Unlike last year’s run to the NBA Finals where Phoenix relied heavily on center DeAndre Ayton, this year, the Suns know that if something were to happen to him, they’re well covered at the center position given the play of JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo.
Ayton, who is averaging 16.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this season, has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle sustained in the win over the Pistons last Sunday.
Ayton has been so good on both ends of the floors this season when he’s been healthy he must be, at the very least, in consideration for a reserve All-Star berth, but overall, he has missed 18 games this season.
Fortunately for the Suns, their record in those games is 15-3.
That is in large thanks to Biyombo and McGee who have both given Phoenix quality minutes this season.
Against Indiana on Saturday night, Biyombo scored 21 points (tying a career-high) and pulled down 13 rebounds along with five assists and two blocks in the 113-103 win, in the process becoming just the seventh player in Suns history with 20-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists off the bench, and the first since James Jones in 2006.
Biyombo is making his presence felt with the Suns.
It’s even more impressive given that he was without an NBA team after Charlotte renounced its free-agent exemption rights to him last August.
With his father passing away in the same month, Biyombo wasn’t in a rush to return to the league, but Phoenix had reached out to him. Biyombo signed a 10-day hardship exemption on New Year’s Day after Ayton, Jae Crowder and backup big JaVale McGee were all placed in the league’s COVID health and safety protocols.
“I didn’t just take the 10-day because it was a 10-day,” Biyombo has said. “I knew because of the opportunity that was presenting itself and the type of guys that I was going to play with and the system that fits in perfectly with the way I play. … I think being in environments like this makes you want to compete at the highest level and you have to be more demanding of yourself because the guys they have here are amazing.”
McGee had a double-double (by the beginning of the fourth term, mind you) against the Pacers, finishing the game with 13 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
McGee has been somewhat of a revelation for the Suns this season, stepping up as a backup big, and also filling in when Ayton hasn’t been able to start. In 41 appearances this season he’s averaging 10.1 points on wildly efficient 65 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds a game. He is ridiculously long and provided a great presence at the center position.
The Suns are now an NBA best 36-9 with a top-five offense and defense and a comfortable 3.5 game lead of the Warriors in the standings courtesy of their six-game winning streak.
There is no date yet set for Ayton’s return, but with the way Biyombo and McGee are playing, there may be no need to rush him back.