Phoenix Suns: Observations from Deandre Ayton’s Summer League Performance

DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix Suns, NBA
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Deandre Ayton’s Summer League run ended sooner than most expected. In four games, he averaged 14.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and one block. While his box score stats were solid, he never seemed dominant, or took control of games as many fans initially hoped to see.

Additionally, it felt like his scoring was mostly a byproduct of Kokoskov’s offense being implemented and easy, around-the-rim baskets. That being said, this was only Summer League, and while he perhaps wasn’t the most impressive rookie at the Vegas showcase, Ayton did show flashes of what he could become and what he needs to improve on as he begins his NBA career.

Big Man Physicality

While this improved over the course of the Suns’ Summer League run, one of the biggest observations from Ayton’s performance was his lack of assertiveness and physicality, especially in the post. In the first few games, Ayton seemed unsure of himself at times and didn’t embrace contact as many Phoenix fans hope to see someday. Even with his impressive size and stature, it was clear after watching his games that his inside game potential is dependent upon how aggressive he’s willing to be.

It was obvious when Ayton did use physicality and the results were what you would expect. It mostly came against headliners like Marvin Bagley or Mo Bamba, so maybe he was gearing up for those particular matchups?

One of Ayton’s most noticeable struggles was sealing effectively in the post. He tended to stand straight up while bodying opponents rather than getting low and anchoring himself. For bigs, getting low allows for better positioning when grabbing rebounds or receiving a pass down low. This is an important area Kokoskov, and his staff should work on improving early. As the main man down in the post, sealing effectively will provide Ayton with more scoring and rebounding opportunities than he saw while playing in Vegas.

It’s also important to note that Phoenix had a tough time getting him the ball at times. As he enters into the official season, playing with improved perimeter talent, like Brandon Knight and Devin Booker, will help in alleviating this issue.

Pick & Rolls

Ayton’s screening ability (or lack thereof) was evident to Summer League viewers. Watching the Suns, it was easy to see that he often didn’t try to create contact when screening for his teammates. It’s puzzling as to why this was the case, considering he already has an NBA-ready body that can presumably handle great contact. Ayton seemingly screened for the sake of screening, instead of attempting to create real space for his teammates or even himself. Simply put, he didn’t screen with purpose, and he often did not create adequate contact, which allowed opponents to recover more easily on the defensive end.

Additionally, Ayton wasn’t aggressive with his rolls off of those same screens. This resulted in missed, easy opportunities at or near the rim.

With this being said, it’s imperative to consider how much pick and roll experience he gained during his year at Arizona. Per David Nash’s “Deandre Ayton: The No. 1 Pick & His Role,” Ayton finished only 88 possessions out of the pick and roll in 1,772 minutes in college (meaning one offensive P&R finish about every 20 minutes). It’s also critical to note that he played primarily the four instead of the 5, and is now in a system that relies on him being the main man down low.

As he progresses in his rookie season, setting solid screens will not only benefit his teammates but himself as well. Ideally, these plays will force defenses to switch and provide Ayton with offensive mismatch opportunities in the post. Last season, Phoenix ranked 14th in PPP and 27th in frequency among teams in pick & roll possessions finished by the roll man. As Ayton continues to develop under Kokoskov and his staff, it is likely both of these numbers will improve.

Rebounding

Ayton averaged 10.5 rebounds per game, ranking 5th among all Summer League players (min. 4 games played). Standing at 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan in a 250lb body, Ayton is the ideal rebounding specimen from a physical standpoint. His size, length, and athleticism are all very applicable tools that can help him dominate in this area throughout his career. During Summer League, even when he had outside positioning on a box-out for a rebound, Ayton showed he can still jump over defenders and tip the ball to himself.

Speaking of tipping, there were noticeable instances where Ayton tried tipping the ball either to himself or back into the basket when he should have simply grabbed the ball with both hands and put it back up forcefully. This is something that will improve over time as his experience and decision-making ability grow.

Ayton will also need to improve in his defensive awareness when rebounding. Despite him possessing great physical assets, there were times when he did not utilize them, and offensive boards and points were given up as a result.

The Ayton Gravity Effect

Ayton’s size, length, and soft touch around the rim all make him a deadly force on the inside. Some teams went to great lengths to account for this, even double-teaming him at times. Ayton commanded attention down low and, at times, was able to draw defenders towards him, especially when rolling towards the hoop. When he was in the post, defenses had a choice of helping on him or staying home on the perimeter. Helping on him created space and allowed for better three-point looks.

Last year, Troy Daniels (40%), Devin Booker (38%), Trevor Ariza (37%), and Dragan Bender (37%) all shot above average from long-range. Surrounding Ayton with three-point shooters such as these will help space the floor even more and put higher pressure on defenses.

Running the Floor

Ayton’s agility and ability to get up and down the court is valuable. When he wants to, he can cover a significant amount of space in little time compared to other bigs, and his scoring ability around the rim should make him the primary finisher on a lot of fast break possessions in Phoenix this upcoming season.