Suns’ Deandre Ayton taking advantage of bubble experience, vet leaders

Dec 18, 2020, 11:53 AM

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton said he got a real good look at what it takes to be a professional in the league during the team’s NBA bubble run.

Ayton never knew the true meaning of professionalism or what consistency really was until he left the Orlando bubble.

Now, with that experience under his belt, and the addition of veterans like Chris Paul, the center is working his tail off in preparation to be the best version of himself in 2020-21.

“I love it, I understand the pressure on my shoulders,” Ayton told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Friday. “I can hold a lot on my shoulders, I’ve been carrying a lot since I stepped foot in the U.S. as a basketball player and it’s just something I go by. Just holding that constructive criticism and just taking the best message out of it and not worrying about how people say things.

“Chris Paul, [Devin Booker] and coach Monty [Williams], they’ve been on me running the floor, being that presence. That’s the biggest thing for me right now is just being that presence on both ends of the floor, especially as the defensive anchor and being responsible for so many things. I embrace it and I love it. It just makes me wake up every morning knowing I have a job, I have a big job.”

And while Paul will use his NBA experience to transform Ayton into a better hooper, the center has been more than proactive in picking the point guard’s brain.

Whether it’s working on angles on pick and rolls or reading the court better, Ayton is right there with Paul studying the tape.

“Nobody in the NBA has really sat down with me player-to-player and really tried to teach me,” Ayton said. “I feel so honored and blessed, I have a future Hall-of-Famer in Chris Paul just trying to teach me, willing to teach me, reminding me of [film sessions].

“I’m on him, too. I really asked him to watch film with me. … I was just so locked in. I never felt so locked in other than a pop quiz in college. It was just phenomenal. I embraced it, I loved it.”

Paul isn’t just helping Ayton, either, as the center is providing good information on what he is viewing around the rim. It only adds to the chemistry the duo are already building.

The film sessions should ultimately make Ayton a bigger threat offensively.

In 38 games (32 starts) last season, Ayton averaged 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He played 32.5 minutes a night and shot 55% from the field and 75% from the charity stripe. He showed he could be that rim-rocking big man that the team drafted him to be.

Now with a floor general capable of making the most of Ayton’s abilities, the sky’s the limit for the young big man.

Of Paul’s teachings, however, it’s evident he and the team want Ayton to be a defensive force in the league. At 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, he certainly has the traits. The added confidence will only aid in his progression.

“Very natural, aggression is very natural to me. I’m Domin-Ayton,” Ayton said. “Once we’re competing every day and competing at this type of level, it’s aggression every day.

“Whether it’s offense, defense, it don’t matter. I’m a solid basketball player all around to where I love to compete.”

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