Suns get lowest grade in Lillard, Ayton deal, but still solid review from ESPN
Sep 27, 2023, 7:00 PM
The hot takes are still rolling in for the Phoenix Suns’ handling of the departure of Deandre Ayton from the Valley to the Rose City in his trade to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The trade, in which the centerpiece involved Damian Lillard moving from Portland to the Milwaukee Bucks, saw Phoenix acquire center Jusuf Nurkic, shooting guards Grayson Allen and Keon Johnson and small forward Nassir Little. Ayton moved to the Pacific Northwest along with former Suns’ draft pick Toumani Camara, former Buck guard Jrue Holiday and a number of picks.
ESPN NBA Insider Kevin Pelton graded the trade for all three teams, but gave the Suns the lowest grade of the three.
- Phoenix Suns, B-
- Milwaukee Bucks, B+
- Portland Trail Blazers, B+
Nurkic, who was a 13.3 point per game, 9.1 rebound per game and 0.8 block per game guy, can be seen as more of a force in the middle than Ayton. His rebounds split to 2.2 offensive and 6.9 offensive, and is just a season off of an 11.1 rebound per game stat line. However, he hasn’t played more than 57 games since 2018-19, and then he played 72 games.
Nurkic will be reunited with his backup, Drew Eubanks, in the Valley this season. However, as Pelton points out:
Portland remained one of the league’s worst defensive teams (28th in defensive rating) and was better with Eubanks in the middle.
The biggest bargain could be Little, who’s just 22 years old. The fourth-year player out of North Carolina has started just 34 of his 192 career games. However, there is an upside, according to Pelton:
Little shot a career-best 37% from 3-point range last season and has the athletic potential to serve as the Suns’ primary perimeter defender. Little never seemed to fully win over Portland coach Chauncey Billups, however, averaging just 18.1 MPG off the bench.
Allen’s fit is a little more peculiar for Phoenix. He’s been intrinsically tied to former Sun, guard Landry Shamet. Shamet was traded to Washington as part of the deal to bring Bradley Beal to the Valley.
Both players are shooters who don’t bring much to the table defensively. Allen averaged 10.4 points per game last year with Milwaukee while shooting 40% from three and 90.5% from the free-throw line, but averaged 0.9 steals and 0.2 blocks per while playing 27.4 minutes. He started 70 of 72 games for the Bucks, including all five playoff games.
The Suns mark his fourth team in his six-year NBA career.
Allen may not prove an upgrade on Eric Gordon or Little on Keita Bates-Diop, although the more options for Phoenix the better.
Johnson may make for trade fodder at the deadline come February. Despite earning $2.808 million, the 21-year-old guard out of Tennessee in his third season is one of seven shooting guards currently on the roster.
Moving Johnson would produce far more savings, although the Suns have only second-round picks available to incentivize a team with cap space or a trade exception to take him in.
The move gives the Suns plenty of depth going into training camp. Phoenix won’t have long to wait to potentially see Ayton, as they’ll face off with Portland in the Rose City on Oct. 12 in their first preseason game. The two teams clash in the regular season on Nov. 21 in Phoenix.