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Deandre Ayton waited 60 games, and that’s enough, he says.
After the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft and his Phoenix Suns dropped their 16th consecutive game, a 111-98 verdict to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena, the 7-foot center put everyone, including his teammates, on notice.
“I gave them enough time to let them run what they got to run,” Ayton said, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. “Now I’m about to just take over now. It’s about that time to take over and not really look back.”
Ayton scored six points, making three of four shots, and snatched four rebounds in the helping the Suns build a 28-23 lead after the first quarter.
However, his contributions faded the rest of the way as the 20-year-old took only five shots in the final three quarters, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes.
“I will always answer this kind of questions and put it on the coach,” first-year Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “How I can make him be more involved. Just not necessarily in regards to his offense, not necessarily his touches, but he’s a big part of our system on both sides of the court.
“Defensively. That’s a challenge for me as a coach to keep him more engaged. Keep him more involved. That’s strategically what we’re trying to do.”
On that end of the court, Ayton was not whistled for a single foul against a struggling Cleveland team that exploited Phoenix for 52 points in the paint, nor did Ayton block a shot.
“On the flipside, players play the game,” Kokoskov said, according to Rankin. “You’ve got to demand. You’ve got to show some will and some energy and demand to be involved. You can call a play, but the play doesn’t mean it’s necessarily for you. You trigger the problem and you don’t know who is going to shoot the ball. How the play is going to be executed.”
Even though the Suns (11-49) went into their 61st game of the season Saturday night in Atlanta, Kokoskov still stressed patience remains necessary in terms of Ayton’s growth, just as it is for every young player.
“I want to see him more involved,” Kokoskov said. “I want to see him grow and be a better player. It’s a process. It requires time.”
Ayton’s numbers indicate he is having a good rookie season. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 10.5 boards and has 30 double-doubles in 54 games. And as Rankin points out, his 58.7 percent shooting percentage is the highest in NBA history by a rookie averaging a double-double, according to basketball-reference.com.
“He’s a terrific young player,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said before Thursday night’s game. “I think he has a tremendous upswing. He’s got a very, very, very bright future. His size, athleticism, being a big body. He’s really impressive down low.
“He kind of reminds me of an old-school player. Kind of a throwback player, but having a guy that size, with his mobility, and his ability to play around the paint area, he can affect the game in a lot of ways. I see this kid being a tremendous pro.”
Which brings us back to Ayton’s original vow to “take over” as the weight of the Suns’ losing streak burdens the entire franchise.
“It’s just tough,” Ayton said of the skid. “It’s not easy to deal with.
“I’m going to try my best to take over. Real talk.”