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Suns GM: Deandre Ayton’s play has been ‘uneven’ to start season

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, right, passes as Detroit Pistons center Mason Plumlee defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

It’s no secret that Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is not playing at the level he should this season. The eye test says it, as do the numbers.

Through 11 games, Ayton is averaging 12.5 points, 11.3 rebounds 1.8 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. That’s about where his rebounding and assists were last season, while his scoring is down from 18.5 points per game. His blocks have dropped off from 1.5 a night.

Ayton is only taking 9.6 shots a game, a steep drop from 14.9 in 2019-20. His role in the offense as a scorer was expected to change with a more versatile point guard in Chris Paul leading the offense but perhaps not to that extent.

A lot of that can be explained, though, by Ayton’s indecisiveness with the ball in the key. Ayton led the NBA last year in post touches per game at 13.9. That number has decreased to 11.4 this year but is still number two in the league. Ayton as a rookie still managed 16.3 points an outing on 11.1 post touches a night, so the numbers align with the tentativeness we’re seeing.

His postups this season are at 5.4 a game after 5.8 and 6.2 averages his first two seasons, respectively — a slight decline, but not one to suggest a lack of opportunity.

Free throws remain a big issue. Ayton is attempting only 2.3 a game, the same as his averages from last year.

Ayton’s been good as a defender and great as a rebounder, but the lack of offensive impact is evident and drastically changes the type of player he is.

“He’s been uneven,” Suns general manager James Jones said Wednesday on Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo. “He knows that. Defensively, he’s been reliable … offensively, he’s been uneven. We need him to be consistent offensively. We need him to look to bolster what we’re doing in the paint. We need more paint touches, more free throws, more easy buckets. And he can do that for us. He hasn’t been doing it at the level at which we expect, that he expects, but that’s a focus for us and him going forward.”

So how does he get better?

“It’s reps. It’s just reps, and coaching,” Jones said. “More reps practicing, working in that area, working in that box, as we call it. Just harping on it. Like everything we do: You have to drill it, you have to talk about how we play, how we wanna play, how we need to play to win games.

“And for us to go to the next level, we need him to continue to grow in that area. So there’s no magic pill, there’s no magic button you press. It just comes with hard coaching and repetition.”

All statistics via NBA.com


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