Even for established All-Stars like Devin Booker, the jump from regular-season basketball to playoff basketball is a big one, especially with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers on the schedule. Yet with the help of 22-year-old breakout performer/No. 1 pick of 2018 Deandre Ayton, Booker and the Phoenix Suns are heading to L.A. tied 1-1 with the defending champs.
Despite having no previous playoff experience -- the Suns just missed the play-in a year ago despite going 8-0 in the bubble -- Booker and Ayton have combined to average 54.0 points, 17.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists through two games. Along with Mikal Bridges, another key cog in Phoenix's under-25 core, they're generating considerable optimism leaguewide surrounding Phoenix.
How have Ayton and Booker been so effective even as postseason newcomers and what does it mean for the Suns not only for this postseason, but for their future as well?
Deandre Ayton: Mastering simplicity
Deandre Ayton is mastering the art of simplicity on his way to a breakout series against the Lakers and their behemoth front line.
Ayton averaged 21.5 points and 13.0 rebounds in 39.3 minutes in his first two postseason games, shooting a remarkable 21-of-24 from the field while regularly defending Anthony Davis. The 22-year-old has never been a stranger to eye-popping box score stats, but it's more about how he's been able -- and willing -- to impact the game that should have Suns fans optimistic about the future.
Dating back to his high school days at Hillcrest Prep, the uber-talented Ayton often left you wanting more as a defender and interior force. Despite a big freshman year at Arizona and some incredible highlights with his mobility and touch, Ayton's tendency to pop to midrange instead of diving hard to the rim was maddening, as is often the case with young, inexperienced bigs. Even with huge box score numbers through his first two years in the NBA, his team defense and willingness to use his frame and agility remained a work in progress. He's still not a perfect player as you saw down the stretch of Game 2, but Playoff Ayton is well ahead of schedule with his play against the defending champs and is a huge reason the Suns have a chance to hang with LeBron James & Co. even with a hampered Chris Paul. So what has made Ayton so successful through two games?