Sports

Ayton looks ahead to next season

Averaged a double-double in his postseason debut

Bahamian professional basketball player DeAndre Ayton and his Phoenix Suns’ 2020-2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) run has come to a bittersweet end with a 105-98 Game 6 loss to the NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks won the best-of-seven finals series 4-2 at the Fiserv Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Tuesday night.

Moments after the loss, Ayton told reporters that he is hungry to get back to that stage after knowing what it takes to get there.

“I think that was the first thing I told Book (Devin Booker), once we got in the locker room after we got off the floor. You know, I walked over to him and said, you know, this is just the beginning. Now we know what we need to do and no less. We’re going to keep each other accountable for the rest of our careers together and so does Mikal and Jae Crowder, all the other guys on the team as well.

“Basically, everybody laying it all on the line. I tip my hat off to Milwaukee, because everybody that checked in, even if they didn’t check in, they wanted to die on that court. And that’s what I felt. That’s what it takes. Everybody got to give it their all when it comes to this, especially when it’s the last game.”

The starting center did not have one of his best performance on Tuesday night as he finished with 12 points and six rebounds. He had an uncharacteristic tough time from the field where he went 4-for-12 to finish the night shooting 33.3 percent. The big man was able to shoot 4-for-5 from the free-throw line. He did have two steals and two blocks.

In the six games he played this series, the Bahamian averaged a double coming away 14.7 points and 12 rebounds per game. He was efficient shooting 52.9 percent from the field this series. Ayton played at least 37.5 minute per game this series and got 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals a contest.

The starting center put the league on notice with his performance in the 22 games that he played in his postseason debut. His numbers were impressive as he averaged a double double with 15.8 points per game and 11.7 rebounds. His efficiency from the field was unmatched as he shot 65.8 percent all playoffs. In the end he averaged 1.1 blocks, 1.1 assists and .80 steals per game. All that came from him playing for 36.4 minutes per game.

The 22-year-old spoke about what he has improved on this season and how he looks to build off of it.

“My consistency on defense,” Ayton said. “I think this series I got caught up in some foul trouble, but throughout the whole playoffs and finals, I think I stepped up on my defense where whatever the teams throwing at us with their offense I can adjust. Whether it’s smalls or bigs or bigs that can pop or put it on the ground as well, just making sure I’m on the floor long periods of time, especially when teams go small.”

One thing for sure is that the number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has played his way into a very lucrative contract extension. He has one more year on his rookie deal but is eligible for a four-plus year extension. It is a possibility that he can make close to $170 million over a five-year period, which kicks in after next season.

The Suns was not picked to be two wins shy of lifting their first NBA championship trophy in franchise, but they defied the odds. They earned their first playoff berth since 2011 and in the process appeared in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

One of the most memorable plays for Ayton came in Game 2 in the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. He threw down the game-winning alley-oop dunk, dubbed the “Valley-oop”, to lift the Phoenix Suns to a 104-103 victory with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. The win put the Suns up 2-0 in that series.

The Suns took down the Los Angeles Lakers, the Denver Nuggets and the Clippers to set up the finals against the Bucks.

Next up for Ayton will be the off-season where he will work on aspects of his game for the 2021-2022 regular season that gets underway on October 19. Training camps are slated to open in late September.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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