Deandre Ayton clears COVID-19 protocols


Phoenix Suns centre Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Saturday, Dec. 25, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)


Tribune Sports Reporter


DEANDRE Ayton recently cleared COVID-19 protocols but while fans are still waiting for his return to the court, the Phoenix Suns centre appeared on the leaderboard for a spot in the NBA All-Star game.

Ayton was 10th among frontcourt players in the Western Conference with 177,115 votes when the league announced the first fan returns of NBA All- Star Voting yesterday.

The 2022 All-Star Weekend will be hosted February 18-20 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ayton is fourth among centres behind reigning MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (1,649,809), Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves (474,794), and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (218,819).

The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant lead the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively. In addition to Curry (Western Conference guards) and Durant (Eastern Conference frontcourt), the Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan (Eastern Conference guards) and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (Western Conference frontcourt) are the top vote-getters at their respective position groups.

The next NBA All-Star fan voting update will be shared on January 13.

Ayton is averaging 17 points and 11.1 rebounds per game on 63 percent shooting from the field.

On Thursday, Ayton was one of three Suns players to clear the NBA COVID health and safety protocols, but according to the Suns, missed last night’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers due to “return to competition reconditioning.”

Ayton missed five games under health and safety protocols. Earlier this season, he also missed two games for a non-COVID related illness and missed three games with a leg contusion.

His last appearance was the Suns’ 116-107 Christmas Day loss to the Golden State Warriors. Ayton finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.

When Ayton returned from his previous illness on December 14, he returned to the court with 28 points and 13 rebounds in a season high 45 minutes in the Suns’ 11-107 win over the Portland Trailblazers on December 14.

It was the first of five consecutive games with a double double.

Ayton said his progression has included becoming a playmaker for his teammates on the floor.

“I’ve seen every coverage possible they can throw at us. Now it’s just me being a better basketball player, taking what the defence gives me, playing that short role, I really dissect that now,” Ayton said earlier this season. “Taking advantage of my size and my ability to pass to either corner. Me, [Chris Paul] and coach Mark Bryant, we’ve been on that. I really wanted to be more of a threat this year…you can break it off to me in the short role and I’ll be the playmaker, simple as that.”

Ayton has 15 double doubles in 24 games this season. The Suns were 29-8, tied for the lead in the Western Conference headed into last night’s game with the Clippers.

Ayton’s season has already included another franchise record by becoming the fastest Suns player to achieve 100 double doubles. He achieved the historic mark in a 105-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks on November 17 with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

“I like it, that’s tough,” he said. “I got to get 100 more. Seeing [Chris Paul] break accolades every game. You realise, you keep working to get accolades under your belt as a team, but some of this stuff counts individually as well.”

Ayton is also the fastest Sun player in franchise history to collect 1,000 rebounds for his career, done in just 94 games.


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