Deandre Ayton played the best game of his NBA career on Thursday night on basketball's biggest stage. Granted, the Knicks are just 11-31, but 26 points, 21 rebounds and 2 blocks is never anything to stick your nose up at. That is the guy Suns fans have been longing to see, and Monty Williams and Ricky Rubio deserve credit for helping him show up.
Good center play in the NBA requires three things: Talent, support, and structure. Talent, because it's the NBA. Support, because centers depend on guards to get them the ball in the right position. Structure, because they're often pushed into basketball at an early age regardless of their love for the sport, based on their extraordinary body type, which often creates less basketball-driven personalities. Embiid is a living meme. Karl-Anthony Towns proved too soft for Jimmy Butler. Ayton has been up and down, and put himself in front of the team when he tested positive for a diuretic. Ayton obviously has the talent, and thanks to Ricky Rubio and Monty Williams, it looks like he was the support and structure.
This is a nugget that I've held onto throughout the season. It's always seemed especially important for Ayton to have the connection with his point guard. Rubio's the perfect older brother figure. Last night, their connection was felt throughout the game.
But perhaps more importantly is the structure Ayton has received from Monty Williams. Williams is a natural nurturer, but he's taken a tough-love approach to Ayton the last three games, having the young center come off the bench. It was a motivational tactic that culminated in Ayton's 20 points and 10 rebounds last game against the Hawks, his best of the season up to that point. Against the Knicks, Ayton earned the starting nod, and rewarded his head coach. The structure that Williams has put into place seems to have pulled out Ayton's best.