Unlike last year’s run to the NBA Finals, where Phoenix relied heavily on center DeAndre Ayton, this year the Suns know that if anything were to happen to him, they’re well covered at center thanks to play. by 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 an ankle injury suffered in Sunday’s win over the Pistons.
Ayton has been so good on both ends of the floor this season when he’s been healthy that he should at least be in consideration for a reserve All-Star spot, but overall, he’s missed 18 games this season.
Fortunately for the Suns, their record in those games is 15-3.
That’s largely thanks to Biyombo and McGee, who have given Phoenix quality minutes this season.
Against Indiana on Saturday night, Biyombo scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to go along with five assists and two blocks in a 113-103 win, in the process becoming only the seventh player to Suns history with 20-most points, 10-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists off the bench, and the first since James Jones in 2006.
Biyombo is making his presence felt with the Suns.
It’s all the more impressive given that he was without an NBA team after Charlotte waived his free-agent exemption rights last August.
With the death of his father in the same month, Biyombo was in no rush to return to the league, but he was approached by Phoenix. Biyombo signed a 10-day hardship waiver on New Year’s Day after Ayton, Jae Crowder and backup great JaVale McGee were placed on the league’s COVID health and safety protocols.
“I didn’t just take the 10-day one because it was a 10-day one,” biyombo said. “I knew it because of the opportunity that was coming up and the type of guys I was going to be playing with and the system that fits 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 that they have here are incredible.”
McGee had a double-double (early in the fourth quarter, mind you) against the Pacers, finishing the game with 13 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
McGee has been something of a revelation for the Suns this season, stepping up as a big backup and also filling in when Ayton hasn’t been able to start. In 41 appearances this season he is averaging 10.1 points on a wildly efficient 65 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds per game. It’s ridiculously long and provides great presence in the center position.
The Suns are now the best in the NBA 36-9 with a top-five offense and defense and a comfortable 3.5-game lead over the Warriors in the standings thanks to their six-game winning streak.
There is no set date yet for Ayton’s return, but with the way Biyombo and McGee are playing, there may not be a need to rush him.