At Portland Trail Blazers Media Day 2023, one of the newest Blazers, center Deandre Ayton took the podium to voice his thoughts on the new season and his new situation. During his availability, Ayton continually came back to the same message: leadership.
Ayton is only 25 years old, but has spent five seasons in the NBA and played major minutes in the NBA Finals with the Phoenix Suns. On a new-look roster that exudes youth, Ayton, perhaps the most hyped incoming player from the Damian Lillard trades, will be looked at as a veteran presence in the locker room. The former No. 1 overall pick said it’s a role he’s ready to embrace.
“I get to show the world, show you guys, who I am as a player, on and off the court, when it comes to leading — especially helping young guys on this team win, teaching them how to win, teaching them how tough it is to win in this league as well.”
Ayton said those elder statesman duties include establishing trust with his teammates, being vocal with constructive criticism, but also leading by example, especially on the defensive end. Those duties also include forming a connection with Portland’s young nucleus of guards: Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons.
“Just guiding them and letting them understand the physicality of the game. Creating chemistry through play. ... Giving them certain terminologies that they’ll use in the game. Coach will be on me on the defensive terms on how I must go about things and all of us just working together. We’re all young. None of us know it all, and that’s the fun part about it. We’re young and we get to learn, but we’re very hungry. Very.”
At a hulking 6-foot-11, Ayton gives Portland a towering and athletic presence to anchor the paint and protect the basket. On top of his defensive acumen, Ayton’s a double-double machine, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds last season. To sum up what he brings to the table, Ayton initially used one word: “Dominance.”
“My name is DominAyton. I play with a lot of passion. A lot of grit as well, but I try to take the hypocrisy out of the game where I’m telling my teammate one thing and I’m doing the other. I’m more like a team player who, you know, I’ll make the sacrificial decision and take myself out. ... When it comes to winning, I’ll be the down-and-gritty guy to get the job done.”
As one reporter pointed out in his question for Ayton, if there’s been criticism directed at Ayton’s game, it’s about his motor. Reports surfaced over the past few seasons about strained relationship between the Suns and Ayton, which brought questions about is attitude on the court. Acknowledging his difficult situation in Phoenix, Ayton disagreed with the critiques.
“Look at the position I was playing in, the environment I was playing in. It can sometimes put a toll on your mental. ... I have accomplished a lot of things where my motor is not a question. Playoffs, no matter what it is, I play the best I can play. I play as hard as I can play. That won’t be a question at all. That’s one of the reasons why I told you guys this summer I would be changing the narrative. I’m with an organization that wants me and wants me to succeed.”