, just 1.2 points and 0.4 rebounds below his career-high averages.
“Ayton hasn’t reached the same heights as Trae Young and Luka Dončić since being drafted No. 1 in the 2018 NBA Draft, but he put his potential on full display in Phoenix’s run to the NBA Finals last season,” stated the article in the Sporting News. “He remade himself on the biggest stage, filling in the gaps with his rim-running and cutting while anchoring what turned out to be the third-best defense in the postseason.”
On an NBA.com list that was created using opposing field goal percentage at the rim with a minimum of four shots per game and 10 contests played, Ayton is ranked at number six in the league. A total of 45 players are on the list, and two Suns players are in the top 10. Suns’ reserve center JaVale McGee is at number four and starting center Deandre Ayton is at number six.
McGee is allowing 49.3 percent of shots at the rim to fall this year. Only Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Memphis Grizzlies’ big man Jaren Jackson Jr. have better numbers at 47.1, 47.7 and 48.7 respectively.
The Suns, as a team, allow 99.3 points per 100 possessions with McGee in the game, according to NBA.com. Both he and Ayton are now in health and safety protocols.
Ayton is allowing 51.1 percent of shots at the rim to fall this year, a career-low percentage wise and major improvement from the 64.9 percent clip as a rookie.
Additionally, Ayton is a top-10 scorer in the paint at 14.2 points per game. He only trails Nuggets center Nikola Jokić, Antetokounmpo and Grizzlies guard Ja Morant on that list.
The Suns are currently second in the NBA in defensive rating and the ability to protect the rim better than past years has a lot to do with it.
Phoenix allows 60.6 field goal percentage from five feet and in, eighth-best in the league. The last time the Suns finished in the top-10 in this metric was the 2001-02 season.
It takes a team effort to do this, but McGee’s addition and Ayton’s development have helped the Suns lock down what had not been a strength for them in a long time.