With just eight regular season games to go in the NBA’s restart to the season, it would be a tall order for DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns to creep into the playoffs.
They find themselves six games back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA) – sitting in the 13th spot with a 26-39 win/loss record. The eighth place Memphis Grizzlies are 32-33.
However, Ayton is looking at this as an opportunity to finish strong and to show his development through two seasons in the league, showing the potential that led to him being drafted number one overall by the Suns in 2018. It’s been a tumultuous year for the Bahamian big man, suspended for the first portion of the season for violating the league’s anti-drug program before coming into his own. However, right before the league suspended play in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he sat out three games with an ankle injury. In total, he missed 10 games due to injuries this season.
Ayton said not only is he healthy and ready to go, he is ready to put on a show for the fans. The NBA’s restart gets underway on July 30. A total of 22 teams will engage in play at a single venue – the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida – following very strict guidelines and protocols due to COVID-19.
The Suns will play their first game against the Washington Wizards (24-40) on July 31.
“His body looks unbelievable,” said Suns Head Coach Monty Williams to the Arizona Republic – an American daily newspaper published in Phoenix, Arizona. “He’s a gifted young man in that way. I wish I had that, you know what I mean. He looks great. He’s done a really good job of taking care of himself.”
When on the court this season, Ayton has been extremely productive and promises an even larger output when the games resume in two weeks’ time. The Bahamian big man is averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game this season, up from the 16.3 and 10.3 he recorded a year ago as a rookie. He is shooting 54.8 percent from the field.
“I feel like I’m in my, damn, I don’t know, third or fourth year, and I know what I’m doing now,” Ayton said to the Arizona Republic. “It’s not really me being told what to do. It’s me understanding and finding what’s available and being a playmaker. Book (Suns guard Devin Booker) and coach seen it, so we just collaborate our differences and make things happen. Whatever is best for the team.”
Ayton said he feels like he’s in a position to be more of an offensive threat. He and his teammates arrived in the “bubble” in Orlando last week, and had a series of team practices over the weekend. The starting center for the Suns, who said he intends to spend a lot of his free time playing NBA2K video games and fishing, is looking forward to the opportunity to show his progression in these final eight regular season games.
“It’s a real training camp over here to be honest,” he said. “We really compete. Although we’ve been going three days in a row, today felt like we really went after it because I’m really tired,” he said on Saturday. “I’m really sore now. We definitely went after it today. We competed. We went over our new offense. It’s fun to really get back to this stuff and be ready to be coachable.”
Williams mentioned after Friday’s practice how the players, particularly Booker and Ayton, are communicating more than he noticed at training camp last year in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“[Suns’ strength and conditioning Coach Cory Schlesinger] sent a ton of workouts to all our guys,” Williams said. “Maybe because we’re so young, and genetically gifted, a lot of our guys look really, really, good, and DA (Ayton) is certainly at the top of that list.”
Williams said he is confident Ayton’s conditioning will get better after putting the endurance of the team to the test Saturday.
The Bahamian professional basketball player said he and the Suns are young and hungry and are ready to play. The Suns is the youngest team in the league, with an average age of 24.
The Suns will continue their training, then play a few scrimmage games before preparing to take on the Wizards on July 31. They will conclude their eight regular season games against the Dallas Mavericks on August 13.