PHOENIX SUNS

Suns’ Devin Booker challenges ex-teammate Deandre Ayton’s motor

Nov 21, 2023, 11:25 PM

The Phoenix Suns got their first look at Deandre Ayton in another uniform Tuesday in a 120-107 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and Devin Booker saw some good effort from his teammate of five seasons.

His challenge to Ayton after the game was clear given everything he’s seen over the years.

“It’s fun. I think our first time in the regular season,” Booker said of playing Ayton. “I’m happy we came out with the win. He played extra hard tonight. I seen that. My challenge for him is to play like that every night.”

The Trail Blazers ran through Ayton constantly on offense and he scored 18 points on 14 shots with eight rebounds and four assists. He was also a minus-33, but Portland is an injury-marred roster working in a lot of youth around its newly-acquired big.

Ayton’s motor had been a theme in the Valley for quite some time, and even though head coach Frank Vogel publicly expressed his optimism for the center after getting hired, Phoenix shipped him off late in the offseason.

His effort popped up again recently when a video of him watching a loose ball went viral and landed in the top spot of “Shaqtin’ a Fool.”

Kevin Durant, who led Phoenix with 31 points on Tuesday, did not get much on-court time with Ayton last season after coming over from the Brooklyn Nets. But the veteran felt Ayton could benefit from having to lead a young group.

“He played aggressive tonight, he played strong tonight, he was ducking in, he was getting to his shot in the paint, he was offensive rebounding,” Durant said. “They need him, they were allowing him to do a lot for this team. That’s only gonna make him better as a player. What is he 24? 25? 25. He’s got a long, long time in his league if he wants to. Being thrown in the fire like this and having to be a leader of this team is only gonna make him better.”

There’s a lot of basketball to play before the Suns get their next opportunity to compete with Ayton on Dec. 19 in Portland.

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