- Position: Center
- Vitals: 6’11” tall, 250 pounds, 24 years old
- Experience: 4th NBA season
- Stats (regular season): 17.2 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, 29.5 minutes played in 58 games (all starts), 63% shooting from the field.
Regular Season Recap
Ayton entered this season primed to make a statement and show the world (as well as the Phoenix Suns, of course) unambiguously that he was a superstar in the making and that he deserved a max contract. He was fairly consistent throughout the year, averaging similar numbers both before and after the all-star break.
Arguably his best game of the year came March 23 in Minnesota, when he shot 15/24 to drop 35 points on the Timberwolves, also grabbing 14 rebounds in the Suns’ 125-116 victory.
He missed time in a few stretches, most notably the 30 days from late December until late January, most of which time he was dealing with a right ankle sprain.
Though his numbers weren’t eye-popping on most nights, Ayton was a very good player for the Suns throughout the regular season. He provided solid defense, rebounded consistently, and was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Devin Booker. Among players who played meaningful minutes this season, he trailed only Chris Paul in minute-adjusted win shares on a team that went 64-18.
Superstar numbers or not, that’s a season to be proud of. Check out the highlights below, and relive some of the good times from an awfully enjoyable regular season.
The playoffs were a bit of a different story, unfortunately. While his 17.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in the postseason compare reasonably with his regular season output, Ayton’s performance was less consistent.
He had a marvelous series against the New Orleans Pelicans despite a few struggles on the boards against a Pels team that was making rebounding a major priority. But he was essentially a non-factor in the losing series against the Dallas Mavericks, averaging only 15.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in that seven games despite Dallas having nobody to physically compare to him.
The disappointment reached its peak in game 7 of course, when Ayton scored only 5 points and played only 3 minutes in the second half, eventually having some kind of still-mysterious altercation with Monty Williams on the sideline.
Ayton is about as versatile a center as you’ll find in the NBA. He has the touch on offense that allows him to easily drop 20+ points in a game if he gets into a groove, and he appears to be slowly but surely developing some confidence to take shots from downtown.
He isn’t an elite rim protector, but he is a pretty good one, and his relative quickness allows him to be a legitimate defensive matchup on players that Rudy Gobert or Jakob Poeltl wouldn’t dare step away from the paint to guard.
There’s no especially nice way to say this. Four seasons into his pro career, Ayton continues to play a finesse game that borders on timid at times. Other than when he is utilized as a lob catcher, he nearly always prefers a quick hook shot or fadeaway jumper to a power move, even when guarded by a substantially smaller man. Unfortunately, it shows in the results he gets.
Among NBA centers, Ayton ranked only 18th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game, even though he ranked 13th in minutes played and 9th in field goal attempts. At only 2.4 per game, he attempted fewer free throws than Dwight Powell or Jaxson Hayes.
Not only is this finesse style causing Ayton to miss out on high efficiency scoring opportunities, he also fails to contribute to forcing other teams into foul trouble.
This number may shock you even if you already knew it instinctually: Ayton ranked 137th in the NBA in personal fouls drawn this regular season at just 2.1 per game. The same as JaVale McGee, and fewer than Jalen Smith.
This is the really big discussion item when it comes to Ayton right now. The Suns declined to offer him a rookie extension last year, which makes him a restricted free agent this summer. His agent, Bill Duffy, has made clear Ayton would have accepted nothing less than a max extension and likely will accept nothing less than a max contract when he’s allowed to start fielding offers in a few weeks.
Because of Ayton’s restricted status, the Suns can retain him by matching any offer sheet he signs from another team. But it looks increasingly unlikely the Suns are prepared to spend that kind of money to retain Ayton given the disappointing end to the season and apparent friction with the head coach. Odds seem pretty good that he’s played his final game as a Sun.
Time to grade out Deandre Ayton’s 2021-22 season.
- Overall grade as an NBA player: B+
- Relative grade to preseason expectations: C