Three months ago, the Phoenix Suns began the NBA offseason with a blockbuster deal that saw them acquire three-time NBA All-Star Bradley Beal for a package highlighted by their 38-year-old starting point guard Chris Paul.
It was a bold move for the Suns that was also a no-brainer not only because of Paul’s advanced age. The thought of adding another dynamic scorer in the 30-year-old Beal alongside Kevin Durant and Devin Booker was tantalizing and these three could go down in history, at least on paper at the moment, as the most potent scoring trio of all-time.
Beal is only two seasons removed from averaging 31.3 points per game which he did on an impressive 48.5% field goal shooting. Though he may not replicate this next to his high-scoring teammates, the mere threat brought about by his presence on the floor is more than enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
While much has been said about Phoenix’s new “Big Three”, their success might ultimately hinge on DeAndre Ayton’s ability to turn this trio into a quartet.
The first overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft has actually been solid by typical standards over his five seasons in the NBA. Ayton has averaged 16.7 points on 59.7% field goal shooting, 10.4 rebounds, and one block over 303 career games, yet much more is expected from him as a former top pick.
Furthermore, the fact that the 6’11 center was drafted ahead of four-time NBA All-Star Luka Doncic, reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young, former teammate and Team USA standout Mikal Bridges, and 2023 All-NBA First Team member Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has only made him look more like a bust rather than the serviceable player that he is.
Ayton is now 25 years old and slowly creeping towards his prime years. This upcoming season may very well be his last chance to prove that he can be a superstar–or at the very least a borderline NBA All-Star game candidate–and the stage has been set for him to flourish.
Sharing the floor with Durant, Booker, and Beal should lead to many open looks on the inside for Ayton whose main challenge will be consistency and aggressiveness more than anything else.
These four players alone have already put the Suns almost $30 million over the salary cap for the ‘23-’24 campaign. In response, their front office has turned to several serviceable yet underqualified journeymen such as Josh Okogie, Yuta Watanabe, Damion Lee, Keita Bates-Diop, and Drew Eubanks to fill out the rest of their rotation.
This top-heavy concentration means that each and every one of Phoenix’s maximum players will have to carry their fair share of the load. There is no doubt that Durant, Booker, and Beal are capable of this, leaving Ayton as the main variable in their quest for a title. If Ayton can answer the call, this Suns team has enough tools in its arsenal to even make a run at the Golden State Warriors’ regular season wins record of 72 games from the 2016 campaign.
Ayton has also drawn recent interest from opposing teams, particularly the Portland Trail Blazers, and a trade could give both him and Phoenix a much-needed fresh start. It has been rumored that Portland may look into acquiring Ayton if they successfully trade away their current star player Damian Lillard.
As a former first overall pick, Ayton gives the Trail Blazers someone young enough to rebuild around, yet with enough of a reputation to appease their fanbase. Ayton could thrive playing away from his tumultuous history with the Suns and a fresh start may be all that he needs to finally reach his potential.
Phoenix is likely going to acquire Jusuf Nurkic in this trade scenario. The 6’11 Bosnian center is still only 29 years old and his bruising style of play is a good fit next to Durant, Booker, and Beal. Though he may not have the upside that Ayton has, Nurkic is already a proven commodity and gives the Suns more stability if–and that is a big if–he stays healthy.
It is clear that whether it be as their fourth star or most valuable trade asset, DeAndre Ayton is going to play an important role for the Suns this season. The hope around the league is that Ayton can finally pull things together and fulfill his promise as the top pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. Ayton has all the tools for success in place and now, the ball is in his court as he enters the most important years of his NBA career.