Earlier in SB Nation's NBA Surprises day, Orlando Pinstriped Post highlighted the play of Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic as a pleasant surprise. We now turn our attention to another second-year Magic center whose play has been surprising: Gustavo Ayón, the 27-year-old from Mexico who's had a rough go of it through Orlando's first 10 games.
Ayón arrived from the New Orleans Hornets in a sign-and-trade involving Ryan Anderson, the NBA's Most Improved Player. Nobody expected Ayón to duplicate Anderson's productivity, or his play style, but nobody should have expected Ayón to start quite so sluggishly, either. In nine appearances--he missed the Magic's season-opener--Ayón has tallied twice as many fouls (18) as baskets (nine), and is shooting 42.9 percent from the floor. More alarmingly, he's blocked just one shot in his 98 minutes.
Understand that Ayón isn't a stiff: as a rookie with the Hornets, he averaged 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, one steal, and 0.9 blocks per game in just 20.1 minutes while connecting on 53.6 percent of his field goals. He punished defenses for ignoring him by ducking in for layups and dunks, and also proved effective rolling to the hoop in pick-and-roll sets.
Perhaps the broken left thumb he suffered in the preseason is hurting his performance; it might explain why he's blocking fewer shots, as shot-blockers tend to use their left hands to contest right-handed shot attempts. But the thumb can't explain all of Ayón's erratic play, as for much of the season he's appeared lost in a fog on both ends of the floor.
There's no real reason to suspect Ayón won't improve with time; players rarely lose 10.6 points off their Player Efficiency Rating from year to year, as Ayón has. But the Magic had to expect more from him in the early stages of the season than what he's provided.