When University of Arizona big man Deandre Ayton declared for the NBA Draft last spring, he had intentions on being a huge multi-talented power forward in the NBA.
He’d just finished his freshman season playing the outside-the-paint position despite a massive frame of more than 7 feet tall, almost 7’5” wingspan and 250 lean pounds. His nimble feet, lateral quickness and 40 inch vertical leap allowed him to roam the floor in college while the much more positionally limited Dusan Ristic manned the middle.
But now that he’s surrounded by NBA-level players, he sees the reality.
“I see why now,” he said when I asked about it. “There’s a lot of big guys, great shooters like Ryan Anderson, Dragan Bender. Those guys, they were born with a jump shot. I got to be down low, I got to be the main guy. It falls in place.
“My career for the rest of my life, I’ll be protecting the rim,” he said.
Ayton sees the future and the future is an open paint inside which to work.
“Ryan (Anderson) won’t ever come in the paint unless he has a blow-by or a mismatch. The spacing is amazing,” he said. “I have a lot more time and room to myself. It’s going to be fun this year.”
Most of that transformation has to do with Igor Kokoskov’s coaching.
And some of it is thanks to seeing the reality since Ryan Anderson joined the team for offseason workouts.
Anderson knows all too well about spacing the floor for a dominant big man. He did it in Orlando with Dwight Howard when Dwight was an MVP candidate and he did it in New Orleans when Anthony Davis began to grow into an MVP candidate himself.
I was impressed by Ryan Anderson’s engagement with the press conference on Media Day on Monday. He appeared genuinely excited about joining the Suns.
“I remember Anthony (Davis) coming in very raw,” Anderson said. “He had raw talent but it was there.
“Deandre Ayton is advanced. His size is there, but his ability to handle the ball, shoot, score down low. But also he’s very smart, mature player. He’s got a bright future. I’m excited to help him, give him a little space on the court to work around.”
Then later in the week, Anderson spoke more about giving Ayton room to move.
“Obviously, I can give him more space, but you can’t really leave him alone down there,” Anderson said to Evan Sidery. “Guys might have to dig off him. I know we are going to have a really good dynamic in that way.
“I’m excited for this dynamic. It will be really fun. It reminds me of old Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard. We had a lot of success on that man rolling to the basket, open three-point shooting around them. And he’s just so skilled. He’s already picked up on it.”
“It’s scary how talented he is.”
Suns fans might remember a Bosnian around these parts a few years ago who was always willing to stretch the floor to help out the offense.
While their career statistics are similar on a per-36 minutes basis, Mirza Teletovic never had a role as large and consistent as Anderson. Anderson is taller and had a higher rebound rate in his prime.
Per 36 and per 100, they are very similar:
I, for one, am excited to get that kind of talent back on the floor for the Suns, this time with a purpose to spread the floor for a big man the Suns never had when Mirza roamed the floor. It’s been since Channing Frye’s first stint in Phoenix when a stretch four made room for a diving, dominant big man (Amar’e Stoudemire).
Anderson doesn’t just want to bring spacing.
He also wants to bring a new culture to the Suns’ locker room and playing floor.
Anderson was asked on Media Day how much he and Trevor Ariza, who played the last two years together in wildly successful Houston, have talked about turning around the Suns franchise.
“A lot of times I could say yes and it’s not true, just to give you the right answer,” he said with a chuckle. “But it’s absolutely 100% true.
“Me and Trevor, this summer, we talked almost once a day. Trevor’s a great friend of mine. We live close to each other in the offseason in Los Angeles. He’s just a great guy, a real genuine person who cares, who wants to build this organization and lead these young guys. We’ve had tons of conversations this summer about that, and what we can bring.”
Ariza says the same. That he and Ryan are close and see the challenge ahead.
Ariza is already getting in the ears of Josh Jackson and other young players on playing the right way.
“Josh was in a weird situation,” Ariza said of last season in Phoenix. “Not really a lot of player guidance. Being around veteran players, being around older players, will help him a lot.”
Then Ariza talked about the young group as a whole, which consists of more than half the projected rotation being 22 or under. And all they know about the NBA is a 27% winning percentage.
“When you are able to look at yourself in the mirror,” he said. “and say alright nothing has worked, so it’s time to change, I think you have to do that and be honest with yourself.”
Devin Booker is a fan.
“He played a whole day of pickup and didn’t score a point,” Booker said of Ariza during pickup games the prior month. “and that didn’t bother him at all. It’s not all about scoring.”
Ryan Anderson wants to be a part of the Suns rising like a Phoenix from the ashes.
“This is the beautiful thing for me,” he said. “I’m really happy to be here. We’re building a culture of winning, a future with this group. I’m happy to be a part of that. I just want to help in the best way I can.”
Just do what you say and say what you do, and the Suns just might be able to follow your lead Ryan.