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‘We just collab’: Suns’ top trio leading more together in Orlando

Devin Booker #1 and Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns react against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on February 25, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“Why are they even going?”

You have heard this asked more than once when it comes to the Phoenix Suns going to Orlando for the NBA’s restart, an invite they got even with extremely low odds of making the playoff portion of the proceedings.

The question is what the Suns can get from the experience, and given the uniqueness of it, the answer is a lot.

“We have the most to gain from this outside the teams that are right there playing for a championship just because we get a chance to be together and talk,” head coach Monty Williams said Saturday.

The practices from Walt Disney World essentially serve as “training camp 3.0” for the Suns this season. They had their first in Flagstaff and the second was a lengthy break they had in-between the conclusion of the preseason and start of the regular season.

The difference is clear from then to now.

“I think the guys, especially [Devin Booker] and [Deandre Ayton], are reading things and talking more when we put them in certain situations,” Williams said Friday.

“I can see a little bit of communication on certain reads and things they want to do on the floor that probably wasn’t there last year in Flagstaff because they were trying to understand 0.5 and four-point line spacing and what to do when Book gets blitzed — all that stuff.”

Ayton, in particular, has been through the wringer since mid-October. He was suspended for 25 games a few weeks after their first camp wrapped up, having to wait, wait and wait following a dynamic two-way performance in the season opener that flashed the player he was developing into.

The 21-year-old feels seasoned enough to contribute to the leadership process now, a dramatic step forward considering the basics he had to pick up when first entering the league.

“To be honest, we had a lot of time,” Ayton said Saturday. “It feels like I’m in my damn third or fourth year. I know what I’m doing now. It’s not really me being told what to do but me understanding and finding what’s available and being a playmaker.”

Again, for a young big who was at times helpless as a rookie, like all players are, it’s notable that he’s now becoming one of the leaders in year two.

“We just collab our differences and really just make things happen on whatever’s best for the team,” Ayton said.

Booker spoke on the progression of their partnership.

“It’s a growing relationship that we’re still working on,” he said Monday. “Obviously, we’re still both pretty young in this league. I have a couple more years than him but we’re both trying to solidify ourselves and we know that comes with the success of the team.

“The communication, the dialogue is open between us. I know seeing the game from multiple positions is a very big part of it.”

There were moments this season where you could see Booker getting what he — and quite frankly everyone who watches close enough — wants out of Ayton.

“You just have to get to know somebody and put them in situations and learn by being in the fire together,” Booker said. “You can’t have a plan until you actually get in the action and actually see how somebody responds to certain situations. That’s usually how I’m determining people, is through experiences with them.”

And the Orlando bubble is certainly another experience to check off.


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