Deandre Ayton: 'I Want to Be Certified' as NBA's Best Young 2-Way Center to Ever Play

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVMay 24, 2021

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Fresh off a breakout performance in Sunday's Game 1 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Deandre Ayton is setting his sights as high as they can go.

The Phoenix Suns center told Shams Charania of The Athletic that he wants to "be certified as the best young two-way center who’s ever played the game."

“I definitely see myself as being that player, but better," Ayton added. "Being the guy that’s known for that, and not just capable of that. Defense is so important to my play style and that’s what creates my offense and that’s what helps my team score. Defense wins games — and that’s what I want to be known for when I’m done with this thing."

While nearly every elite athlete sets himself or herself to a high standard, Ayton has a ton of work to do in order to meet his goal. Names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Russell stand out as stars who ascended to all-time greatness early in their careers, not to mention contemporaries like Bam Adebayo and Joel Embiid who are accomplished at a young age.

Ayton says he sees himself when watching Adebayo and Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert. 

“I’m a little bit of both of [Gobert and Adebayo]. I’m a similar player like Gobert, being a presence down low in pick-and-rolls and handling screens and letting the pick-and-roll come to me by letting the offensive players come to me. But also switching it up, being versatile and guarding on the perimeter. Switching on guards, moving my feet on two or three dribbles," Ayton said.

Ayton averaged 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game during the regular season, solid-but-unspectacular numbers as some continued to speculate whether he could live up to his No. 1 overall pick billing. He certainly looked the part Sunday against the Lakers, putting up 21 points and 16 rebounds while also helping hold Anthony Davis to a ghastly 5-of-16 performance.

If Ayton continues performing at a high level, the Suns may wind up unseating the defending champions.