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Suns GM James Jones satisfied with current trajectory of Deandre Ayton

Phoenix Suns Center Deandre Ayton (22) looks on during a NBA game between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 17, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones talks about Deandre Ayton a lot, particularly when it comes to his franchise center’s upside and what’s next for the 21-year-old.

Even with what Ayton has done well in the NBA thus far, the untapped potential and what more Ayton could do on the court is always the conversation surrounding the key piece of his team.

Jones hears that.

“With Deandre specifically, everyone always wants more,” he said to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo Wednesday. “They want more points, they want more aggression, they want more intensity, they want more of everything.”

For Jones, it’s less about the sky being the limit right now for his ultra-athletic seven-footer and more about keeping the fundamental concepts of growth in check.

“I just say, continue to grow, learn and develop. You always want more,” he said.

“I want more from every player on the team, but at some point, you have to realize a player is who he is and as long as he’s producing and he’s doing the things that you’re asking him to do, it doesn’t matter what other people want. Just be productive and play the game.”

It’s fascinating to hear Jones say, inside of an answer on Ayton, that players eventually just are what they are, because that has been the heaviest criticism on Ayton that he doesn’t have the playstyle he should.

Through one season with Ayton, it’s clear that when he plays with a certain elevated physical mentality that he’s borderline unstoppable. Being aggressive beyond mid-range jumpers in the post, attacking the basket, marauding the offensive glass, keeping himself always active defensively and so on.

The Suns have seen it, but just in stretches, like the opening of the third quarter for Ayton in his return from a 25-game suspension, a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night.

“I thought he played well,” Jones said. “I thought early he was a little flustered. He looked like he was a little out of sorts but as the game went on he kind of settled in and for us it was just good to see him back out there trying to find his rhythm and trying to get back in the swing of things.”

In that game, it was your typical solid Ayton performance from his rookie year, filled with good and bad.

He had that spurt of making play after play, was productive with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, had a few good energy plays and was on the offensive glass. He also had a handful of defensive hiccups, was hesitant at times to get physical and settled for the jumper a bit.

Here’s Ayton not getting caught under Patrick Beverley, using a swivel move like a pass rusher in football to move him away and get to the basket for either a pass or an offensive rebound.

Good!

Here’s Ayton not helping out Dario Saric on a drive, staying on Ivica Zubac, only failing to box Zubac out anyway.

Bad!

It’s that balancing act for Ayton to more consistently be doing those good things while cutting out the bad.

As far as when Ayton is fully assimilated after missing nearly two months of games, Jones thinks it’ll be a while.

“We’ll see. Hopefully 10-15 games from now, that’s a good enough sample size for him to feel comfortable in his production and for coach to settle into some rotations that will maximize all the guys that are in that group,” he said.

That, of course, is the crucial bit of this, because if Ayton is only marginally better than he was last season, that’s not good enough. For a No. 1 overall pick and someone on the path of making All-NBA teams as Ayton should, a large spike in improvement either this year or next is the norm.

That’s the hope of the version Ayton is near the end of January.


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