Why Blazers center Deandre Ayton is suddenly DominAyton: 'It's pretty lit right now'

Portland's big man is playing the best basketball of his NBA career.
Deandre Ayton, Portland Trail Blazers
Deandre Ayton, Portland Trail Blazers / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Deandre Ayton had one of his best games of the season in a March 14 loss to the New York Knicks. The Portland Trail Blazers big man scored 31 of the team's points 93 points (34 percent) and added 14 rebounds. He shot 57 percent from the floor, 6-of-6 from the free-throw line and hit his first 3-pointer of the season.

Usually, that would constitute a massive night for Ayton, who struggled during his first few months with the Blazers. It's just another day at the office for the 7-footer lately, though.

Deandre Ayton has been 'DominAyton' for the Trail Blazers

Portland acquired Ayton from the Phoenix Suns in the Damian Lillard trade. In a media session before the season, the 25-year-old gave himself the nickname "DominAyton." People (understandably) chuckled, and they continued to while he was anything but dominant to start the year.

Ayton was having the worst season of his career. Through the first three months, he averaged 12.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. The Bahamian big man has put up double-doubles in his sleep since he entered the league, but he'd never averaged fewer than 14.4 points in a season.

Coupled with 14 games missed due to injury and one due to a snowstorm, there were questions about Ayton's ability to be the franchise's center moving forward.

And then something flipped during the all-star break.

Since then, Ayton is averaging 25.1 points (second-best in the NBA among centers behind only Nikola Jokic), 15.1 rebounds (third in the league) and is shooting 63 percent from the field, which is third among centers who have played at least seven games and averaged 30 minutes during that stretch.

He's scored at least 30 points in three of his last four games and grabbed 19 boards in two of them. He had 33 points, 19 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in a win over the Atlanta Hawks on March 13.

According to Casey Holdahl of NBA.com, he's one of only three players this season to have three straight 20 and 15 games, which is also second in franchise history behind Bill Walton.

Simply put, he's playing the best basketball of his Blazers tenure and some of the best of his six-year NBA career. Ayton, who played 45 playoff games with the Suns and averaged 14.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals in the 2021 NBA Finals, said he's simply trying to win games, per Holdahl:

"I feel like coming into these games, I’m trying to do everything. Not only do my requirements, my role for this team, but do a lot more. That’s where I’m at. I’m more dominant. People like to laugh at it but it’s the truth. ... I just be trying to bust that ass. That’s about it. Whether I look like the bad guy or not, I’m trying to be great. I’m trying to be a winner in this league. I’m trying to be known as that guy. If you’re around me, you’re going to learn how to win."

Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton

An increasing chemistry with Anfernee Simons - now that they're both healthy at the same time - is playing a significant role in his uptick in production, Ayton said per Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report (subscription required):

"I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty lit right now. ... Everything’s flowing. We have this little language going on. It’s like our body language. Eye contact and things like that. We know what the defense is giving us, and it’s like music. It’s just good chemistry. Making good music. He knows what I want, I know what he wants.”"

Deandre Ayton

That was the hope when the Blazers traded for Ayton - that with his size, agility and athleticism, he would be an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Simons and Scoot Henderson. That's finally coming to fruition.


And perhaps most importantly it's one less position Portland's front office has to worry about as it rebuilds the team's roster.