Suns’ center JaVale McGee on mentoring Deandre Ayton: ‘He’s a sponge’

Apr 16, 2022, 11:30 AM

NBA veteran JaVale McGee logged 558 games and won two championships before the Phoenix Suns took center Deandre Ayton with the first pick in the 2018 draft.

When McGee signed with Phoenix ahead of this season to be Ayton’s backup, he knew part of his role was going to be teaching the young big what he knew about succeeding in the league.

“That’s definitely one of my job descriptions,” McGee said on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Friday. “My job description was to come here and work hard, anchor the defense on the second unit and also mentor Deandre to be a great center even though he’s already a great center at this young age.

“But it’s some intricacies that he can change or he could do to be even a greater center and help lead his team to an NBA championship.”

The Suns came within two games of winning their first title last season, and Ayton stepped up during the playoff run. He was especially effective in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Ayton was held to 58 games during this past regular season, and McGee played well in relief on many occasions. Still, Ayton produced strong performances in Year 4 of his career, especially down the stretch.

Ayton closed the season scoring 18.9 points with 11.5 rebounds per game over his final 12 contests.

McGee has been impressed by Ayton’s willingness to keep learning and improving his game.

“No, not common at all, most No. 1 overall picks come in thinking they know everything,” McGee said. “But just being here the little time I’ve been here, he’s been responding, he definitely listens to advice and different things to do. He’s definitely a sponge, he’s a great listener and once he figured something out, he can just go out there and do it.”

The Suns are set for another crack at winning a title, as they take on the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 1 of the opening round on Sunday.

One area the veteran sees room for growth is Ayton’s aggression on both sides of the ball, which he feels is the next step in the 23-year-old’s evolution.

“I feel like he has so many offensive skills and sometimes he just doesn’t do it all out there at once, but sometimes he needs to just go ahead and be aggressive,” McGee said.

The Suns take on New Orleans Sunday at 6 p.m. You can tune in on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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