Phoenix Suns big man DeAndre Ayton is coming off of a terrific rookie campaign in which he averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds over 30.7 minutes per game while shooting 58.5 percent from the floor and 74.6 percent from the free-throw line.
While his season was overshadowed by fellow rookies Luka Doncic and Trae Young and by the fact that the Suns were, by and large, the worst team in the NBA, there is no doubt that Ayton was impressive and seems to be well on his way to enjoying a successful NBA career.
But, just as with any other young player preparing to enter his second season, there are some improvements that Ayton needs to make in order to truly reach the next level.
Here are three things Ayton needs to work on this offseason to be better next year.
3. Improve His Free-Throw Rate
Ayton operated almost exclusively on the low block during his first season in the NBA, with about 70 percent of his field-goal attempts coming from inside of 10 feet.
Based on that, you would think that Ayton, a physical freak who stands 7-foot-1 and weighs 250 pounds, would draw a lot of contact, but he really didn’t this season, as he attempted only 2.7 free throws per game.
For a guy whose bread and butter comes down low, that has to change.
There is no reason why Ayton shouldn’t be overpowering most of the guys who guard him, especially in an NBA where small-ball centers are becoming all the more common.
Ayton should be getting to the line quite a bit more than he is at the moment.
2. Expand His Range
Ayton took just four three-pointers during the 2018-19 campaign and missed all of them.
Now, Ayton doesn’t necessarily have to become a reliable three-point shooter in order to be a good player, but it would certainly help, as it would make him more unguardable and would open up the Suns’ offense as a hole.
There is every reason to believe that Ayton can eventually start knocking down threes, as well.
He is a decent mid-range and free-throw shooter, after all, and he actually drained 12 triples during his lone season at Arizona.
The 20-year-old should spend a lot of time working on his perimeter shot this summer to make him more of an all-around offensive force going into next season.
1. Work on Rim Protection
This one is easier said than done, as it involves instincts that some guys just don’t have, and it’s entirely possible that Ayton doesn’t really possess them.
On the surface level, it’s hard to see why Ayton would not be a good rim protector. He is 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and can jump out of the gym. However, he averaged just 0.9 blocks per game this past season, a startlingly low number for such an athletic freak.
Ayton’s defensive chops were not all that impressive during his rookie campaign, as he would frequently get lost on switches and got burnt countless times on pick-and-rolls.
His recovery and reaction time seems to be pretty slow, both in terms of dealing with players taking him off the dribble and in terms of trying to contest shots inside. He bites on pump fakes far too often, and sometimes, he doesn’t give much of a defensive effort at all.
Ayton’s commitment to defense will make all of the difference in whether he becomes an elite center or another Al Jefferson type of player, and he needs to work hand on getting better on that end of the floor this summer.