The Deandre Ayton-JaVale McGee duo: By the numbers
Dec 20, 2021, 12:39 PM | Updated: 1:58 pm
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Suns have put an emphasis on bolstering what’s behind center Deandre Ayton.
First it was Richaun Holmes during a turbulent rookie season. Then came Aron Baynes, who kept Phoenix afloat during a 25-game suspension for Ayton in 2019-20. Last season, Dario Saric set the plus-minus stats on fire when he replaced Ayton off the bench as a floor-spacing playmaker. Frank Kaminsky in spurts did the same.
And this year, the Suns’ big offseason addition in JaVale McGee and Kaminsky have kept that trend going.
Lately, Suns TV analyst Eddie Johnson has gone hard on naming Ayton and McGee as the best center duo in the league, and it’s hard to argue against that.
“That’s the best backup center I have ever had in my career,” Ayton said Sunday after a 137-106 win against the Charlotte Hornets. “I just feel so comfortable coming out the game, knowing this man is going to rebound, be a presence on both ends of the floor, close out possessions for us, set the right screen and roll, just put pressure on the rim … same thing I’m doing. Like I didn’t leave.
“There’s never really a bad game for JaVale.”
Off the top of the noggin, the Philadelphia Sixers’ Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond and Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside lead the list of duos who could give Phoenix’s centers a run for their money.
With that, here are some of the numbers that might support Ayton-McGee being tops.
Let’s start with the heaviness in which the Suns use the pick-and-roll with their bigs. Of players who take at least one field goal attempt as a roll man per game, McGee leads the NBA with a score frequency on such plays at 74.6%, per Synergy data.
Not far behind is Ayton, who is sixth in the league with a 67.3% scoring rate.
Only the Atlanta Hawks with Clint Capela and John Collins have a duo in the top-10.
TheJazz’s Gobert and Whiteside, the Washington Wizards with Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford, the Los Angeles Clippers with Isaiah Hartenstein and Ivica Zubac, and the Portland Trail Blazers with Jusuf Nurkic and Cody Zeller have duos in the top-25. But the Suns would have a trio there, with the currently injured Kaminsky ranks 22nd in score frequency.
The Ayton-McGee duo makes the top-five in shooting percentage on roll plays, with Ayton shooting 72.7% and McGee shooting a ridiculous 78.7% on those plays.
Each of McGee and Ayton are in the top-15 of total rebounds per 100 possessions. McGee is at 22.5, trailing only the 76ers’ backup Andre Drummond and Utah’s Gobert. Per minutes, his rate is second in the league behind Drummond.
Ayton is 15th in the NBA at 17.5 boards per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference.
Gobert and Whiteside are both top-five this this category.
As a team, the Suns are fifth in the league with 10.4 screen assists per game, trailing Utah, Sacramento, Portland and San Antonio.
Ayton accounts for 5.4 of those. Kaminsky surprisingly accounted for 4.0 per game (he is top-10 in the rate per 48 minutes), while McGee is at 2.1 per outing.
Obviously, playing with two off-dribble-scorers in Devin Booker and Chris Paul, plus cutters like Mikal Bridges helps a great deal.
Utah’s center duo is unsurprisingly good in this area, while the former-Suns trio with the Kings (Richaun Holmes, Damian Jones and Alex Len) do most of the work in Sacramento.
Portland’s scheme has helped Jusuf Nurkic and Cody Zeller form a nice offensive tandem there, while San Antonio is boosted by Jakob Poeltl.
While Ayton has undoubtedly played well, Phoenix’s regular starting lineups without him have thrived with either McGee or Kaminsky in his place.
By net rating, the Suns have the sixth- and eighth-best five-man lineups of any in the league that have played at least a full game (48 minutes) together.
Of lineups league-wide with a larger sample size of a 100-minute minimum playing together, the top lineup in the league is owned by the Minnesota Timberwolves at a 49.6 net rating.
Phoenix’s starting lineup with Landry Shamet replacing Booker actually comes in 15th (9.1 net rating), while the team’s true starting lineup is 24th in the league (3.8).