The Phoenix suns they are the fashionable team in the 2021 Playoffs. Trends change very fast in this league, but it is inevitable to talk about them ahead of the Conference Finals. While their regular season was a success, in the postseason they beat two candidates from the West, conditioned by injuries, and Chris Paul and Devin Booker attract the most attention. Although, after his direct confrontation with the MVP, Nikola Jokic, it is time to focus on Deandre ayton.
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Before the tie, Jokic raised the alarm. He said Ayton had been the pivot that “more problems“He had given him his defense to date. In Game 1 the Phoenix showed the reasons: 20 points and 10 more rebounds leave Nikola 5 of 14 shooting.
“Wow, did he really say that?“Ayton replied after the initial victory upon hearing of Jokic’s previous words.”That is incredible“Although his statements after Jokic’s 30-20-10 Game 3 were undoubtedly the most viral:”He had 20 rebounds, 10 of them in attack … It’s crazy. And 10 assists. It’s crazy. I did not know that I had done so many numbers. He is the MVP for a reason“.
The Suns make it 1-0 against the Nuggets. Four of his players:
Booker: 21 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds
Ayton: 20 points and 10 rebounds
Chris Paul: 21 points and 11 assists
Bridges: 23 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists#Playoffstime pic.twitter.com/wy0rhBkWmr
– NBA Spain (@NBAspain) June 8, 2021
Two very different profiles for the pivot position. The Serbian is the point guard of the Nuggets, while the Bahamian functions as a defensive anchor behind and as a blocker and executor in attack.. Yes, without a doubt, Jokic’s capabilities put him at a higher level. After all, we have never seen a center like him. However, Ayton gains respect and confidence with each game of his in these Playoffs, and before the NBA MVP he showed the reasons.
It is time to review Ayton’s impact on the series with videos and statistics. First of all, let’s compare their traditional numbers from the regular season with those of the First Round and Semifinals:
- Regular season: 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 10 shots and 62.6% in field goals
- First round vs. Lakers: 15.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 9 shots and 79.6% in field goals
- Semifinals vs. Nuggets: 14.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 0.3 blocks, 10.3 shots and 61% from field goals
Deandre Ayton, the quintessential defensive anchor in the Playoffs
In regular season the doubts with Ayton were legitimate. Capable of the best and worst depending on the leg of the match or the week, consistency comes when basketball squeezes the most. He has not yet had a bad performance in the Playoffs, something that statistics and the human eye confirm. He did it against the Lakers headgear of LeBron James and Anthony Davis ?, beating Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol, and repeats with the most demanding test against one of the two most destructive five in the NBA (Jokic and Joel Embiid).
Ayton has faced Jokic, a player who averaged 5.5 free throws per game in the regular season, and in the round against Portland he managed to get 6 per night. Against Phoenix? It reduces the sample to 4.8 thanks to the work of Ayton, who among the main virtues of his tie is having remained on the floor without making fouls. Even when he did have them, as in Game 2, with two fouls in the middle of the second quarter, Monty Williams opted for a zone to protect him. Important test to which he has not failed: maintaining his position, without falling into feints and with a very good lateral movement.
Perhaps the most surprising stat of the tie against Denver is that he has only added one plug. A center of his size and defensive profile, the anchor of the team, could easily add more. So, have you defended badly? or has he defended little? Neither of the two. Ayton reduces his attempts to block shots in these playoffs. Seek to endure and annoy. Deflect shots with his arms and put the opponent in the forced situation. Let’s look at the statistics of players who have defended the most shots per game since the Semifinals began.
- 1) Rudy gobert: 23 shots per game and difference of -6.1% to rivals
- two) Deandre ayton: 21.5 shots per game and -13% difference to rivals
- 3) Blake griffin: 19.3 shots per game and difference of -11.8% to rivals
- 4) Royce O’Neale: 17.3 shots per game and difference of -1.9% to rivals
- 5) Jae crowder: 15.5 shots per game and difference of -8.7% to rivals
Namely, Ayton has been the second player who has defended the most shots and the one who has allowed the greatest difference in accuracy.. Outside of the surprising Blake Griffin data, perfectly integrated into these dangerous Brooklyn Nets, the data reinforces Ayton’s position.
In addition, Phoenix has to its credit the performance offered by its starting quintet: Paul, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Crowder and Ayton together have generated 125.3 points for and conceded 106.3 per 100 possessions in the 92 minutes played against Denver. Only Philadelphia’s starting lineup has a better net rating so far in the Semifinals (19 vs. 31.1). There is also one of the factors for Ayton and the team. The Suns are the second most efficient defense in the Playoffs because all of their players work at the back. A very defined network of rotations and aggressiveness where Ayton helps and is helped.
