On Tuesday, May 19, the Detroit Pistons fell to the fifth pick in the NBA Draft, essentially eliminating any chance that Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, or Jabari Smith would end up in the Motor City. The Pistons will likely end up with either Jaden Ivey or Shaedon Sharpe. This will leave Detroit still without a true center, assuming they don’t reach on a player like Jalen Duren, opening the door for the Pistons potentially pursuing restricted free agent Deandre Ayton. 

The current Sun’s center will be looking for a max contract this summer. Assuming the Sun’s aren’t willing to cough up nearly $180 million to keep the 23 year old after his lackluster game 7 performance. The Piston’s are one of four teams that have the cap room to pay him (Magic, Pacers, and Spurs). This begs the question, should the Piston’s pursue Ayton this offseason?

Here’s an argument for and against Troy Weaver signing Deandre Ayton this offseason:

Argument for Pistons pursuing Deandre Ayton (Sean Murphy):

The Detroit Pistons will have ample opportunity to improve this season. And perhaps there might not be a quicker way to improve than by adding Deandre Ayton. The big man will hit the market this summer and demand maximum dollars this summer, and for good reason. For starters, Ayton is just 23 years old. He was drafted one pick above Marvin Bagley III in 2019, and has played a big part in Phoenix’s success. 

In addition, Ayton brings immediate need while also being a potential building block for years to come. Ayton was solid for Phoenix in his first two seasons. However, once the pairing of Chris Paul and Monty Williams came into play, Ayton’s game transformed. In addition, Ayton was fourth in the league with a 63 percent field goal percentage. Deandre Ayton has the ability to take over games with his interior scoring, and also his rebounding. Ayton was a top 10 rebounder this past year, but can climb that list as well. 

Chris Paul and Devin Booker unlocked another level in Deandre Ayton’s game. And it’s undeniable that the point guard always helps make the big man shine brighter. However, Cade Cunningham can compliment Ayton’s game as well. Cunningham has showcased his game changing ability on the offensive end. And with his overall versatility and athleticism, he can perhaps unlock a different level that Paul’s limitations just didn’t allow. 

Deandre Ayton would perhaps bring the most impact on the defensive end. The Detroit Pistons are bad at defending the paint. Over the past season, despite being fourth best in preventing opposing second chance points, Detroit does allow the 8th most points in the paint per game. Isaiah Stewart was overwhelmed, and struggled with foul trouble throughout the season. And when Stewart came out of the game, Bagley and Olynyk’s interior defense was also not good enough. Deandre Ayton has had some of the most impactful defensive performances/challenges in the playoffs of anyone the past few years. If Ayton had a reliable back up big last year, his defense against Giannis almost won Phoenix a championship.

Paying $30 million plus on a big man is always a steep asking price. However, in a conference with Giannis Antetokounmpo, having a premium big man is a cost that pays its weight in gold in the playoffs. At least that would be the expectation. There are valid criticisms of Ayton’s game, and of his attitude. There can certainly be some questions to raise after his 17 minute performance in game 7 vs Dallas. However, maybe Ayton needs a fresh start. And maybe he needs to be in a more stable organization with new teammates and a new coach. Having someone like Dwane Casey and Cade Cunningham in his corner, in addition to big men like Ben Wallace that are in the building, there’s a lot of reason to be intrigued.

Another reason to feel more comfortable with making the offer to pay Deandre Ayton is that the Pistons have financial flexibility now, but going forward as well. Even more money is set to come off the books for Detroit over the next couple of seasons. And with the Motor City holding the most cap room in the league this offseason, it might be the perfect time for Troy Weaver to consider his first splash signing of his tenure. 

Argument against the Pistons pursuing Deandre Ayton (Ben Cooper): 

As sports fans, it is seemingly in our job description to be prisoners of the moment. Seeing Deandre Ayton score only five points in 17 minutes and elect to not return to game 7 against the Mavericks did not leave a great taste in my mouth. However, this game doesn’t take away the near 20 and 10 he was putting up prior to the game in the playoffs. The productive and efficient numbers he has put up in his first four years in the league. Yet, looking at his entire tenure in the NBA, he is not worth $33 million dollars a year and here’s why:

The Detroit Pistons are a bad NBA basketball team. Shocker, I know. With Cade Cunningham coming off a ROTY caliber season, Saddiq Bey’s improvement and Detroit having the No. 5 pick in the draft, there are real reasons for hope in Detroit. For now that is all they have: Hope. The team is far more than a piece away from becoming a contender. Spending the vast majority of your cap space on a player that’s only proven to be a third option on a championship caliber team seems foolish. 

As a 23-year-old, Ayton will no doubt improve, but the question is by how much. He’s slightly improved every year he’s been in the league. But, considering his usage rate has stayed below 25% (putting him just above league average), it’s unknown how he’d perform when given a much bigger role on the offensive end. Additionally, he doesn’t get to the line nearly as much as you’d hope. Shooting only four attempts per 100 possessions in the past two seasons, and hasn’t shown growth in this area thus far. 

It’s impossible to consider Ayton without wondering what kind of player he’d be without Chris Paul and Devin Booker. He’s shown ability to score in his first two years in the league on non competitive teams without Paul. However, the addition of CP3 improved his efficiency drastically, leaving question marks if he will regress if he were to no longer play with the all-time great. 

A common gripe against Ayton is his impact on winning. The Sun’s were 21-6 in the past two seasons without Ayton in the lineup. Compare that to the 11-8 record they had without Booker or the 13-6 record they had without Paul. These statistics in and of themselves can be flawed, depending on the team’s opponent or importance of the game. When looking at Ayton’s statistics compared to his backup center, Javale McGee, the argument against Ayton’s importance becomes a bit more damning. 

With Ayton missing 24 games this season due to injury, JaVale McGee played over a thousand minutes this season. McGee’s stats look eerily similar to Deandre’s per 36 minutes, with Ayton only having substantial advantages in fouls and turnovers. In addition to the statistics shown below, per 48 minutes their win shares are nearly identical, with Ayton having a rating of .203 and McGee at .201. 

Does this mean that 34-year-old Javale Mcgee is as good as Deandre Ayton? Of course not, and McGee would probably agree, but it shows how inflated statistics can be in the right system. 

The final argument against Ayton is something that is difficult to quantify: His motor. Ayton telling his coach that he doesn’t want to return to the game when they were down 30 plus points is one thing, but his relationship with video games is another. Don’t get me wrong there’s much worse things Ayton could be doing, but routinely getting two hours of sleep before practice and games because of his late night gaming, is definitely an issue. This is accompanied by his 25 game suspension due to him violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy in 2019. It’s understandable to question his priorities.

Overall, it would be advantageous for the Pistons to pursue a less costly young center. Thomas Bryant or Mitchell Robinson could be in play,  in addition to re-signing Marvin Bagley III. Being patient is difficult, especially when it feels like something Detroit fans have been practicing for an eternity. But, passing on Ayton will be beneficial in the long term, as  the Pistons continue to develop and gel. Prioritizing bringing cheap and proven role players to pair alongside Detroit’s blossoming roster is the right decision for the Pistons. It’ll keep the door open for a better big-name free agent signing next summer, when the team will be more suited to make the jump to contender. 


 

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