The Phoenix Suns have gotten out to one of their best starts in recent memory, starting the season with an 8-9 record after looking like one of the worst teams in the NBA over the last handful of years. They’ve managed to do this without starting center Deandre Ayton for every game but the season opener due to his 25-game suspension.
When Ayton does come back, Suns head coach Monty Williams will likely move him back into the starting lineup, though it's not 100 percent set in stone:
Monty Williams said on @AZSports that they're still undecided as to whether or not they will start Deandre Ayton when he returns but then said "more than likely we're gonna start him."
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) November 29, 2019
Ayton's 25-game suspension was levied because he tested positive for a diuretic, a substance banned by the NBA for its ability to possibly mask performance-enhancing drugs. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick won’t be able to play again until Dec. 17 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Before a recent injury kept him out five games, the Suns were starting Aron Baynes, who was playing terrific basketball after coming over from the Boston Celtics. Baynes is not only shooting much better — he’s currently hitting 44.2 percent of his 3-point attempts — but he has been a defensive anchor and major presence for the Suns. While an argument can be made that Baynes should continue starting at center, Ayton has also proven to be a strong weapon for the Suns and is a centerpiece of their rebuild.
During his rookie year, Ayton averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds on nearly 60 percent shooting. Despite the incredible rookie year, Ayton will have a lot of pressure to live up to when he returns, as 2018 NBA Draft classmates Luka Doncic and Trae Young have taken the league by storm.
Thankfully for Ayton, he’ll return to a team performing much better than it has in the past, and one that could use his presence once again.