Deandre Ayton is the Phoenix Suns’ most criticized starter. Ayton, who is very talented at a listed 6-foot-11 and was picked the No. 1 in the 2018 draft, is scrutinized if he does not play with a certain level of force.
Ayton was asked about his motor at Monday’s practice before Game 5 of the Suns’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. His response was similar to that of Allen Iverson’s famous rant about practice.
“Yeah, I don’t know what that is, man,” Ayton said. “Motor? Come on, bro. I play both ends of the floor, my name is ‘DominAyton.’ I anchor the Phoenix Suns on both ends of the floor.
“Motor? Really? We’re going to talk about motor, man? Nope! I run on Tesla battery.”
Ayton’s motor has been questioned by some even before he was picked No. 1 in the 2018 draft. He has a tremendous skill set for his size but to critics, does not possess a ‘killer instinct’ that bigs like Shaquille O’Neal and other paint forces possessed.
Ayton said after the Suns’ 115-110 loss to the Clippers — when he had eight rebounds and saw another perhaps slip out of his hands in what was a 51-second possession for Los Angeles down the stretch — “everybody was cussing me out to rebound.” He joked even his 2-year-old son, Deandre Ayton Jr., was giving him grief.
Ayton Sr. has since had 13, 11 and 13 rebounds in Games 2, 3 and 4 and is No. 4 among playoff leaders in total rebounds (45).
“Just crash a little bit more,” Ayton said. “Physicality turnt up a little bit more. It’s the playoffs, man. I love the playoffs.
“The contact is a little different, you get to push guys around, man. And you get to jump over people, people climbing all up on your shoulders like you’re a ladder. You’re doing anything to get the rebound, and that’s what it’s about. That’s the type of player I am and that’s it.”
Ayton has averaged 14.8 points on 54.2 percent shooting with 11.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in this series. He has had a double-double in each of the last three games, including a 15-point, 11-board effort in the Suns’ 112-100 win over the Clippers Saturday. Ayton took four of the team’s first seven shots and was engaged throughout the game, which the Suns need from him to win an NBA championship.
Suns fans expect a lot from Ayton, especially since he was highly-regarded after one year of college at Arizona. The Suns’ big has yet to exceed 20 points in these playoffs and for his career, has not had a 30-point postseason game.
Still, Ayton has found ways to impact winning, coach Monty Williams said last week and guard Devin Booker expanded upon Monday.
“I mean, just being big,” Booker said. “They throw a lot of small guard lineups out there that put smaller guards on him... and just being a force. And he’s been able to do that. Big offensive rebounds late in games, setting great screens with great angles, and it’s opening everything else for everybody else.”
Still, Ayton has set several records in his three-year playoff career, including 11 games in which he has shot 70 percent from the field with at least 10 shot attempts. That is the most in Suns franchise history and in the NBA over the last three postseasons.
Ayton and the Suns lead their first-round series against the Clippers three games to one. They have a chance to close out LA Tuesday at home in Game 5, which could set up a matchup with the first-seeded Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.