Suns’ Vogel: Ayton ‘can be one of the best centers in the league’

New Phoenix Suns head coach Frank Vogel expressed confidence in Deandre Ayton’s development despite the starting center’s recent postseason struggles.

“I think he can be one of the best centers in the league,” Vogel said at his introductory press conference on Tuesday, per NBA TV. “I think he’s shown that at times throughout his career.”

He added, “I’m intent on really connecting with him and restoring him to an All-Star-level player.”

While Ayton’s 18 points per game in 2022-23 were an improvement on his previous two campaigns, his 10 rebounds were a career low, and his 0.8 blocks were the second-fewest of his career.

The 24-year-old’s playoffs got off to a solid start against the Los Angeles Clippers, with averages that mirrored his regular-season numbers. But he tailed off in Phoenix’s disappointing six-game series loss to the Denver Nuggets in Round 2, only playing in five games before missing the final contest with a rib injury.

The Bahamian big man averaged just 10.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game against two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, often getting replaced by reserve Jock Landale down the stretch of contests. Ayton also had more turnovers than assists, shot just 2-for-5 from the free-throw line, and was an abysmal minus-59 in the series.

Ayton just completed the first year of a four-year, $133-million deal that he originally signed with the Indiana Pacers as a restricted free agent last summer before the Suns matched the contract. Ayton’s one-year no-trade clause triggered by the contract match is set to expire in July.

The Suns and Vogel will enter next season with lofty expectations in the first full season of the Devin Booker and Kevin Durant star pairing.

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