EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns notebook: Ayton remains out, grueling November stretch begins, new balls

Nov 8, 2021, 7:00 AM | Updated: 11:17 am
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on...
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on October 27, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Suns 110-107. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It looks like Deandre Ayton’s got a right leg contusion that’s going to linger for a little bit longer.

The Phoenix Suns center originally missed Tuesday’s game because of the injury and then returned in Thursday’s win over the Houston Rockets. Ayton came into Saturday’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks not being listed on the injury report after earning a questionable status for each of the last two games.

But on Saturday morning after shootaround, Ayton was ruled out because of the right leg contusion.

Head coach Monty Williams said pregame that Ayton was sore so they played it safe.

This time, however, it won’t just be a one-game absence again for Ayton. He’s out for Monday’s showdown in Sacramento and it sounds like it could be more.

“His stuff has come back clean,” Williams said of MRI scans. “So, structurally he’s fine, he’s just got to get to a place where he’s not playing with pain and soreness. May take him a few games to get there but we’re confident with the medical assessment as to where he is.”

In the two games without Ayton, reserve center Frank Kaminsky has been terrific off the bench, going a combined +23 in ’em with 16.5 points per game. Ayton’s usual backup JaVale McGee, who has started in his place, has also been more impactful as of late.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this is not a lull in the schedule where the Suns have some days off to get Ayton right before games.

After playing three games in four days to open the season followed by a break of just two games in nine days, Tuesday’s victory against the New Orleans Pelicans began a stretch where the Suns will play 15 games in 26 days.

Monday begins the first week of three that each feature four games and one that’s the first of a back-to-back. Five of those six games in the back-to-backs are on the road and Phoenix doesn’t get more than one day off in a row until after this stretch is over on Nov. 28.

Williams spoke Sunday on how the Suns will try to attack this crazy month and keep everything as balanced as possible.

“I think you have to be mindful of how you continue to get better,” he said. “You can’t practice as much in this new economy but you can find ways to get better. Through film sessions, through walkthroughs, days like today where the low-minute guys can get some run. Because the game days are so important, our shootarounds are a bit different because we’re trying to manage legs.

“We’re trying to do everything we can and we’re trying to listen to our players. There may be some days where we cancel practice just because we feel like guys are emotionally tired or physically tired. So we’ll take it a step at a time but we also have a plan in place to try and conserve as much energy on off days as we can.”

WILSON!!!!

I hope you heard Tom Hanks’ voice while reading that.

Anyway, the NBA is using new basketballs this year, moving from the Spalding brand to Wilson. This ended a 37-year run for Spalding basketballs in the NBA.

It has not been a fluid transition, as multiple star players across the league have, not so much complained, but made it known that this is not the same basketball they are used to.

Suns guard Devin Booker after Tuesday’s game offered his two cents.

“It’s different. I don’t want to make any excuses but it’s definitely an adjustment,” he said. “Think the thing with the Wilson ball is each one feels a little bit different. Not too bad, but they all feel like they have a little different feel to it.”

Booker confirmed that Spalding balls in the past all felt the same, so you can understand how this is going to take some time for the players to get used to.

The leaguewide 3-point percentage of 34.3% entering play on Monday is the lowest it has been in over 20 years. The balls obviously aren’t the sole reason for this, but it’s hard to completely rule it out as a contributing factor.

Phoenix point guard Cam Payne co-signed Booker’s assessment and that they will adjust.

“The Spaldings, we done had that ball forever, and a lot of them are worn in,” Payne said Sunday. “These balls, all of ’em new. It’s the first year using ’em, so they all new. I don’t think we really got a trial in it. Obviously, we’ve been shooting with ’em but game time is different than just shooting one shot over and over again.

“Because last night I was like, ‘Man, the ball ran away from me!’ I was dribbling the ball (and) I just lost it.”

In order to avoid this issue, the cycle will have fresh basketballs worn in at the end of the prior season so they are good to go for a new season. That, of course, wasn’t possible with the Wilson balls. And the Suns were also in the Finals, which have their own unique basketballs that had to be worn in too.

“We had to get the Finals ball, we trying to break them balls in,” Payne said with a laugh. “So it’s like, you always breaking the balls in. And when the season starts, they coming with brand new balls.

“It’s just trial and error. We gotta get used to it.”

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Suns notebook: Ayton remains out, grueling November stretch begins, new balls