MILWAUKEE – If only family and friends could interact with NBA players in games the same way they did before the pandemic.
Maybe ex-Los Angeles Lakers player and broadcaster Mychal Thompson could be here so he can hug Phoenix Suns third-year center Deandre Ayton before playing the Milwaukee Bucks in games. 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals. After all, Thompson often praised Ayton before the Suns played against the Lakers to further strengthen their ties as native Bahamians.
âI tell him how proud I am of him and to carry on,â Thompson told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s the best player we’ve ever had from the Bahamas.”
Ayton and Sacramento Kings goaltender Buddy Hield are the only current Bahamian-born NBA players, but Hield has never made the playoffs. Golden State Warriors goalie Klay Thompson, one of Mychal’s sons, won three NBA titles and broke numerous shooting records, but was born in Los Angeles. Ayton and Mychal Thompson have the strongest connection to the Bahamas.
“He will be the main sports ambassador for the Bahamas for the next 15 years,” Thompson said of Ayton. “He has that kind of potential to represent the Bahamas and carry the Bahamian flag in sport for the next 15 years. I expect him to.”
Ayton and Thompson are the only Bahamian-born players to compete in the NBA Finals. They are also the only Bahamian-born players to be selected No.1 in the NBA Draft. But as Thompson pointed out, “I don’t compare myself to him.” Thompson, who won two NBA championships in three final appearances with the Lakers (1987, 1988, 1991), predicted Ayton will collect more rings than he does. Thompson, who had a 12-year NBA career with Portland, San Antonio and the Lakers (1978-91), predicted Ayton would have a much more substantial resume than his.
âHe’s going to become an All-Star on several occasions,â said Thompson. “He’s going to be a Hall of Fame member. So he’s the best basketball player we’ve ever produced in the Islands.”
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Thompson considers Ayton the third best center in the NBA behind Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, who won this year’s regular season MVP. Ayton, 22, reminds Thompson of San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, who won two NBA titles, an NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and 10 All-Star nods in a 14-year career ( 1989-2003).
âHe can run on the ground, block shots and has a good midrange game like Robinson,â Thompson said of Ayton. “He’s got everything David Robinson had at that age. If he continues to progress and stay hungry and healthy as he shows, he can reach that level.”
Ayton’s eyes lit up and his smile widened when he learned of Thompson’s praise for his current skills and long-term trajectory.
âThis is the big moment,â Ayton said. “All I have to do is make sure I put my head down and keep working. With the wins, the individual rewards come. I just have to keep working and keep winning.”
How Ayton impressed Thompson
The Suns and Ayton are heading in that direction.
Phoenix has a 2-0 Series Finals lead over Milwaukee entering Game 3 on Sunday after sending in last year’s NBA Champions (Lakers), the team with this year’s MVP (Nuggets) and another championship contender (Clippers). Ayton became one of seven players in NBA history to have 12 double doubles in their first 17 playoff games. He also set an NBA playoff record for highest field goal percentage across that same sample size (71.1%).
As his homeland celebrated Independence Day on Saturday, Ayton admitted his current motivations go beyond winning his first NBA championship. It also goes back to how Ayton wants to honor the Bahamas.
âThere are a lot of people back home who are supporting me and watching me,â Ayton said. “I want to put on a show for them and make sure this thing happens. Every game I play in, I take the Bahamas with me.”
Thompson saw early on that Ayton could inspire his homeland.
Thompson first met Ayton when he was 12 when he visited Jeff Rogers Celebrity Camp in Nassau, Bahamas, when Klay Thompson also attended after his rookie season (2012-13). After marveling at the attention Klay was receiving, Ayton yearned to follow his path. At this point, Mychal hasn’t noticed anything in particular in Ayton’s play that suggests fame. But given that Ayton was already 6-4, Mychal felt it would always happen.
âWe knew he had a future because of his size and his love of the game,â said Thompson. “We knew that if he kept growing, he would have a great future in basketball.”
