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

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)

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.


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