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Deandre Ayton Muddling Through Start in Portland

A national commentator gives Ayton a so-so grade for the opening weeks of the year.

Portland Trail Blazers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Portland Trail Blazers traded Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks in September, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton was the main, tangible return salving the wound. The first-overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft was expected to step in, expand his game, and anchor Portland’s interior attack.

So far, over 8 games this season, Ayton is averaging a disappointing 11.4 points to go along with 12.9 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. His 57.9% shooting average is as sparkly as ever. He’s just not getting enough field goal attempts to prosper on the offensive side of the ball. 11 points per game is well below his career average of 16.5, let alone with 18.0 mark he set last year in 67 games for the Suns.

Today Dan Favale of Bleacher Report released early grades for player who joined new teams this summer. He gave Ayton a C, noting some of the issues just stated:

Ayton has never been wired to actualize self-sufficiency. He is reliant on others to get him the ball and tee up his shots. Phoenix’s established pecking order was always a cleaner fit than venturing into Portland’s unknown.

Whether Ayton can develop into more of a featured option remains to be seen. Which is weird. And problematic. And kind of predictable.

Portland isn’t force-feeding him the ball (yet). Ayton’s post-up volume (21 percent of possessions) is down from last year (23.1 percent), and his overall usage has plummeted.

These dips in volume are multifold. The Blazers don’t have the spacing to indulge high-volume interior touches. They also don’t have the proven playmakers required to get Ayton the ball.

Favale did praise Ayton’s rebounding and underlined that the center’s lack of productivity may be a team construction issues, not a matter of personal talent.

Of note, Favale gave Lillard a C+ for his early start with the Milwaukee Bucks, criticizing his defense and lack of outside shooting early in the year. He also gave Jrue Holiday, another key cog in the trade, a B for his start with the Boston Celtics.