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Suns’ Deandre Ayton says PF is his ‘born-and-raised position’

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the final moments of the NBA game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Bucks 114-105. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — While appearing on The Outlet podcast with the Phoenix Suns’ Lindsey Smith, general manager James Jones said Phoenix is open to playing franchise center Deandre Ayton at power forward.

At his fundraiser on Monday night, Ayton was asked about the buzz that percolated from that possibility.

“Ahh! I heard the word! That’s college back all over again,” he said. “That’s my born-and-raised position is the power forward.”

Ayton spent most of his time at the University of Arizona playing power forward alongside center Dusan Ristic. While that’s where he played, Ayton still primarily operated around the basket. He did take more perimeter jumpers, though, including 35 three-pointers.

“It’s a great look,” Ayton said. “It’s a big lineup too so I’m excited to start if that happens.”

The key differentiator here is Ayton starting at power forward, as he suggests, is an entirely different discussion and something that we will very unlikely see at the start of the season. Ayton is projected to start at the five alongside newly acquired power forward Dario Saric. Even Ayton playing any spare minutes at the four would be a surprise.

Still, this takes us back to the pre-draft days and confirms reports from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony in mid-February of 2018 that Ayton sees himself as more of a power forward.

Back then, already telling us he was 6-foot-10 (but hoped he’d grow to 7-foot-4), Ayton described his position as “center,” though that would be one of the last instances in which he would willingly portray himself as such. Later in his high school career, he became infatuated with the idea of being a power forward, which has continued to this day, despite the fact that modern basketball has gone in the opposite direction. The fact that he’s listed as a “forward” by Arizona and is starting and playing heavy minutes alongside another 7-footer, Dusan Ristic, is not an accident. It’s entirely by his own design.

While Ayton is supremely skilled and athletic enough to play the four spot, those rare gifts are more what makes him so special as a center.

Throughout Ayton’s rookie year, a consistent blip on the radar was the 7-footer having a game where he wasn’t all that present. While still producing a decent stat line, Ayton’s impact wasn’t felt on the game, particularly on the interior. Considering that fact, knowing that Ayton has greater aspirations to be further away from the basket and handling the ball more is at least concerning.

The next step for Ayton is getting past that and consistently dominating games, which is going to be the easiest for him playing around the basket and hoarding the offensive glass, like he did when he did dominate at times last year. All seven games Ayton scored at least 25 points in he had four offensive rebounds or more, including 10 when he dropped a career-high 33.

In order to do that all the time, however, Ayton has to be in better shape and that was his number one focus this offseason.

“Basically my cardio,” he said.

With that comes a caveat that he has that cardio strengthening in mind because he wants to bring the ball up more as a ball-handler.

” I wanted to run more, I wanted to push the ball more off the rebound and really shoot that 3-ball,” he said. “I need that.”

Now, where this lands on Ayton’s desires as a 21-year-old second-year player and what head coach Monty Williams will let him do or where he will play him is a different story.

But what was just a small pre-draft rumbling that was aided when watching Ayton in college has only grown stronger that he wants to not just be limited to the inside as a center and expand his game. Time will tell if that’s a good or bad mentality for the former No. 1 pick to have.

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