It might not be NBA basketball, but hey, it’s basketball! With the NBA season two months away, we are glued to the FIBA Pre-Qualifying Tournament in the Americas, the winner of which secures a spot in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Well, you’re glued to it if you’re willing to pay $20 to Courtside 1891, Which I am. I’m starving for some basketball, and with the Bahamas rostering two members of the Phoenix Suns, and knowing that the subscription will give me all of the FIBA World Cup that begins next week, it’s worth the investment.
In their first game against the Cuba National Team, the Bahamas dominated in every facet of the game. And they should, shouldn’t they? Deandre Ayton, Eric Gordon, and Buddy Hield are all starters for the Bahamian team, whereas the Cuban team had a grand total of zero NBA players. The Bahamas took advantage of this and bullied Cuba on the interior, dropped bombs from beyond the arc, and easily won the game 109-68.
It was the performance of Deandre Ayton that caught our eye, obviously, as he went for 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, nine on the defensive end. We’ve seen snippets during the Bahamian practice sessions of Ayton practicing his handles, and it came to fruition during gameplay.
The highlight play, in which Deandre Ayton takes his eyes off an incoming pass on the perimeter, fumbles it, regains possession, fakes left, goes right around the defender, and flushes a reverse jam on the opposite side of the rim was electric. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s “change the narrative” type stuff.
It’s against Cuba.
Play of the game by DA. pic.twitter.com/VjUPXT48ne— The Bright Side (@BrightSideSun) August 15, 2023
I’m not here to rain on any parades or deny credit where credit is due. I’m simply providing some much needed perspective to a fanbase starving for DA to be successful. Ayton should dominate against Cuba. They don’t have anybody! Had he under-performed, Suns Nation would’ve lost their damn mind, and I’m grateful that he performed in such an aggressive manner. I’m thankful he played with hustle and speed, quickness and mobility. He needed to.
For him, not for us.
What we witnessed on Monday was DA playing with confidence. He knew that when he donned jersey number one for the Bahamas and walked onto the court versus Cuba, he was the best player on it. Eric Gordon’s a wiley veteran and Buddy Hield can heat up quicker than the Arizona blacktop in July, but Ayton is the best player on that team. And he knew it. And he played like it. And that’s what I was excited to see. Against the Cuban team or not, confidence is how Deandre Ayton can change that narrative.
Throughout his NBA career, he hasn’t played with such confidence. He hasn’t played thinking that he’s the best player on the court. He joined the Phoenix Suns in 2018 as Devin Booker was transitioning from star to superstar. Two years later, a Hall of Fame bound point guard in Chris Paul joined the team. The addition became an opportunity for mentorship rather than dominance for DA. Last season Kevin Durant joined the team, who is a top 15 player of all time. Bradley Beal, a three-time All Star, is now on the team.
It is hard for Ayton to step on the court and feel the confidence necessary to truly dominate. And that is where this FIBA Pre-Qualifying Tournament can be beneficial for the big man. It is an opportunity to build confidence, and while he may not believe that he is the best player stepping on the court every night when the Suns play, he needs to know that he can be. He can play free-flowing basketball where his instincts take over, he can play in a dominating fashion, he can be aggressive, and he can take risks to do so. Sure, it was just Cuba, but it was a reminder of Ayton’s potential.
The next opportunity for him to feel this confidence to showcase his dominance is tonight at 5:10pm Arizona time against an Argentinian team that is surprisingly not currently slated to play in the 2024 Olympic Games. Argentina is currently ranked as the 4th best team in the FIBA rankings. They won the bronze in the 2008 Olypmics, the gold in 2004, won silver in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and gold in the 2019 FIBA Pan American Games. This will be Argentina’s first appearance, as they were slated to play Panama on Monday, but they dropped out of the tournament. Led by Facundo Campazzo, and rostering former NBA players Carlos Delfino, Luca Vildoza, Nicolas Brussino, Gabriel Deck, and Patrico Garino, this is a much more viable opponent than the Cuban team that the Bahamas eviscerated on Monday.
Will we once again see confidence in Ayton? Is he of the belief that he is the best player on the court again? Tune in and find out.