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DeAndre Ayton: Max Check In

Photo: Forbes

DeAndre Ayton and his contract extension still remains to be one of the biggest storylines for the Phoenix Suns as the season continues. 

Earlier during the off-season, the Suns decided not to extend Ayton on his rookie contract, choosing to extend forward Mikal Bridges instead. This allowed the Suns to make their decision based on his performance this season. 

Statistically, Ayton’s filling his role exactly how the Suns would like him to. He’s averaging 17 points on 62.6% from the field and 11.1 rebounds per game. He’s second in scoring only behind Devin Booker and his presence has also been felt when he is in the paint. 

This best can be seen in his games against the Golden State Warriors this season. Although Phoenix is down in the season series, Ayton has dominated the paint in the first three games. He averaged 21.7 points on 58% from the field, 8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. Throughout these match-ups with the Warriors, Ayton scored a lot of his points almost effortlessly, making tough shots look easy.

Although Ayton is primarily known as an offensive player, his presence in the paint on defense has been missed in his absence. DeAndre Ayton was added to the COVID list on Dec. 26. In the three games the Suns have played since then, Phoenix has allowed an average of 58.7 points in the paint per game. This is 13 points more than their season average, a majority of those games with Ayton in the lineup.

Based on this, the Suns should have no issue paying Ayton a max contract. However, there are some questions Phoenix should consider before making this decision.

One of the major questions is whether or not his success in the Sun’s offense can be connected with having Chris Paul. Paul, who is leading the league in assists this season with 9.8, is well known as one of the best playmakers in NBA history. In coach Monty Williams’ offense, Ayton also tends to get a lot of his shots off the pick-and-roll with Paul.

When it comes to centers in the NBA with max contracts, except for Rudy Gobert, top players at his position like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns are able to create their own shots. Ayton does not have that top-tier ability and rarely attempts to shot create.  He usually scores off an assist or offensive rebound. With Chris Paul’s age in mind, can Ayton continue these scoring numbers in the post-Paul age or will his numbers decline without him?

Another question is can the Suns replace Ayton with a cheaper center and continue to stay on top of the Western Conference? With Phoenix making the NBA Finals in 2021, the franchise went from one of the more disappointing franchises to a franchise that now has high expectations. With these high expectations and a young core, free agents will be more attracted to the Valley. 

Instead of paying Ayton, who is the third-best player on the Suns, a max contract, would it be more beneficial in the long-term to sign a cheaper center who can fill Ayton’s role and spend in other areas? The Suns would be able to spend more money in free agency to beef up the bench and also surround their franchise player, Devin Booker, with other star players.

The Suns will have a very tough decision to make in the off-season and they will take the entire season to decide. Whether Ayton stays or not, he will likely be a max player in the 2022 season. The question is whether he will remain a major part in the Suns’ future or move on to find more success somewhere else?

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