An Honest Conversation about Deandre Ayton

Deandre Ayton is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing athletes in the history of Arizona sports.

Even before the Suns selected him #1 overall in the 2018 draft, fans seemed to all have extremely strong and varied opinions of him. His first few years as a pro have had some very high highs as well as many low lows, which has only amplified the trend of extremism when fans discuss his game. There are some who think he can do no wrong, others who criticize his every breath, and everything in between.

Part of what makes Ayton at times frustrating to watch is his inconsistency. Watching his performance every game is like a mystery box, you never know what you’re going to get. His focus and motor have been inconsistent throughout his career. Everyone sees it, and I’m sure his coaches and teammates talk to him about it, but so far it has never really changed. His aggressiveness and ability to get to the rim have actually steadily declined since his rookie year.Per basketball-reference, he shot 48% of his shot attempts within 3 feet of the basket his rookie year. That number went slightly down to 46% his second year, but is now at just 37% in 11 games so far in 2020-21. Fortunately, his defense, the most important part of his game in my opinion, has improved at an amazing rate over his first three years. Ayton has evolved into a player with the rare combination of rim protection and ability to guard on the perimeter that could make him one of the most valuable defenders in the NBA. The problem is that this year, his offense hasn’t just been neutral; often times he has been detrimental to the Suns’ success on that end.

Having an inconsistent player like Ayton can be exhausting for a fan. At this point, Ayton has been so over-discussed that many people (like myself) often just avoid talking him for the most part. Every once in a while, however, Ayton will have a particularly bad game and fans will explode in a tirade of anger and disappointment toward him. Some people even get nasty toward him on social media.

Suns Twitter’s favorite Scotsman, Craig Hamil, pointed out some deplorable comments that are too often directed at Ayton. It’s perfectly fine for fans to have rational criticisms of players, but those types of words are unacceptable, and Ayton gets an unfair share of them.

When I saw Craig’s tweet, it got me thinking about how the toxic side of social media negatively affects players. As I thought about this in regard to Ayton, my first thought was that he actually seems to bounce back from really bad games pretty well, typically. In my mind, I felt I could remember many instances where Ayton played poorly in a game, got hammered on Twitter, then came into the next game more focused and silenced the talk.

I set out to find a way to track this phenomenon statistically, and what I found was quite interesting. There wasn’t any empirical way of tracking when fans were the most angry at him, so I had to just set arbitrary statistical benchmarks to define a “really bad game”. I used Stathead’s Game Finder tool to find every game where Ayton had fewer than 10 points and 10 rebounds and shot under 50% from the field. Then, I looked at his statistics in the NEXT game.

Here are the 7 games, and although it isn’t a huge sample, the games certainly supported my memory of Ayton being good at bouncing back.

Ayton’s games AFTER posting <10PTS, <10 REB, and <50% FG
Date of “game after” Points Rebounds FGM-FGA FTM-FTA
10-22-18 20 14 6-11 8-8
11-30-18 19 6 9-16 1-2
12-15-18 18 12 7-11 4-5
1-12-19 22 13 9-18 4-6
3-15-19 17 14 7-14 3-4
8-4-20 19 7 9-19 0-1
1-1-21 22 11 10-13 2-2
Averages 19.6 11.0 55.9% 78.6%

Over these seven instances of a game after a bad one, Ayton averaged 19 and 11 on solid efficiency and more Free Throws than his normal average. Now, many would say that Ayton, as the #1 overall pick and possible franchise building block for the Suns, can’t afford to have those really bad games in the first place. This is a fair take, but I’m at least happy that he doesn’t seem to let the hateful words that some people send him affect his game.

Ayton hit the benchmarks I set for a really bad game 8 times in his career, and each time so far, he has been very good in the next game. You may notice that the chart above only has 7 games. That is because he put up his latest stinker in the last game the Suns played before getting their season postponed due to the league’s health and safety protocol.

That loss to the Wizards left a bad taste in the mouth of Suns fans, and I’m sure it has been even worse for the players. The Suns will likely resume their season Monday against the Grizzlies, so I will be looking to see if Ayton continues the trend of increased focus and intensity following a bad game. For the sake of the Suns and the sanity of their fans, let’s hope he does.

Follow Cody on twitter @Co_DHunt

Additional News and Notes:

Brendon Kleen and I talked a lot about Deandre Ayton (and Mikal Bridges) on the latest episode of Locked On Suns so be sure to check that out.

Check out our new page, “Zona Spotlight” where I will be sharing some of the best content out there on a weekly basis.


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