Nets teach Deandre Ayton latest lesson in rough home loss for Suns
PHOENIX — When you are bigger, faster and stronger than nearly everyone at your position, NBA teams are going to look for specific ways to limit you on the floor.
Phoenix Suns No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton has talked about how much he has learned 10 games into the season, and in Phoenix’s 104-82 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, he learned a whole lot more.
While he did respond well at one point, Ayton was clearly affected by the Nets’ strategic choices, finishing 6-of-17 from the field for 15 points and 13 rebounds.
With Nets rising star Caris LeVert doing a tremendous job defensively on Devin Booker and playing a large part in Booker’s 6-for-21 shooting night, the Suns’ overall team play wasn’t on point enough to make up for two lackluster individual performances.
After a two-game run where the team’s signature lethargic play over six losses in a row disappeared, the Suns’ lack of energy reared its ugly head back again on Tuesday. The fans noticed, booing the team off the floor.
As for Ayton, the Nets challenged him first and foremost by having their center halfway towards the basket when Ayton had the ball near the top of the key.
In the Suns’ system, Ayton is there often, executing dribble handoffs and rolls to the rim to keep the big fella involved in the game.
Now, Ayton is a good shooter from the mid-range area, so one might think this was a poor choice by the Nets. Ayton even noted this after the game, saying he should have had 40 points on Brooklyn for letting him have that shot.
Ayton, though, is not much of a dribbler at this stage of his career and couldn’t take advantage of this space. A more adept offensive center would take a dribble or two, either driving to the rim for contact or turning their back to begin posting up.
Ayton’s offensive game is not there yet as a 20-year-old, so he either shot the jumper or moved the ball. The long-two is not an efficient shot as well despite Ayton’s tendency to take it and make it.
Seeing this look, Ayton took the jumper and missed three of the first four he took.
The Nets also fronted Ayton in the post at times, daring Phoenix’s ball-handlers to make a more difficult pass for the right reads on the help between the basket and Ayton. That led to two quick turnovers by Josh Jackson on one sequence.
The gameplan clearly left Ayton a bit perplexed.
“There is a truth in that that he was kind of indecisive,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said after the game.
Late in the second quarter, there was an awkward energy in Talking Stick Resort Arena when Ayton was left room to shoot and the crowd urged him on to do so.
That continued into the third quarter when Ayton was 3-of-10, turning down the shots and looking even more confused by what the Nets were doing.
“With so much space it reminded me of college so I’m like, ‘Yo I usually always make this what is going on’ so I just start overthinking, da-da this, da-da that, you know how that is,” Ayton said. “Once you’re in that little slump, you’re in there for a little while. It’s hard to come out of.”
To Ayton’s credit, it’s not as simple as it sounds, as he put it himself.
“At the end of the day, if somebody is under the rim and you’re at the free throw line, where can you really go?” Ayton said.
Even if Ayton passes the ball to someone who wants to act fast, that ball-handler will run right into Ayton’s defender at the rim and all the Brooklyn defenders were tight to their man with so much help around the rim.
“There’s really no room. The only thing you can do is penetrate and post up, basically. Put the ball on the [floor] and just automatic, have your back to the basket,” he said.
Once again, let’s refresh ourselves that Ayton just played in only his 10th NBA game.
“It’s kind of awkward especially for a young guy, these [lanes] unexpectedly open,” Kokoskov said. “You’re working to get open and suddenly he is so (open).”
The good news is Ayton got out of that befuddled state and responded.
After a timeout in the third quarter, he returned to the court with newfound energy, scoring six straight points and impacting the game in multiple areas like the Suns want him to all year.
Ayton picked up the adjustment he needs after what Brooklyn and head coach Kenny Atkinson crafted up to stop him.
“Just mix it up,” Ayton said of the solution. “If dudes are giving you that much space — save the jumper.”
Ayton mentioned looking earlier for opportunities to sprint up the floor, establish post position and get a feel for the ball going in from the jump. That was a favorite of his in Tucson.
“I just say start inside-out,” Ayton said. “That’s the plan from now on.”