Suns GM: Deandre Ayton ‘understands what’s in front of’ team with high expectations

Jul 20, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: Jul 21, 2023, 11:39 am

Deandre Ayton, Suns, Nikola Jokic, Nuggets...

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot against Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns in the fourth quarter during Game Two of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals at Ball Arena on May 01, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

James Jones holds an unenviable job of weighing a player’s value currently on the Phoenix Suns team versus what the potential value is in not having that player.

In the case of center Deandre Ayton, the Suns president of basketball operations and general manager has been challenged to consider trade avenues involving the big man and his max deal against the real deficit Phoenix would be at if they traded Ayton for dimes on the dollar.

The Suns haven’t been swayed to trade Ayton for whatever reason, leaving he and Devin Booker as the only Phoenix players left from the roster that made the 2021 NBA Finals.

Ayton himself has heard that noise and the fan criticism about his inconsistent play. A published video by Eyewitness News Bahamas on Wednesday showed Ayton speaking honestly about feeling the depth of that fan hate and his motivation to change the narrative of how he’s perceived.

Does Jones see those comments as words being put into action?

“That’s just DA speaking candidly. I do know he’s been in the gym relentlessly this summer, working on all those things he talked about,” Jones told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Thursday. “He like all the rest of us, we have a chip on our shoulders. We felt like last year we had an opportunity that we didn’t capitalize on and that we need to be better.

“He understands what’s in front of us and I think that’s him maturing and understanding that in order for us to be an elite team, he has to take another step forward.”

Ayton, still just 24 years old, averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game last regular season. It was less efficient but his second-best scoring season under a head coach who didn’t add much Ayton-centric offense to the repertoire.

How much Ayton touches new head coach Frank Vogel can add with a perimeter-oriented trio of stars remains to be seen, but the head coach has already spoken about his intent on building a relationship with the center and throwing him a bone in terms of offensive attention.

“It’s the plan for all our guys, to make them really feel a part of it,” Jones reiterated. “And for different players that means different things. We’re going to ask a lot of our guys to sacrifice. … For Deandre, it’s going to be different because we’re going to have a coach who relishes in the opportunity to work with big guys and truly understands their value in the scheme of things defensively and offensively.”

The list of All-Star caliber players Vogel has coached at some point in his career include Roy Hibbert, David West, Nikola Vucevic, Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis. He’s valued a few of those names as role players past their prime and also carved out important rotation roles for other complementary bigs like Myles Turner, Serge Ibaka, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi.

Ayton doesn’t come close to comparing to any of those names in terms of the combination of skills.

But you can bet Vogel knows how to sell roles and get his big man touches. Vogel spoke to Sirius XM NBA Radio during Summer League about the goal of feeding Ayton to ensure he gets strong defensive efforts from his big man.

As Jones points out, Ayton last year was already heavily involved in the offense as a screener. Under what classifies as hustle stats, the big man ranked in the top-10 in screen assists per game and screen assist points per game.

He was also second, behind MVP Joel Embiid, in terms of volume of pick-and-roll possessions as a roll man per game.

“That’s a guy putting his body on the line and sacrificing for his team,” Jones said of Ayton. “All players want touches. This game pays people who score. In order to be considered one of the best, you have to fill in the box score.

“I think a lot of times people forget Deandre’s an 18 and 10 player. That’s not something that’s easily done in this league. I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for that, but I do know Frank is very focused on making sure that all of our guys bring their best form to the court. Because if we do that, then we put ourselves in the best position to win a title.”

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