Deandre Ayton seemed to be talking about physical energy, but one would be forgiven if they assumed he was talking up his newfound emotional energy, too. The NBA shutdown seems to have helped Ayton in its own way, providing reprieve from the stress of the 2019-20 season and allowing him to get back to the basics of life.
That all may sound quite heavy and deliberate, but Ayton reminded those on a call with local media on Thursday that he is, after all, just a kid. Much of what’s going on around him is nothing more than social media fodder. For the most part, he spent the late spring and early summer locked down, playing video games and training.
“I felt like I was back in high school. I didn’t really have a hard time,” Ayton said. “I definitely took advantage of taking that break, taking that load off, and I think that’s why I have so much energy.”
Besides touching up his NBA2K skills (and finishing as a runner-up to his teammate Devin Booker in the league tournament), Ayton used the opportunity to get closer to his younger sister, who he said used to be awkward around him because they spent so much time apart. In quarantine, Ayton focused on “just being a human,” living life in a way he probably hasn’t been able to over the past few years of all-basketball everything.
Of course, Ayton did his best not to lose valuable training time to improve as a player. When the shutdown first hit, Ayton was still recovering from (another) ankle injury, and he had to rehabilitate the sprain virtually, going through training regimens with the Suns’ training staff. It was his second such injury of the season, and the third of his career, but he said he feels better and has not had any problems since getting back on the court.
Because he’s healthy again, Ayton has been able to use this time to work on his game. The valuable work with assistant coach Mark Bryant continues, with Ayton working to become more of a play-maker on offense and a more patient defender.
Ayton admitted he hunted blocks too much this season, and that Bryant has helped him with his defensive footwork, how to block shots with both hands, and when to use a softer touch on blocked shots to keep them in-bounds.
“I know everyone’s watching my defense,” Ayton said. “It was just a big chip (on my shoulder), so I’m ready.”
Hearing Ayton speak, it seems like the shutdown allowed him to gain mental clarity and refocus on what’s important to him. Even though not much has changed from a basketball standpoint since the media last got to speak with him, Ayton had a maturity about him and a sense of purpose in everything he said that has not always come naturally for him.
When asked about his whirlwind 2019-20 campaign, from a substance-related suspension to the coronavirus shutdown, Ayton admitted it’s humbled him.
“I could have stopped a lot, but I didn’t stop, I stayed on the positive path, and I have the Suns organization that kept me taking the right steps along the way,” he said.
The second-year center said he trusts the league to create a safe environment in Orlando and that he mostly is disappointed to be away from his family for so long. With regard to the movement against systemic racism in the country and in the NBA, Ayton returned to his own personal principles.
“I try to just focus on controlling what I can control,” he said. “I try to just live the best way I can live.”
No one could blame Ayton for appreciating some distance from the suspension, the injuries, and the hoopla. A closer relationship with his sister and better rim protection technique are some nice souvenirs from an admittedly crazy time in our nation, and the next few months in the NBA will likely move forward in hyper-speed. Year Three for Ayton will be here before we know it. That energy is going to come in handy.