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Suns coach Monty Williams not sure he’ll stick with ‘Bayton’ starting lineup

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns yells from the bench during a 120-99 LA Clipper win at Staples Center on December 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Monty Williams knows it’s not easy on a team to jumble around personnel groups and rotations.

For a Phoenix Suns squad that had been searching for something to add juice, the head coach in the past three games attempted to find answers with a “Bayton” starting lineup featuring twin centers Aron Baynes and Deandre Ayton.

Time might not allow Phoenix (14-23) to gain a larger sample size of it.

After a blown 21-point lead on Tuesday in a loss to the Sacramento Kings, Williams said Wednesday that he wants to think hard about that starting unit heading into a Friday game against the Orlando Magic.

“(The sample size is) small but I also have to do what’s best for the team and that’s something I’m going to give deep thought to tonight and tomorrow,” he said. “(GM) James (Jones) and I knew this would be a year of learning. You want to win games when you are learning but this is something we had to try and see if guys could get comfortable with it.

“To be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to stick with it just because of the lack of success or comfortability with that particular move.”

Specifically, Williams acknowledged that moving Ayton to play more as a power forward has gotten the second-year pro and No. 1 pick out of rhythm.

Ayton, who has not made himself available to the media since the loss, went for a season-high 21 points with nine rebounds on 10-of-14 shooting Tuesday in the 114-103 defeat.

He got off to a fast start and was heavily involved in pick-and-rolls, but the game also had several valleys.

“He shows flashes of athleticism and strength and force, and there are times you can tell the timing is off. The awareness of playing a different position is maybe hurting him right now,” Williams said. “We’ll reevaluate that as we get ready for the next game.”

The Kings appeared to target Baynes early on in the game. Late, as Ayton appeared to lose his wind after his Suns went ahead 83-62 through the first third of the second half, Sacramento began directing ball screens to get him involved.

Phoenix as a whole couldn’t get enough stops, nor find an offense that produced 30 points in fewer than eight minutes of play to begin the second half.

Through four games and 41 minutes of Ayton and Baynes playing in a starting lineup with Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr., the team is scoring 115.1 points per 100 possessions and allowing 104.3 to opponents for a pretty darn good 10.8 net rating.

That net rating comes with a grain of salt after it received a massive boost Tuesday, when the Suns went on a 21-5 run to start the third period before power forward Dario Saric entered for Baynes just 5:11 into the second half.

Williams has called Saric, who started the first 34 games this year, an offensive “connector” with his ability to swing the ball side-to-side, and the forward appeared in 18 minutes Tuesday after only playing 10 combined minutes in the two games before the Sacramento game.

It’s probable he remains a significant piece of the rotation.

Saric’s impact aside, how the “Bayton” lineup left an anemic bench unit to fend for itself and how it might’ve led to Ayton’s discomfort might push Williams to reconsider using it as the starting lineup.

Ayton’s frustration situation

As an individual, Ayton’s up-and-down play cropped up in both halves. He pulled down just one second-half rebound and was far from the only player to have a disappointing ending to the game after a strong start to the second half.

The ups and downs caught him in the second quarter as well.

Ayton didn’t box out on one rebound, allowing Sacramento’s Harry Giles III to tip the ball in for two points. He showed frustration when the ball went down to the Suns’ end by grabbing two impressive offensive boards.

But as Williams subbed in Baynes for Ayton during a timeout, the 2018 first overall draft pick kicked Phoenix’s bench and had to be calmed down by Baynes, among others.

It was the most emphatic emotional outburst by Ayton since he was drafted by the Suns.

How did Williams view the mistake and Ayton’s reaction to it?

“Frustration is a part of the game, passion is a part of the game,” the coach said Wednesday. “If anything becomes disruptive, that’s not good for the team. Good teams police themselves. There are times where I have to correct some frustrations at times. I’m OK with guys being frustrated with their play. There’s nothing wrong with that, but frustrations can only go so far.

“He came back and played with energy. The third quarter was much better overall … frustration is a part of players, coaches, all of us, when you do what you don’t want to do.”

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