Thompson predicted correctly. Ayton moved to San Diego to study and play basketball at Balboa City School. He then played two more years at Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, which led to the University of Arizona awarding him a scholarship. He went on to set a Pac-12 schedule and record for most doubles doubles (25) as well as Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. It’s no wonder the Suns selected Ayton with the No.1 pick in the 2018 draft.
As Ayton grew in height and stature, Thompson sometimes gave Ayton what he called “words of wisdom.”
âThe only thing I told him when he was in high school was to stay humble and be ready to listen and work hard,â Thompson said. “You could tell he was looking forward to playing. So I didn’t have to give a lot of advice. He already had good people advising him and a good family. He had all the support he needed.”
Therefore, Thompson was not worried about some of the hiccups Ayton experienced once he entered the NBA.
Ayton drew immediate comparisons with others in his draft class, including Dallas Mavericks goaltender Luka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks goaltender Trae Young. Although Ayton plays a different stance, questions have emerged as to whether the Suns would have been better off picking one or the other goaltender instead. After all, the Suns hadn’t made it to the playoffs since 2010.
Ayton has also prompted questions about his constant production and engagement. While the Suns have always praised Ayton for his game and attitude, they admitted he still had a learning curve with the way he trained on the training ground, weight room and gym. Movie room. Ayton faced a 25-game suspension to open the 2019-20 season for violating the terms of the NBA / NBPA anti-drug program after testing positive for a diuretic.
âHe’s a good boy. I didn’t worry about him at all,â Thompson said. “He has such a good family structure behind him and such good coaches around him. So I knew he would be fine.”
Thompson has often resisted sprinkling it with too many comments. He credited Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker for both asking and encouraging Ayton to raise his level of play. He praised Suns coach Monty Williams for giving Ayton constructive feedback, some of which were recently captured in the Suns’ victory over Buck.
Still, Thompson argued that more could be done to bring out the best in Ayton.
âSometimes he’s too ignored and the Suns just don’t tap into the fuel he has in the paint,â Thompson said. “This guy is unstoppable in the painting as he showed it. So they have to treat him like he is a hyper giant star.”
They did so when Ayton threw a winning lob on a back pass with 0.7 seconds left in a Game 2 win over the Clippers. Thompson compared the game to when former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc and former Lakers goaltender Derek Fisher shot winning shots in playoff games on entry passes with little time on the clock. Otherwise, Ayton has cemented career lows again this season in points (14.6) and shooting attempts (10.5) due to the depth of the team.
âThey have such a dynamic backcourt and outside shooters that sometimes you can fall in love with the 3 and not realize the weapon you have in the paint,â Thompson said. “It’s a delicate balance that the Suns need to focus on. Deandre is so adept in the paint with his jump hook and flipping shots.”
Despite the optimism about Ayton’s potential, even Thompson has his limitations.
He conceded uncertainty as to whether Ayton could soon supplant Embiid and Jokic as the NBA’s top center.
âEmbiid and Jokic are pretty special, but Deandre can push them,â Thompson said. “He can push them for that honor. From now on, he shouldn’t be any worse than the third best center for the next few years with a chance to make that second or first team.”
He also seemed skeptical about whether Ayton’s career would end with comparisons to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal.
âI hope so, but these are high levels,â said Thompson. âYou talk about five of the greatest ever out there. But he’s going to be a Hall-of-Famer. There’s no doubt about it. How big he wants to be depends on him on how hungry he wants to be and how how much he wants to work. “
Ayton wanted to work hard in part to make Thompson proud.
âHe’s supported me, supported me so far,â Ayton said. âIt keeps me in a good mood.
Meanwhile, Thompson seemed in good spirits as he spoke about Ayton and the influence he had on him.
âThe fact that he recognizes me and knows who I am is very flattering,â said Thompson. “It’s a huge accomplishment. He’s already surpassed anything I’ve ever done at that age. At 22, I was in college trying to find the next test I was going to take. See him at 22? He’s two wins away from an NBA championship and that’s one of the main reasons he’s far surpassed anything I’ve ever done and ever will have done in basketball. -ball. “
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