Head coach Monty Williams’ gladiator mindset he took into the NBA bubble seems to be rubbing off on his Phoenix Suns players.
Especially second-year center Deandre Ayton.
Ayton, Williams and others in the Suns camp have cut straight to the point when talking to the media: They aren’t in Florida to take in the sights. There’s business to attend to.
“Like coach says, sharing the ball, being early, having gratitude and playing defense, man. That’s really our culture right there,” Ayton told Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports on Thursday. “Just really going up, representing the name on the front of our jerseys and the back of it. That’s what it is when if comes down to it.
“We’ve got nothing to lose and we’ve got an opportunity we’re trying not to pass [up]. There’s a small window in this bubble and we’re not just here to play games. We’re here to really make some noise.”
Of the Suns players on the roster, a matured Ayton has stuck out more than most with his elevated play and mindset since team activities restarted in the Orlando bubble. Something Suns fans have been waiting to see in some kind of game action.
The latest hype surrounding the big man in the bubble has been the added addition of his 3-ball to his offensive attack. Although they might not count, Ayton has hit a pair in scrimmages ahead of the NBA restart.
But while his long range stroke has gotten the buzz, it’s the other side of the basketball that has Ayton most pleased.
“To me, I see myself as the youngest best two-way player,” Ayton said about being recognized for his defense. “Coming up, that’s all I ever wanted to be. Just be the best two-way player I can possibly be. I take pride on defense because offense is always going to create itself. … Defense wins championships and that’s what I want to be known for in this league.”
In an NBA world that has changed drastically due to the coronavirus, it could be easy for rookies to get complacent with no concrete plans in place early on in the pandemic.
It seems, however, that Ayton has managed to avoid that altogether with good discipline.
The center not only feels he has improved his rim protecting and defensive switching, but also how he maintains his body off the court.
Understanding a good routine off the court and meeting with the strength and conditioning coach regularly has only helped Ayton, he said.
That mentality has also rubbed off on his learning curve.
“When there’s fatigue involved not being emotional, just sticking to discipline,” Ayton said about what he’s picked up from being in the NBA. “Being constructive in criticism when things aren’t going our way, making sure we stay as a unit as a team, and being that anchor as an example to show that we can still play hard with effort and make up our mistakes by showing effort.”
The Suns take on the Washington Wizards in their NBA restart opener Friday at 1 p.m. Tune to ESPN 620 AM or listen live on the Arizona Sports app.