Kent Somers and Greg Moore share their thoughts from Suns Media Day.
Diana Payan, The Republic | azcentral.com
“Oh my God. He’s about to get his ass kicked this year.” – Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid about Phoenix Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton on ESPN’s “The Jump.”
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
That’ll be Ayton’s first opportunity to challenge the man who’s predicting he’ll have a long rookie NBA season.
For now, he’ll just respond verbally to Embiid.
“I can’t really say anything,” said Ayton at Monday’s media day at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “I haven’t put the ball in the hoop (in an NBA game). The only thing I could is probably let my game talk and compete.”
Ayton made the team’s best player, Devin Booker, proud with how he answered the question.
“It shows maturity,” Booker said. “You would see a lot of people try to get involved with it and antagonize it and make it bigger than what it is, but he sees the bigger picture. That’s really important for him to see. He knows he hasn’t proven anything in this league yet. He’s going to go out there and it to the best of his ability. I know he’s ready for it. I’m behind him 100 percent.”
Embiid, 24, who was taken third overall in the 2013 draft, battled through injuries before emerging into an NBA All-Star and one of the game’s best big men – and top trash talkers.
So naturally ESPN asked Embiid to comment on players he likes to talk trash to the most as “The Jump” host Rachel Nichols and NBA champion Stephen Jackson posted the question to him on Friday’s show.
Jackson pulled out pictures of Hassan Whiteside and Russell Westbrook, two players Embiid exchanged verbal pleasantries with last season. Then Jackson wiped out Ayton’s photo.
“Oh my God. He’s going to get his ass kicked this year,” Embiid said.
Jackson loved the comment. Nichols looked surprised.
Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough called it “amusing so far” when asked about it Monday.
“Those guys are big personalities,” McDonough said. “They both have a light-hearted approach. It was funny the comments Joel made last week, I saw they took the one thing out of context that he was going to get his butt kicked and Joel said a bunch of nice things about Deandre as well.”
When Embiid was asked why Ayton is a trash-talk target, ESPN showed his tweet about being compared to Ayton that said, “Don’t compare Ayton to me either. I play DEFENSE.”
Embiid continued with that same narrative when talking about the former one-and-done Arizona star.
“I was watching the draft and I kind of felt disrespected. I think it was, I don’t want to say his name, but Chauncey (Billups),” Embiid said.
Billups, an ESPN analyst who looks to one day become a general manager of an NBA team, said during the draft Ayton “reminds” him of Embiid.
“He can take you out to the mid-post area, he can go back to the basket, he’s very agile,” Billups said. “He has the complete offense game. Not only that, he affects the other side of the basketball court. He’s a rim protector and can guard the pick and roll.”
On draft shows, analysts, especially former NBA players like Billups, focus on the positives of the rookies, but Embiid didn’t take too kindly to it then – and still taking issue with the Ayton comparison.
“He’s supposed to be (looking to become) an GM, but he was comparing,” Embiid said. “I can see the comparison because of the potential. He’s going to be a good, but when you talk about he looks like Joel Embiid, I play on both sides of the court. I think I’m a good offensive player. Good defensive player. I do it on both ends of the floor.”
Embiid’s guard-like skills makes him difficult to defend. He averaged 22.9 points, 11 boards, shot 48.3 percent from the field and 76.9 from line last season, but was also a defensive force.
Tying with Myles Turner and Kevin Durant for third in blocked shots at 1.8 per game, Embiid posted a 99.7 defensive rating. In his one-and-done 2013-14 season at Kansas, Embiid swatted away more shots per game at 2.57 than Ayton did last season at Arizona where he averaged 1.88 blocks.
“I watched him play and he’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s got a lot of potential,” Embiid said. “He’s going to be really good.”
How quickly Ayton develops remains to be seen, but how he’s approaching his rookie season is clear.
“Just let people know I’m coming at them every time,” Ayton said. “I’m going to keep pounding the paint. Keep attacking the glass on the defensive end.
Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said Ayton should take pride in being a rim protector. The rookie seems to have taken heed to that.
“I’m going to be an anchor down low now and protect the rim,” Ayton said. “A lot of scouts didn’t really see that (while at Arizona). I was always on the perimeter, but for the rest of my life, I will be protecting the rim.”
Embiid did have some good things to say about Ayton, but keep this in mind. Ayton did average more points and rebounds in college than Embiid.
Based off those numbers, there’s validity to the comparisons, but Embiid still took issue with them – and Billups.
“I’m not upset,” Embiid said. “I’m more mad at Chauncey for not doing his research.”
Mark the calendar for Nov. 19 in Philadelphia for Embiid vs. Ayton, Part 1 – and Part 2 Jan. 2, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
By then, Ayton will have plenty to say to anyone.
“As soon as I put the ball in the hoop, I can say what I want,” Ayton said. “So I’m waiting.”