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Bill Simmons: ‘I would be shopping’ Suns C Deandre Ayton

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game against the Sacramento Kings at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 23, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Kings 124-95. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

If you’re a Phoenix Suns fan, you’re probably already bristling at the headline.

Bill Simmons made quite an impression on fans of Devin Booker this offseason when he criticized the Phoenix shooting guard’s decision not to play with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup.

Joining ESPN writer Zach Lowe’s The Lowe Post podcast on Thursday, Simmons is not shying away from that argument. But enough of that talk.

Simmons also has a strong take about Phoenix’s other building block.

“I would be shopping him right now,” Simmons said of second-year center Deandre Ayton.

“If I were the Suns, I wouldn’t want Ayton on that team. I would want to build a really fun kind of Portland Blazersy-two-years-ago type of team around like guards and shooting and all that. I don’t know where he fits in.”

That’s quite a take, especially because the Suns have hardly got a look at how Ayton, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, can improve following his rookie season.

A 25-game suspension after testing positive for diuretics has Ayton appearing in two games so far.

He’s looked like a productive player in the box score. Yet where he fits into first-year coach Monty Williams’ new offense and how much he’s improved as the defensive anchor remains to be seen.

Ayton is averaging 18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks through two games.

And it’s true that his athleticism and strength, and even his shooting stroke, haven’t translated to utter dominance with consistency. Ayton averaged 2.7 free throws per game last season, and in the 58 minutes of court time this year, he’s gotten to the foul stripe a single time. Nor has Ayton implemented a three-point shot that he promised we’d see.

“He might be the league-leader in … shortest amount of time between ball hitting fingertips and ball being shot towards the rim,” Lowe said. “All that dude wants to do is shoot mid-range jumpers. He catches the ball at 18 feet, and it’s like, I don’t even blink and the ball is already at the basket.

“He’s going to be one of these centers who’s 7-1 and giant and shoots two free throws per game, because all he wants to do is shoot mid-range jumpers.”

Williams, who joined 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf on Friday, combated the idea that Ayton shouldn’t shoot jumpers.

The Suns won’t try to make Ayton something he’s not.

“At the same time, we have absolutes. You have to play hard, you have to defend and you have to share the ball,” the head coach said. “The one thing he does that not many bigs do is a mid-range jump shot. That’s something we don’t want to get in the way of.

“There are things that are unique to Deandre that may not be stereotypical of other bigs, and we don’t want to mess with that. But when it comes to competing at a high level and defending and sharing the ball, those are the things that we want to make sure we demand from him.”

Regarding the idea of trading a first-round pick less than two years after selecting Ayton, Simmons believes the Suns could take a piece of the Philadelphia 76ers’ book.

In 2015, the Sixers traded point guard Michael Carter-Williams for a protected draft pick less than a season after he accepted the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

(An aside: Suns fans might remember that was a three-team deal that led to Phoenix acquiring Brandon Knight, and they sent that protected Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick via the 2012 Steve Nash trade to Philadelphia in that deal. That pick kept conveying until 2018, when the Suns traded up in the draft to reqacquire the pick in drafting Mikal Bridges).

Carter-Williams has been an NBA journeyman ever since and at 28 years old is playing as a deep reserve for the Orlando Magic.

Ayton is far from seeing that kind of career drop-off.

From a macro view of the NBA, it’s hurt Ayton that Dallas Mavericks point-wing Luka Doncic is putting together an MVP-caliber year in just his second season and that Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young appears to be an All-Star type of talent. Both of those players were drafted after Ayton in 2018.

“With Deandre specifically, everyone always wants more,” Phoenix general manager James Jones said Wednesday on Burns & Gambo.

“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.”

Jones has said he doesn’t want to make trades around Ayton until he sees how the center syncs up with his teammates coming off the suspension. A sprained ankle gets in the way of that and will keep Ayton out of Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Doubt that the Suns are even thinking about trading away their second-biggest asset at this point.

“People are going to say that’s crazy. It seems premature to me,” Lowe said of Simmons’ take, before adding this: “I do think that teams should think further out of the box about guys on rookie-scale contracts.”

Doug & Wolf

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