Deandre Ayton's 25-game suspension presented a serious problem for Phoenix. They got over it and looked like they weren’t going to miss him early in the season, but the ship came crashing down to the point where he has become a possible saviour to their year.
Missing Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson and Tyler Johnson, the Suns were beaten to a pulp by the Clippers in a game of runs. Sadly, the Suns' runs were never as long as the Clippers', resulting in a big loss without their star player.
Ayton was clearly nervous upon his return, and threw up some poor shots early, but throughout the game he got into rhythm and had a very big impact offensively.
None of his scores came easy, a worrying sign for a team which prides itself upon ball movement, but Deandre did well with what he got, ending with 18 points on 9/19 shooting along with 7 offensive rebounds. He was aggressive all throughout the game, which was always a major knock on his scoring, a positive sign for certain.
His over reliance on the mid-range throughout the game was something of concern, but he hit a high enough percentage of them that it didn’t matter too much. Whether or not that efficiency can keep up is certainly questionable, but he has enough skill to adapt when the shot isn’t falling.
One thing that looked much improved was his playmaking. He only ended with three assists, but his vision and willingness to make passes out to shooters was surprising to watch, as he has always had a head-down approach in the post. This clearly shows that he has dedicated his suspension to making developments to his game, his shooting aggressiveness and now this newfound playmaking.
Offensively, it took him one quarter to find his rhythm and came out on the attack from then on, rendering the Clippers' weak interior defense useless against his big body and soft touch. Defensively though, there are still some issues.
His defensive rebounding was quite poor, his reactions and help seem improved but still not there, but his one-on-one post defense was fairly good. All this adds up to a mediocre defensive player, and one that is improving game by game.
The Suns have fallen to 11-16, but do not doubt their ability to get back into form when Devin Booker gets over his niggling injury- which is likely to happen before their game against the Thunder- and the dynamic duo can play together again.