EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Deandre Ayton posts 1st career 20-20 game, Suns handle Knicks

Jan 16, 2020, 8:16 PM | Updated: Jan 17, 2020, 7:25 am
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before the game against the New York Knicks at Madis...
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 16, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns were designed to run through Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Ricky Rubio as their three best players.

Booker is holding up his end of the bargain as usual, but Ayton’s suspension and a dropoff from Rubio in recent weeks haven’t allowed all three of them to sync up in the same game since the season opener.

The trio finally did so on Thursday night in New York, combining for 80 of the Suns’ points in a 121-98 victory over the Knicks.

Ayton had his third strong game in a row, primarily in the first half, where he played his best basketball of the season and arguably his career. He was back in the starting lineup over Baynes and had his first career 20-20 game, posting 26 points and 21 rebounds to go with two assists and two blocks.

The second-year big came to the Suns out of the University of Arizona with a freakish combination of size and athleticism that makes him ultra-efficient finishing around the rim and racking up rebounds. As for the rest of his game, it wasn’t there. Despite showing skill at times, he was a qualifier for the popular draft term of being “raw.”

Ayton ironed out his individual post game as a rookie to give himself more options offensively and slowly progressed into not being a disaster defensively.

The rounding out of his game, though, has been much more evident this season.

Ayton is setting far better screens, more consistent in hitting the offensive glass and has advanced his understanding of help defense in ball screens to block more shots and generally just be a much better team defender.

The reality currently of the 21-year-old is that he’s not going to be that ultra-aggressive force on that interior, a highly efficient jump shooter or someone immune to the occasional high levels of defensive ineptitude.

But if Ayton is doing a lot of the “little things” that help make the Suns a dramatically better team, particularly with the energy that he showed on Thursday, that’s still a way of him fulfilling his potential, albeit in the way some weren’t envisioning on draft night.

He was also aided by a vintage Rubio performance, where the connection in this game between Ayton and Rubio looked its best all season.

The Spaniard had 25 points, eight rebounds, 13 assists and four steals on 10-for-18 shooting in his first game since becoming a father.

Booker had a relatively quiet 29 points — that’s meant as a compliment to his professional bucket-getting ability — and was buzzing the most in the opening of the second half when Monty Williams ran a handful of sets designed through Booker and Ayton. To no surprise, that’s the stretch Booker scored 10 points in under five minutes during.

Ayton and Booker were both plus-31 while Rubio was plus-24, all without Kelly Oubre Jr. as he remains in concussion protocol.

Rubio and Booker combined to hit five three-pointers and six other Suns players made at least one, adding up to a 12-for-30 (40%) shooting performance from deep, their best number in the last eight games.

Thanks in large part to Ayton, the Suns were plus-13 on the glass and Phoenix (31) had 10 more assists than New York (21).

UP NEXT

The Suns will still be on the east coast and take on the Celtics in Boston. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Penguin Air

Empire of the Suns

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Ho...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker’s latest commitment to Phoenix Suns further cements legacy

Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker continues to commit to the city and is on his way to becoming the top player in franchise history.
19 hours ago
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) becomes entangled with Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during ...
Kevin Zimmerman

How the Suns will have the Kevin Durant trade discussion

The Phoenix Suns have shifted into discussing a Durant acquisition at least internally just after noon in Arizona.
19 hours ago
General manager James Jones of the Phoenix Suns watches warm-ups to Game One of the Western Confere...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns offseason checklist: What needs to get done in free agency

This is the most difficult offseason for Suns GM James Jones since he got the job in 2019 and I doubt he sees a tougher one in the future.
19 hours ago
Phoenix Suns guard Aaron Holiday (4) drives between Sacramento Kings guard Josh Jackson (55) and gu...
Kevin Zimmerman

Report: Suns opt against making Aaron Holiday restricted free agent

The Phoenix Suns will not extend a qualifying offer to backup guard Aaron Holiday, giving the team financial relief.
2 days ago
Dennis Schroder #17 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix ...
Kevin Zimmerman

Suns free-agency focus: Will there be a significant upgrade at guard?

The Phoenix Suns could shake up the backcourt to help Chris Paul and Devin Booker manage the load, but how likely is it via free agency?
2 days ago
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass over Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) du...
Kevin Zimmerman

Deandre Ayton free agency market could be cooling with reported Pistons trade

The Detroit Pistons appear to have removed themselves from the Deandre Ayton chase days before free agency officially begins in the NBA.
2 days ago
Deandre Ayton posts 1st career 20-20 game, Suns handle Knicks