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Suns' Deandre Ayton focused on perfecting his body and expanding his game as his rookie season moves forward

Suns' Deandre Ayton focused on perfecting his body and expanding his game as his rookie season moves forward
Published On: Wed, Feb 13
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Dragan Bender (right) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number four overall pick to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I'm in the middle of asking Phoenix Suns rookie center DeAndre Ayton about what some scouts consider the biggest weakness of the 20-year-old Bahamian's game a€“ his defense a€“ when he cuts me off.

"I'm tired of hearing that," Ayton tells me. "I went through that in college, and I'm going through it in the NBA. I don't know what you guys want from me. I'm 7'1" and I'm guarding point guards. I don't understand how much I have to show. I'm guarding the perimeter, running after guards across screens, pin downs, running through dribble-hand-offs and pick-and-roll ball screens a€“ as a seven-foot player! In the NBA I have to protect the rim. I love defense. I'm not struggling on defense. I love to make my opponent look bad."

He pauses for emphasis: "I love defense."

Clearly, this perception of him as a subpar defender is something that gets under Ayton's skin. It's not exactly a new phenomenon with him. "Shows average awareness defensively," read DraftExpress.com's 2016 scouting report on Ayton, when he was a high school junior. "Doesn't really know how to play strong defense yet without fouling." His profile on NBADraft.net hammered him for defense in the lead-up to the 2018 draft, where Ayton would become the No. 1 overall pick: "For a player with such elite physical gifts, his shot blocking ability is curiously averagea€¦needs to do better as a help defendera€¦seemed to look to preserve energy (and fouls) on the defensive end."

Sometimes reputations can be hard to shake, whether they're true or not. There's certainly some truth to this reputation a€“ although part of the reason there is that reputation in the first place is because Ayton is often judged by people who look at his Adonis-like physical gifts and wonder why he hasn't already become David Robinson or Dikembe Mutombo on defense. Ayton averaged 1.9 blocks per game in his one-and-done season at Arizona, and he's averaging only .9 blocks per game in his rookie season for the Suns. Among centers who are averaging more than 15 minutes per game, Ayton ranks 57th out of 86 in block percentage, roughly the same as Nikola Vucevic and DeMarcus Cousins.

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