LOS ANGELES — Deandre Ayton has been the MVP of the Western Conference Finals.
He’s averaged 20.3 points a game on 69.6% shooting, plus grabbed 13.5 rebounds a game, but it’s more than the numbers. The Clippers used a small lineup last round to neutralize Rudy Gobert and beat the Jazz, but Ayton has made Los Angeles pay for going small with alley-oop finishes and timely offensive rebounds (he had nine in the Suns’ Game 4 win). Ayton took steps forward all season and has exploded in the playoffs — conveniently right before he is eligible for a contract extension in Phoenix.
Ayton credits Paul for changing his career.
“I love CP, man. Like I said, that’s really the only teammate that really push me. Like big bro type push. Knowing what I got and that I ain’t never thought that I had,” Ayton said of CP3.
“I think he was the best thing that happened to my career. I can say that every day. Just is really a dude who pays attention to detail. It’s not how you say it, it’s what he’s saying… I never know a guy who cares so much about basketball and competing at everything. And it’s contagious and that’s what he built in me as well and just having him as a teammate and the experience that he’s went through and teaching me the little things has helped me and it’s working.”
Paul’s intensity and pushing of teammates about their games has worn on teammates in the past. But Ayton said it was exactly what he needed.
“I would say it started in training camp,” Ayton said after Game 4. “First thing he told me was, ‘You know, the thing that’s going to keep me in the league for a long time is angles.’ And I was like, angles? I was like, ‘I do everything. Angles?’
“You know, hey, it’s just angles of the screen, angles to get the rebound, being in position for an offensive board and just stuff like today, just using what he said and him just always keeping that in my head. Me being in the pick-and-roll with him, you know, this is — I won’t say it’s easy, but he makes it easy to where either he’s open or I’m open and we’re going to get something out of it. That’s what I’ve been learning through the reps with him.”
He’s learned enough to lead a team to the cusp of the NBA Finals.
And that’s going to land him a big payday.