MIAMI — Deandre Ayton can fix that free throw problem with one simple goal — get to the line once a quarter.
That brought him to eight free throw attempts per game. He currently has 2.5 career tries and a career-low 1.9 this season for Phoenix (8-4).
The Suns Big didn’t even get to the line in Friday’s loss in Orlando. His head coach, Monty Williams, threw the spotlight on this after the 114-97 loss.
“DA doesn’t benefit from any part of the contact,” Williams said. “If a guy is going to the basket and you’re hitting him the way he’s being hit around the basket, pushing people back or fighting for position, I think you probably get that free throw line a little bit more, but it’s a completely different world for the guys who post. You can pretty much beat him down there.”
Ayton finished Friday with 14 points and five rebounds. He didn’t capitalize on the substitutions that left him guarded by smaller defenders, but playing against the likes of Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol and Mo Bamba should have resulted in free-throw opportunities for Ayton.
“He’s certainly got to be more demonstrative down there, but he’s getting beat down there,” Williams said.
Ayton said he has to adjust to how each game is played but didn’t sound too frustrated when discussing the situation.
“I’ve been in situations where sometimes the referees don’t see what I see,” Ayton said. “It’s hard to complain just because the game is going on. I’m not really someone who gets called or lives on the line. So I have to go back (to defense). Sometimes it’s over my head, but otherwise I don’t let it bother me or influence me. Just try to keep my energy super high so my teammates can hear me on defense.”
So how can Ayton take on Bam Adebayo and the Heat (6-7) in Miami starting Monday night?
Ayton started the season by dribbling down the lane for a shot that usually results in contact because the defender had to body him to prevent a power dunk.
Since then he has rarely gone there. Ayton can go more to this step.
Second, Ayton can turn and look up, stick that broad, muscular shoulder into the defender on two power dribbles, and go up for the vault hook. He likes to dribble in one direction and jump away.
Getting to the line is about making contact. It’s a mindset and has to be done on purpose and with the intention of winning the 48-minute fight. If a big doesn’t do it that way, he’s unlikely to get the call.
Bigs tend to do this with pumpfakes and up-and-under moves as well. Ayton rarely uses either. He could use some of that in his game.
Attempting to dun someone usually results in a foul, but doing it at a smaller defender often results in a charge. So he can not only feel with his body how he is being defended at the post or who can help him determine what to do.
Bigger defender, walk around or try to make contact with muscles.
Smaller, over the top.
Finally, Ayton goes off the post pretty well for open 3s, but there are times when he can go on his because it not only results in a basket but also fouls the other team and leads to a 3-point play can.
Now it’s not just up to him.
The Suns put on plays for him, but they can put on more than that. He can post and there is no double, look to score. When Double comes, step back, repost deeper, recover the ball, and ka-boom, dunk.
Listen, big men are like receivers in the NFL. Someone has to throw them the ball to score a goal.
Nothing excites a quarterback more than when the receiver snatches one of their passes out of the air and makes a big play. In the NBA, that’s a lob dunk, power finish, or a good shot, make or miss.
So when Chris Paul or Devin Booker feeds Ayton and he stands up and hits someone, especially with a dunk, it not only empowers the passer but the whole team.
Now everyone wants to feed him.
More touches, more tries, more opportunities to pull fouls and get to the line.
Giannis Antetokounmpo does that. That’s what Joel Embiid does.
Ayton can do that too.
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