Going into the summer of 2022, the Detroit Pistons will have ample opportunity to improve. 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 that is for quite a few reasons. However, should the Pistons take the leap for Deandre Ayton? Despite being a number one overall pick in 2018, Ayton has had a career filled with both many highs and many lows. But even with some of the potential shortcomings that come with Deandre Ayton, there is too much upside for Detroit to pass on.
Deandre Ayton can unlock the Pistons offense in the post
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. Detroit has the opportunity to go surround Cade Cunningham with a backcourt partner as well.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 (few) limitations just didn’t allow.
Ayton brings stability in the paint on the defensive end
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. And if Ayton had a reliable back up big last year, his defense against Giannis at points 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.
Ayton is far better than the rest of the free agency class
Another center reportedly on the Pistons list of top free agents is Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson. Robinson clocks in at a year older than Ayton, but also brings a top tier rim protection to the table. However, where the premium comes in for Ayton is both in his upside and in his offensive ability. Mitchell Robinson is a one dimensional post player that primarily finishes off of lobs and second chance points. Ayton, however, can score both in the post and in the midrange, and has even hit occasional three point shots as well. If Robinson can at least add more post scoring to his game, he can definitely be valuable on that end. However, Robinson has a foul trouble issue as well that limits his availability on the court, in addition to health issues.
There is no signing in free agency that comes without risk. And signing Deandre Ayton would be a calculated risk. It would be betting on the culture that the Pistons are building. And it would be putting faith in Cade Cunningham and his ability to uplift those around him. In addition, it would be the highest upside move this team could make this season, with perhaps even the highest floor as well. When you pay max dollars for a big man, you do so hoping he can be one of the best in the league for years to come. And Deandre Ayton certainly can be that.