Deandre Ayton (Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Head coach Monty Williams and the Phoenix Suns need all hands on deck to make it back to the Western Conference Finals. Will Deandre Ayton show glimpses of greatness during the Suns’ championship pursuit?

Distractions this offseason will not shift the focus for a determined Phoenix squad. Williams and his coaching staff are known for running a tight ship – even if the front office is under media scrutiny. Coverage on Robert Sarver’s actions has dwindled due to the Association’s Media Day.

An opportunity to interview players before the official tip-off gave fans an idea of where their mindsets lie. Deandre Ayton’s time with the press raised questions about his dedication to his team.

Deandre Ayton is a crucial part of Phoenix’s developing offense

Being a first-overall pick comes with high expectations. In 2018, Phoenix used the first overall pick in the draft on a 6-foot-11 center from the University of Arizona. Deandre Ayton’s collegiate career helped him stand out among his colleagues. 35 gave NBA scouts enough confidence to take a chance on a big man from the Bahamas. His 20 points per game and 11.6 rebound average enticed the Suns, resulting in a first-round selection.

An impressive rookie season helped No. 22 adjust to a new playing speed. He continued to average a double-double, becoming a dominant force in the paint. Ayton’s 58.5 field goal percentage demonstrated the rookie’s scoring efficiency. Early contributions on the floor earned the big man more tick. Deandre’s role in the offense grew, raising expectations of the former first-overall pick.

An untimely suspension sidelined the rising star for most of his sophomore season. His 38 games on the hardwood were impressive and continue to result in dominant averages. An increase in rebounds and points per game raised Ayton’s notoriety.

In 2021, the Phoenix Suns made an impressive playoff run. Contributions from Chris Paul and Devin Booker carried the team to the NBA Finals – Ayton served as the X-Factor. A disappointing loss to the Milwaukee Bucks ended Phoenix’s run, but the Suns looked strong enough to make a return sooner than later.

Deandre Ayton answers Suns Media Day questions without enthusiasm.

A loss in the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals sent the Suns home for the second consecutive year. Performances from Devin Booker and Chris Paul were not enough to get back to the big dance. When fans evaluated the play of their big man, they were disappointed with his performance. Ayton’s point total dipped from 347 to 233 from the previous postseason. His rebound average decreased by three boards, demonstrating a lack of aggression on the low block.

An opportunity to find greener pastures presented itself to the fifth-year big man. An offer from the Indiana Pacers would have sent Ayton to the Eastern Conference, but the Suns had other plans. General Manager James Jones, matched the new deal, keeping the big man in Phoenix for the next four years.

Responses from Ayton during Media Day did not convince fans that his decision to remain a Sun was his choice. When asked about his feelings towards his new deal, No.22 showed little emotion – almost as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Questions concerning Ayton’s attitude towards the Suns did not help reporters paint a better narrative. When asked if he was happy in Phoenix, Deandre’s cryptic response surprised reporters.

Ayton was asked if he is happy here and he said “Yeah, I’m alright. When I’m inbetween those lines now I just work. I’m not playing for myself. I have an organization across my chest and a name on my back I have to represent. I’m just here to work, man.”

— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) September 27, 2022

Fans in Phoenix hope a new deal will motivate their dominant big man to have his best season. His new contract extension allows Ayton to become an unrestricted free agent in 2026.

Monty Williams and the Suns can compete in the Western Conference, but they need their big man to refocus.