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Ayton maturing as an NBA player; putting up huge numbers

Not out of the realm of possibility of making an all-star appearance, like his compatriot Chavano ‘Buddy’ Hield, is fellow Bahamian DeAndre Ayton.

The Bahamian big man is the only rookie in the National Basketball Association (NBA) averaging a double-double this season, posting numbers of 16.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. He seems to get more and more comfortable on the professional level, and is looking like a player worthy of the number one overall selection the Phoenix Suns invested in him in this past June’s NBA Draft.

Prior to last night’s game against the Orlando Magic, Ayton has scored in excess of 20 points in four straight games, and averaged 16.5 rebounds per game during that span. In his latest outing, prior to last night, he scored 26 points and pulled down 18 rebounds – matching career-high numbers in each category. He was just short of what would have been his first 20-20 game in the NBA. He also had three blocks and two steals and finished with one of his best shooting nights of the season – going 13-for-16 from the floor – in a 111-103 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. The result of last night’s game against the Magic was unavailable up to press time.

After that performance, Suns’ Head Coach Igor Kokoškov came out and said publicly that Ayton shouldn’t be forgotten in this year’s Rookie of the Year race alongside Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who Kokoškov coached previously with the Slovenian men’s national team. Ayton is currently second behind Doncic on the NBA’s Kia Rookie Ladder.

Since Ayton was benched on December 6, his only action off the bench for the season, he has put together incredible numbers – averaging 18.8 points, 13 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 62 percent from the floor. Only New Orleans’ Anthony Davis has exceeded those numbers over the past two-plus weeks.

Ayton has been consistent this season though – averaging over 16 points per game and 10 or more rebounds per game in each month of the NBA season thus far. He has one of the highest field goal percentages among rookies in NBA history, and is improving defensively as well. He has increased his blocks average in each month of the NBA season thus far.

His defensive efficiency has improved significantly, one of the pleasant surprises for the Suns this early in the season. He’s a better rim protector than he was early in the season, carrying a defended field goal percentage of 45.1 percent during the month of December. Also in December, Ayton has risen his offensive rebounds per game to 3.8, increasing from 2.1 in October and 2.8 in November. Over the last five games, prior to last night, Ayton has snatched on average six offensive rebounds. That figure is only barely exceeded by Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams for most successful attacks of the glass on scoring possessions.

Ayton is being compared to, more so to athletes like Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate Davis. Davis’ scoring jumped up from 13.5 points in his rookie season to 20.8 per game in his second year while also seeing his defensive prowess go to another level. He led the league in blocks in his second year with 2.8 after logging 1.8 as a rookie. Also, Davis struggled to get to the free throw line in his rookie season just like Ayton. In his second season, he took three more free shots per game.

Everything is coming together for Ayton. He is just the fourth rookie in the last 36 years to score 300 or more points and pull down 200 or more rebounds in his first 20 games in the NBA, joining legends Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan, and Detroit Pistons star Blake Griffin. The 7’1”, 250-pound Bahamian center is on pace to be even more productive in the second half of the season as his teammates begin to feed him the ball more in the paint. That is expected with maturation.

At 20, he is one of the rising young stars in the NBA, and there appears to be a 30-20 outing, if not a 40-20 performance, in the not-too-distant future for the Bahamian big man. It might even come this season for the 20-year-old rookie, showing tremendous promise for the future. He is already a formidable force and is not close to reaching his prime years as yet.

In back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, he reached career-high numbers in points with 26 each time. He had 26 points and 17 rebounds but fouled out in a 149-146 triple overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday and dropped in 26 points and matched a career-high with 18 rebounds in that loss to the Nets on Sunday. The loss to the Wizards ended the Suns’ four-game winning streak, and the loss to the Nets pushed them back to an 8-26 win-loss record on the season.

Ayton is second in the league in field goal percentage among those with at least 300 attempts. He is also 13th in the league in rebounding and leads the Suns in both categories, the latter among those with at least 300 attempts. He is also third on the Suns in scoring, and is second among rookies behind Doncic. Ayton leads all rookies in rebounding and field goal percentage among those with at least 200 attempts. He is averaging 30.9 minutes per game.

Following their game against the Magic on Wednesday, Ayton and the Suns return to the Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. That game will be the beginning of a seven-game homestand for them.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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