Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton was suspended 25 games at the start of the season. Now back and fully healthy, he has a huge chip on his shoulders.
Existing as a 6’11, 250-pound behemoth of a man will instantaneously set you apart from most of the world’s average contemporaries. Now granted, sizable attributes when speaking in terms of the National Basketball Association take on connotative measures of their own, but nonetheless, when you compare him amongst the near 450 players that comprise the massively proportioned size-infused entity known as the NBA, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is still considered by most to be a man amongst boys.
He’s been a dominant big man since arguably the moment he stepped into the association, establishing himself as an everyday double-double threat when it comes to scoring and rebounding, and possessing an incredibly intimidating disposition on the defensive side of the ball – a constant fixture near the top of the league’s blocked shot numbers, and that can be credited in part to his inhuman 43.5-inch vertical leap.
His physical fortitude is his forte, and he’s made a hearty living through brute strength bullying tactics on players with considerable girth disadvantages.
Year one for Ayton was the epitome of what you would call a fully-fledged one-man wrecking crew. His expectations were just as lofty as his stature after becoming the Phoenix Suns’ first-ever No. 1 overall pick in 2019, and just like the pizza man, all he did was deliver.
He was immediately handed the keys to the starting center’s spot by Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams and responded with 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game on a 58 percent shooting mark from the floor in just over 30 minutes a night. His first game: an 18 point, 10 rebound montage of sovereignty over the Dallas Mavericks, and that double-double would set the table for what was to come all season, as Ayton eventually went on to break Alvan Adam’s rookie franchise double-double record for a season.
So year two could only yield improvements, right?
*Cue the buzzer sound* ehhhh.
2019-20 would take on an entirely different momentum for Ayton, and it was not an energy that was skewed in a positive direction.
His first game out of the gates reeked of more of the same – 18 points, 11 rebounds. His second – well, that wouldn’t come until nearly two months after.
The long arm of the law came knocking on Ayton’s front door after a routine drug test revealed a banned substance in his system that violated the league’s anti-drug policy. The substance: a diuretic, which increases urine flow from the body, and is generally used in cases of a desired massive weight loss, or to mask another illicit material. The discovery resulted in Ayton being forcibly sidelined for 25 games without pay.
A discernibly regretful Ayton released this statement following the sentence:
“I want to apologize to my family, the entire Suns organization, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix community. This was an unintentional mistake and unfortunately I put something in my body that I was completely unaware of.”
“I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve let my team down. I will continue to work with the Players’ Union (NBPA) to go through the arbitration process and am hopeful for a positive resolution.”
He returned Dec. 17 and picked up right where he left off, failing to miss a beat in continuing his now commonplace tear of double-double stretches, and even showing progression in several key areas of his skillset, posting 19.0 ppg and 12.0 rebounds through 29 games. And his defensive prowess increased tenfold – he ranked third in contested shots behind Brook Lopez and Rudy Gobert at 16.2 per contest.
Now, as Ayton’s Phoenix Suns attempt to conquer the near-impossible as the last-ranked Western Conference team in Orlando’s bubble, he plays an unfathomably large role in their hopeful ascent to a playoff berth.
He and teammate Devin Booker will be Phoenix’s unquestioned primary scoring options, but with Booker serving as the team’s clear epitomized manifestation of consistent production, it will be Ayton who will have the biggest chip on his shoulder upon their return.
And he’s fully aware of it.
“Grown man’s game” is the constant adage that’s attached to professional basketball’s highest level, but that saying stretches far beyond the bounds of the court. Ayton undoubtedly possesses the physical tools to be a great player for years to come. As of 2020 though, his decision-making bearings still lag behind his on-court development.
But the beauty of life lies within our ability as human beings to adapt and make needed change.
We’ve seen countless NBA players take considerable leaps in terms of maturity throughout their careers. Take D’Angelo Russell’s ascendence after being traded away from LA after his viral internet fiasco with Nick Young a few years back, for example. Pro sports are riddled with feel-good stories of redemptive resurgence from trying circumstances, and Ayton already has the ideal ingredients to craft the recipe for the next one.
As of now, his name has become synonymous with an unfortunate error in decision-making. But he’s barely past the legal drinking age and has palpable time on his side to alter that storyline.
The ball’s in his corner, though, and now is the perfect moment for him to splash home a big shot. Your move, Mr. Ayton.