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Ayton gets double-team treatment, other Suns step up in Vegas opener

Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton dunks against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game Friday, July 6, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS — Deandre Ayton is going to deal with extra defensive attention for the majority of his NBA career.

We knew this, but we weren’t expecting a Dallas Mavericks gameplan centered around eliminating Ayton’s offense in the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League opener in Las Vegas.

Neither was Ayton in the Suns’ 92-85 win.

“I was surprised,” Ayton said. “I told coach like, ‘yo, they double-team in the league?’ And everybody started laughing and they said, ‘yeah, that’s just respect. They showing you respect.'”

Whenever he got the ball in the post, Ayton would immediately see a double-team, and if it wasn’t there yet, he would get his head up and prepare for the inevitable by finding where he was going to pass when it came.

At one point on a pick-and-roll, while Ayton was rolling to the rim, he dealt with a big bump and hold from a help defender before getting to his actual defender. From there, Ayton got to the block and called for the ball in the post. The two closest help defenders to Ayton guarding the corners closed in to deny the pass from both angles.

It was simply impossible for Ayton to get involved, but his strength in passing out of that defensive pressure showed.

“I think he felt very comfortable because as soon as he caught the ball he knew they were coming,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said.

Ayton would only play just over three minutes in his first shift. Dallas continued to make him move on defense, and with Kokoskov’s offensive motion, Ayton was moving on that end too. Oh, yeah, and fighting for post position and through double teams.

There was extra excitement there as well that both Ayton and Kokoskov referenced afterward.

“A lot of energy,” Ayton said of his thoughts on the first game. “I felt like a rookie. I could feel the energy around, I was speeding myself up a lot on a few jump shots.”

The 19-year-old was frustrated, at times, as would anyone else be in his situation. Ayton’s Suns debut was his chance to dominate and prove he was the No. 1 pick right away before marquee matchups against Sacramento and Marvin Bagley III on Saturday and Mohamed Bamba’s Magic on Monday.

Instead of that stomp of the foot down from Ayton, Dallas chose to simply eliminate him from the game. Ayton still finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, but it wasn’t the emphatic performance most were expecting. He was only able to take six shots.

Ayton made the most impact on defense, where he has the most question marks as a prospect.

While he had his bad possessions, he also shined on others. Watch him here quickly recover to his man, be a presence under the rim while not committing to Dennis Smith Jr.’s drive and then get big for the contest.

And at the end of the day, there’s not much Ayton or the Suns could do about the double-teams besides trying to capitalize off it.

One of those players capitalizing was No. 31 overall selection guard Elie Okobo.

Possessing an offensive scoring punch that’s ready to go in the NBA, Okobo was actually far more impressive as a passer, where he continued to make easy and advanced reads.

“He’s very crafty with the ball and he’s capable to score,” Kokoskov said of Okobo. “Being capable to score makes your job easier if you’re willing to make the right play and play make.”

Okobo was indeed the Suns’ playmaker, dishing out six assists and ending up with nine points on top of that.

Don’t worry, his scoring tools were still shown.

The 10th overall pick Mikal Bridges was another Sun to step up. His catch-and-shoot jumper was legit at Villanova and it sure looked legit Friday night.

Notice how Bridges hops with the flight of the ball to his left. That’s very difficult to do and he makes it look effortless.

Bridges made four of his five attempts from deep and finished with 14 points.

His much-heralded defense was also on display. How many guys can go from taking a charge to still picking up a block?

Second-year guard Davon Reed, meanwhile, might be playing for a roster spot and he was acting like it. Following the Suns pushing the guarantee date on his contract to after Summer League, Reed had a team-high 18 points on eight shots.

Funnily enough, it was the two most-experienced NBA players struggling for Phoenix.

Dragan Bender couldn’t find a rhythm offensively, having as many turnovers (5) as points (5) while Josh Jackson was 4-of-16 from the field.

But, there was so much balance and support from the roster that the Suns were able to make up for low-scoring performances from Ayton, Bender and Jackson.

That’s without even mentioning point guard Shaquille Harrison, who had a quiet but great 11 points and team-high nine assists.

The attention now turns back to Ayton after a solid all-around team performance, as it should for the top overall pick.

Ayton used moments during the game to “get his mind right” after messing up some plays and reads, which was credited again to that excited energy.

There won’t be any more of that on Saturday when they take on the Kings.

“All the butterflies are out,” Ayton said. “I’m good.”

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