Deandre Ayton on Joel Embiid: ‘I’m about to copy all of that’
This isn’t a tense, individual Suns-76ers rivalry built from pointed jabs through social media.
Instead, the Deandre Atyon-Joel Embiid draft night tiff was playful banter and a precursor to mutual respect between a rookie who went first overall in 2018’s draft and an established NBA star.
Philadelphia’s Embiid got the best of his big man counterpart Monday in a 119-114 Sixers win over the Phoenix Suns, scoring 33 points to go with 17 rebounds and three steals.
Ayton, meanwhile, held up solidly, scoring 17 to go with nine rebounds. He shot 8-of-11 from the field for the Suns.
“It was fun because I finally played against Joel Embiid,” Ayton said after the game. “Obviously he’s one of the unicorns in the league. How he used his body down low, I’m about to copy all of that.
“I’m just going to take that. I’m just going to steal it.”
Through Twitter on draft night, Embiid pleaded for analysts and fans to stop comparing him to Ayton — because he plays defense. Ayton later responded with a stick-figure drawing of himself dunking on Embiid during a Panini trading card event.
Although Embiid already had calmed any sense of animosity toward Ayton with an appearance on ESPN’s “The Jump,” he used Monday night to once again clarify his respect for Ayton, who the Sixers star said he’s texted with.
“A lot of people misunderstand me; I talk a lot of trash,” Embiid said, per the Associated Press. “He’s talented and has a lot of potential. I loved playing against him tonight. I can’t wait for the multiple battles we’ll have in the future. I’m a big fan.”
Of course, Ayton has a lot of room to improve if he has aspirations of reaching Embiid’s level.
The Sixers big man leads the NBA in free throws taken by a margin of 43 (Kevin Durant) after Monday night and as the NBA’s best foul-initiator helped to draw 34 personal fouls on Phoenix. Suns guard Devin Booker fouled out, while Ayton, Mikal Bridges, T.J. Warren and Isaiah Canaan all had five personals by the end of the game.
That was one lesson of many unique to Ayton, who said he is still learning how referees call him and wants to get favorable whistles just as Embiid did Monday.
“I think this is the first game I spoke to the refs. Were my hands in the way, were they not? How I got that foul, just learning,” Ayton said.
“Thank you for teaching me a lot of things about how this league works,” he added. “(Embiid) put in a lot of work, I got to put in a lot of work, too.”