By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
DEANDRE Ayton’s development was one of the main talking points of Phoenix Suns’ media as the front office and teammates raved about the potential of the top overall pick.
Ayton, the former Arizona Wildcats centre, was introduced to the local media at Talking Stick Resort Arena and is expected to be a linchpin of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a lot of work, these dudes take this stuff seriously,” Ayton said of his early NBA experiences thus far. “I’m all in.”
Ayton said he has exchanged texts with former Sun and Hall of Famer Steve Nash, which he called “helpful” in his preparation and defining his role with the team.
“There are a lot of big dudes, a lot of great shooters like Ryan Anderson, Dragan Bender, those guys they were born with a jump shot,” he said. “I’ve got to be down low and be the mean guy.”
Suns’ franchise guard Devin Booker, who recently signed a five-year $158 million contract, highlighted Ayton as one of the reasons for the team’s turnaround this season.
“His ability to learn, and willingness to learn, are key. He comes in here every day and he doesn’t act like he knows it all. He knows he’s very talented but still open to listen to coaches, listen to Tyson [Chandler], everything I say, he goes out there and he does it right away,” Booker said.
“Just seeing that already - somebody that’s willing to get better and work hard, it’s very special to see, especially with the talent that he has, the body frame that he has, he’s going to be a very special player in this league.”
Selected No.1 overall by the Suns, Ayton was considered one of two frontrunners for the Kia Rookie of the Year award in an NBA survey that polled the league’s incoming rookie class. “His post presence, ability to score on the block will be key,” Booker said. “He’s surrounded by a lot of shooters too and I think that’s going to give him a lot of space to operate. If you’ve watched the NBA the past two seasons that’s what it’s turned into – a big that’s very athletic, can guard guards and I think he has the ability to do that also. So he’s very special and I’m very excited.
Anderson came to the Suns last month in a trade alongside De’Anthony Melton in exchange for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.
A career 38 percent three point shooter, Anderson, who is expected to stretch the floor and provide spacing in the Suns offence, raved about Ayton’s skillset.
“He’s so skilled, fundamentally, physically, he can run the floor well, his touch is amazing. He reminds me of a lot of different players. I had a chance to play with Dwight obviously, Anthony Davis, I remember Anthony was raw talent but he was right there. DA is advanced, obviously his size is there but his ability to handle the ball, shoot, score down low, but also he’s very smart and mature player. He’s got a very bright future, I’m excited to help him to give him a little space on the court to work around,” Anderson said, “In previous teams I know I’ve been able to help talented centers and give them some space. And I know we’ve already started a really great dynamic just in the few weeks we’ve been playing together.”
This season also represents a new era for the Suns on the sidelines with the debut of head coach Igor Kokoskov. Kokoskov said his role will be to adjust to the strengths his new team has, which includes Ayton becoming a focal point on both ends of the floor.
“He’s a very talented player, he’s a skilled rookie he’s very young. He hasn’t put a basket in the hoop in the NBA so everything is new to him. It’s really our job and my job to help him find himself,” Kokoskov said, “He’s a skilled center, there are tools that he can add so my job is to help him define his role, to find his game and to play to his strengths but it’s going to be really up to him as far as where he puts his name and how far he wants to go in this business.”
Another talking point surrounding at training camp was the continued criticism of Ayton by Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.
On draft night, Embiid took to Twitter to respond comparisons between the two players: “Don’t compare Ayton to me either...I play defense.” he said,
Embiid, in an interview on ESPN’s The Jump at 76ers media day last week, said that Ayton will struggle at times adjusting to the learning curve as a rookie.
“He’s about to get his ass kicked this year,” Embiid said at the 76ers’ practice facility in Camden, New Jersey.
As he did on draft night, Ayton once again took the high road in response to the verbal jabs.
“I can’t really say anything,” he said, “I haven’t put the ball in the hoop (in an NBA game). I have to let my game do the talking.”
The first matchup between the Suns and the 76ers this season takes place November 19
Suns General Manager, Ryan McDonough, said the organisation does expect Ayton to go through an adjustment period, but insists that he will become an impact player in the league.
“He does some things that not a lot of guys in the NBA can’t do. We realize there will be a learning curve, especially on the defensive end of the floor. We realize that a lot of bigs will go at him, try to get him in foul trouble, guards will get him in pick and rolls and try to attack him so there will be some growth there,” he said, “He seems like a pretty quick learner so and just watching him over the past few months, when you tell him something or show him something he’s able to adopt it and put it into his game pretty quickly, which is what the great players I’ve been around have been able to do. I think, at a minimum early he’ll score around the basket, get lobs and get putbacks ,get to the free throw line and put a lot of pressure on defences. He brings a vertical threat, an over the top threat that we haven’t had recently and frankly not many teams in the league have at all.”
The Suns will host training camp September 25-29 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. This will be the sixth-straight year and 22nd time overall that NAU and the City of Flagstaff will host Suns training camp. Phoenix first used Flagstaff as a training camp site in 1986 and held camp there for 16 of 19 years from 1986 through 2004.
Ayton’s first impression on the NBA landscape produced his first league-wide award when he was named to the 2018 All-NBA Summer League Second Team.
Ayton led the team with 14.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and one blocked shot per game while shooting 59.5 per cent from the field as he was one of just seven players in the Las Vegas Summer League to average a double-double.
When the Suns selected Ayton with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, it represented a historic moment for Ayton, the franchise and The Bahamas.
With Ayton’s selection, The Bahamas joined the United States, Canada, Nigeria and Australia as the only countries with multiple No 1 overall NBA draft picks.
It also represented the first No 1 pick made by the Suns in franchise history and the first No 1 pick from the University of Arizona.
He was the ninth consecutive college freshman to be selected with the first overall pick.
During his lone season at Arizona, Ayton led the NCAA with 24 double-doubles, a PAC-12 freshman record.
He averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game while shooting 61.6 percent from the field, and was “Karl Malone Power Forward” of the year consensus First Team All-American.