Despite Booker’s improvement behind, the usual Bridges impact or Crowder’s sensational series, Ayton’s presence has been very clear against Denver. When he was not on track, Phoenix’s defense has conceded 117.5 points per 100 possessions; while, with Ayton in play, Phoenix only allowed 101.8 points per 100 possessions.
In the individual duel with Jokic he has managed to leave him in unusual percentages for him. Nor has he committed fouls that took him out of the game and allowed the Serbian to dominate. And that is where the key lies. With the rest of the players focused on eliminating the passing lanes, Phoenix bet on Ayton containing Jokic in one on one. So it has been and, except in one meeting, the MVP has not been able to dominate as usual.
A) Yes, Deandre did not allow his rival to sink him by size. If Jokic wanted to score, he had to do it with difficult shots. We have seen several actions of the Joker pulling after spin or on one leg, where it is customary to see him score, but Ayton’s picking and that lack of rhythm compared to other hot moments did not allow him to score as much.
Defended by Ayton, Jokic finished with 24 of 59 in shots, 40.7% correct. In the First Round against Portland he was 52.8%.
Interior reference with few balls
He has had a little less of the ball against Denver than he did against the Lakers, although it is easy to understand. The presence of Chris Paul has in Ayton one of the most direct winners of his arrival, but this leaves him many options for completion. Booker and CP3, formidable ball-generating duo, on a par with very few in the NBA, get the most shots in a league increasingly oriented to the dominance of the players who dribble on the outside.
Ayton has been the fourth best scorer in Phoenix in the series in average points (14.3) being the fourth in shots per game (10.3). Bridges has been more active with his cuts and outside shots, generated in large part by the center’s screens, and the # 22 relegation lead by # 22 propels the forward as third scorer. That half of Mikal’s shots are from the triple influences a lot, of course. Even so, Ayton has left huge finishes, the kind with energy in the auction that the viewer demands so much.
In fact, the basket that practically sentenced the night of Game 4 comes after theft by Booker and assistance from Bridges for Ayton’s mate.
To get an idea of the number of shots and his success, here is his shooting map against the Nuggets. The majority of shots come close to the rim (58.5%) with a large percentage (66.7%) and they have barely taken from outside. Although in the regular season he showed progress on middle distance shots, he has reduced his attempts to the maximum: only three shots – recorded by NBA.com/stats – in the four games, all missed. When reviewing all the shots, one of them executes it inside the zone and when he falls he steps outside, and launches a mid-distance shot, stepping on the free kick, which ended up scored.
What can Ayton improve? Inside that his worst game was 10 points with 4 of 8 (50%) and the two free throws he threw, converted, it is difficult to be demanding in terms of performance and shots. Yes indeed, Although he controls his body better and better and defines with great technique for his size, at times he continues not to use his body in the optimal way to ensure the position. He has fewer balls than Booker and Paul, so it is essential that when he receives he always does damage. If you want to jump to the next level, not missing the clearest opportunities is the next step.
Even a clear example defended by Jokic.
Grouping the statistics of the 10 who started, Phoenix is the fifth team with the most use of the pick & roll to finish in the handler, that is, in Paul or Booker. The records of these two are very high-level on these actions and CP3 focused on Ayton’s locks as a key part. He is not the pivot who puts the toughest blocks, but Paul has taught him a lot about pick & roll times and where to navigate.
And while the pick & roll for the manager grows in the NBA, the pick & roll for the center has been sinking for years. In none of the 16 teams does it reach at least 8% frequency in attacks and two (Celtics and Clippers) are below 5%. Phoenix, in the bottom (11th) with 5.6%. And there Ayton is the clear reference: is seventh in Playoffs in pick & roll possessions for him per game (behind Jokic, Nurkic, AD, Gobert, Embiid and Randle) with an average of 3.4. The positive part? Generates 1.44 points per possession with 75.9% on the shot, the two best brands for the top 8.
In the next series Ayton will have a different test. You must maintain consistency in defense and security in attack. Maintaining the data and the feelings of the tie against Denver will be a difficult task, although a new opportunity to demonstrate their ability to impact.
The Jazz with Gobert or the Clippers of ultra small-ball. Rivals couldn’t be more different, but Ayton’s focus should be the same. The classification of Phoenix to the Conference Finals and his performance before all an MVP like Jokic should only serve as a reinforcement to all the work done. Keep the party going in Arizona.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the NBA or its organizations.