Deandre Ayton Having Fun with Learning Process

November 21, 2023

Athlete Studio

Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton's spirits remain high even as his team grapples with a six-game losing streak. Despite averaging a career-low 12.3 points per game, Ayton maintains a positive outlook.

"I'm having fun with this," Ayton said following the team's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that dropped the Blazers to a 3-9 record.

Ayton, who previously played on contenders in Phoenix, embraces the learning experience he and the team are going through. He has taken on a leadership role and after the loss to the Lakers, he encouraged his teammates in the locker room, reminding them that their hard work and disappointment will eventually pay off.

"I know it hurts," Ayton said. "But on to the next one. We're going to learn and move on. It's fun."

Ayton's positive attitude helps him stay unfazed by the development of his role within the Blazers' offense. The team's shooting has been a contributing factor to this. 

Blazers coach Chauncey Billups has made efforts to run plays for Ayton, but the lack of respect for the team's shooters means the paint is often crowded, hindering Ayton's effectiveness.

"That's impacted his touches," Billups explained. "And then as you can see, like tonight, when he gets it, there's three or four guys right there slapping. He doesn't even have room to put it down. So, it's kind of tough for him out there a lot of nights, especially with how we're situated right now."

Ayton acknowledges that he can contribute more by playing more aggressively, moving without the ball, and demanding it when he's open. He demonstrated greater aggression during the game against the Lakers compared to the previous loss to Cleveland.

"I want him to be aggressive every night," Billups emphasized. "So, that was a lot of us telling him to be aggressive and attack. When you have opportunities, take advantage of it. And telling our guys we've got to get him the ball."

Unfortunately, the opportunities inside the paint have significantly reduced Ayton's free throw attempts. He has only had seven this season, with two coming from the Lakers game, compared to an average of 3.0 last season.

Despite this setback, Ayton acknowledges that he could do more to draw fouls by forcing the action and crashing the boards.

"I need to crash more," Ayton admitted. "Just go to the rim more. I feel like my mid-range shot is dropping a little bit, though."

One potential boost for Ayton and the team is the impending return of Anfernee Simons, who suffered a thumb ligament tear on his shooting hand in the first game. Simons, known for his elite shooting skills, had been developing chemistry with Ayton prior to his injury.

"That wasn't part of the deal," Ayton joked about Simons being out.

Ayton compared the floor spacing provided by Phoenix All-Star guard Devin Booker to what he hopes to achieve with Simons.

"Everybody knows he's a great scorer," Ayton acknowledged. "Me coming on the pick and roll, people are going to blitz him. And that short roll pocket just opens up the whole floor."

As of now, Ayton feels that the paint is too congested for him to fully utilize his skills.

"Right now, my paint is just clustered," he expressed.

Nevertheless, Ayton remains adamant that he is enjoying the journey and believes that the best is yet to come for him and the Portland Trail Blazers.

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