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Deandre Ayton adding post moves, listening more than talking for Suns

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)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — One of the quotes that stood out from the Phoenix Suns’ media day on Monday was head coach Monty Williams saying he doesn’t want second-year center and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton leading.

“I don’t expect him to be a leader,” Williams said, joking that Ayton was 17 years old. “The leadership will grow over time, and there are moments when he can, but to cast that on him I think is unfair for a young guy who has shown great promise.

“We just want him to focus on being more consistent.”

Ayton responded to that on Thursday, saying he’s got enough voices around him to listen to.

“You got (Aron) Baynes, you got [Devin Booker], you got (Ricky) Rubio, you got Tyler Johnson, Dario (Saric)  — they can do the talking, I’m just the anchor,” he said. “I just go by example. ‘DA, go destroy.’ OK. That’s it. Dominance? OK, I got you. Rubio what you say? I got you. Baynes, what? Alright. Just following instructions.”

That speaks to the situation the Suns have put Ayton and the roster in for his second season. Ayton was put in a precarious position last season when not only was the alignment asking for him to be the team’s second or third-best player, but veterans like Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza quickly fizzled out. It had quite the load on Ayton’s shoulders.

This year Rubio, Baynes, Booker and Johnson are expected to be the leaders of the team, and all four players are vital pieces to the team’s rotation.

Ayton’s going to again be asked to be the team’s secondary option offensively but he’s far more ready for that after one of the most productive seasons by a rookie center in league history, a season in which he improved throughout.

It sounds like that growth, particularly on the block, is continuing.

Assistant coach Mark Bryant has been a name heard a few times this week, and he was specifically working with Ayton after practice on Thursday.

The coaching there is not just starting in October, though. It has been going on all summer.

“He added more to my footwork, added more moves and taught me how to really bang certain smaller bigs and how to use my speed against the bigger guys,” he said.

It’s only one quote, and Ayton will certainly continue to diversify his game in year two, but that helps quell some concerns that the big fella will perhaps become too perimeter-oriented with three-pointers and handling the ball.

But the biggest beneficiary for Ayton out of everything that changes from last season to this one is having Rubio.

Let him explain how playing with and against Rubio for the first time in Flagstaff has been like.

“I think he (was) trying to set the tone like, ‘Yeah you about to get these passes for the rest of your career.’ He would look at the dude in the corner but he’s whipping it to me the whole time. I was fumbling a little bit. I had to adjust. ‘OK, this is what everybody was talking about.’

“He put us in great spots. He sees every option. Playing against him today, I try to put a little pressure on him to see if he could really… ‘I’m under pressure with a big guy on me,’ Yeah, he whipped a pass through, [Ayton gives sound effect of the ball whizzing by his head]. 

“His IQ is pretty high. Just being around that, (he) just wants you to learn more from the game. Because there’s so much I can learn.”

NOTES

— From the portion of practice that the media observed on Thursday, wings Mikal Bridges (knee) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (hand) were still not participating. Oubre once again had a wrap on his right hand and Bridges did a light bit of individual shooting, as he has most of the week.

When asked, Williams gave no further update on specifics of the injury or a timetable on their status in the future for the third straight day.

— The Suns went bowling together Wednesday night. Ayton got the first strike of his life and was amused by the assistants’ lack of good form. This has been your Suns recreational activities update.

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