PHOENIX – Deandre Ayton said he felt good and was excited about making his regular-season debut for the Phoenix Suns. And, well, it was just another game where he was hoping to win.
That was about an hour before the game started.
When it started, he didn’t look like a rookie and the Suns didn’t look anything like last year’s Suns when they were beat by more than 40 points in the season-opener. Phoenix defeated Dallas, 121-100, at Talking Stick Arena and the summer’s No. 1 draft picked looked right at home in a Suns uniform playing along side Devin Booker, Trevor Ariza and Josh Jackson.
Double Duece – his new number, 22 – had his first double-double of his professional career, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds to become only the third Suns player to get a double-double in a debut. He also become the ninth No. 1 draft pick in the lottery era to so. He also had six assists.
“It was fun; it was a great learning experience,” Ayton said. “I’m really happy for the fans. I want to make these fans happy and bring hope to Phoenix. I tried in Tucson in college, just giving them hope and bringing them rings. That’s why I want to help this organization move pretty far.”
Games like Wednesday night’s will help and go a long way in doing that. In fact, Ayton was so good he started Phoenix’s scoring with a three-point play and ended its scoring with a dunk. In between the two shots, he did everything he could to help – and yet he can get better.
“His motor was there and (so was) his excitement and energy,” said Igor Kokoskov, Phoenix’s coach in describing Ayton’s defense. “He’s not afraid to sacrifice his body and as we know those days when you take charges are over. He’s pretty impressive when it comes to size and length. And he can do even better. Tomorrow he will watch the film and see how many times he missed the guys – when he had the opportunity to block and protect the rim, and he didn’t. That’s his challenge.”
On the offensive end, he was, well, Ayton. He hit close to the basket and far. In fact, his second and third baskets were a 19-foot jumper and a 21-footer.
“He’s a big force on the inside and he shoots it great,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said before the game in evaluating Ayton’s game, “especially long-range twos and I’m sure he can shoot threes because I’ve seen him shoot them easily in college.”
And, well, he did.
What it all led to was a great time – and a big win – in his debut.
“I had fun; I had a lot of fun,” he said. “This is the most fun I’ve had playing basketball. Being at the top level I can’t say I have one bad thing to say about this game. Even if my shot wasn’t falling I had fun playing with these guys. Everyone was locked in and engaged on both ends of the floor.”
And so his professional career officially began – more than a year after joining UA and the start of what a has been a whirlwind.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said when I asked how the last few months have been. “It’s something I’ve been working on. … I just stayed in the gym and kept on being humble. All of it pays off.”