DeAndre Ayton has been stellar in his rookie season no matter what the Phoenix Suns' record shows.
The Arizona-product has been a double-double machine, averaging 16.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, tied with Russell Westbrook for 11th in the league with 27 double-doubles.
The Suns are in Charlotte to take on the Hornets Saturday, coming off of a tough buzzer-beater loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor had the chance to catch up with Ayton following the Suns' practice on Friday to talk about their most recent loss, Ayton's rookie season and his relationship with rookies like Miles Bridges and Luka Doncic, the rookie wall (or lackthereof) and coming back to the Queen City for All-Star Weekend.
"The game was great man," Ayton said sarcastically on the loss to the Raptors. "They got a layup - I saw the layup, I tried to contest it the best I could and it went it. Now I'm in Charlotte, trying to get some revenge."
He of course is talking about Pascal Siakam's game-winning finish at the rim spoiling the Suns' road upset hopes. But Ayton wasn't concerned with looking in the past, he's focused at the task on hand against the Hornets Saturday.
Kemba Walker went for 29 points and seven rebounds in a road win over the Suns a few weeks back, but Ayton has done some homework on the Hornets' star guard since then.
"I've been watching a lot of film on Kemba. I got a little somethin' for him on the defensive end." As for his fellow rookie Miles Bridges, he drew comparisons to a certain standout college player who plays a few hours down the road in North Carolina.
"He's a big body dude. He's like an older Zion Williamson - freak athlete. He's a dude that will definitely dunk on you. He can shoot the three, too."
Bridges is someone who will likely be campaigning to enter this season's Slam Dunk Contest with his team hosting this year's All-Star events.
Ayton and Bridges have known each other since 'probably the 10th grade' according to the Suns' centre. But he says they haven't had the chance to compare rookie seasons thus far.
"I only text Luka (Doncic) every now and then about my money. Nah, I'm playin'," Ayton joked around.
We're past the halfway point of the season and the rookie wall is something that's often talked about, but Ayton doesn't believe in such thing.
"Man, there is no rookie wall. I'm playing 30 minutes a game and I ain't hit no wall. I could play 40 and still hit no wall. I do too much recovery for that." When he was asked what else he has going on aside from playing and recovering, he was adamant he's prevented any possibility of this abstract rookie wall.
"I do recovery, go home and sleep - maybe play video games here and there. And worry about how much money Luka owes me," he said while laughing.
But on a more serious tone on the topic, "there's no other extra curriculum for me to get tired. Every now and then, I'll tell coach I ain't got no legs today and he'll adjust certain things to save my legs."
Ayton is playing 31.1 minutes per game this season, second most to Doncic. But when it comes to total minutes, no rookie has notched more than Ayton's 1,426 minutes played.
Competing for one of the youngest teams in the NBA, the 2019 Draft's first overall pick carries more of a load than most rookies. There are three other rookies under contract on the Suns' roster (Mikal Bridges, DeAnthony Melton and Elie Okobo), but as a whole, Ayton doesn't see himself or his younger teammates any differently than the rest of the young guys on the team.
"It's such a young team that sometimes it's like 'who really is the rookie?' We know who the super vets are but the other guys are just like four or five years older than me. They're a vet, but we're all around the same age."
The Suns are in the rebuilding process but have shown flashes of promise for the future. "I'm just here to try and win games and they're here trying to do the same thing."
Ayton mentioned that he was in Charlotte to avenge Thursday's loss, but he also spoke on the possibility of coming back to this very same city in a month for All-Star Weekend.
"Being a part of that and knowing I'm going to be a part of that is amazing." Ayton will most certainly be selected to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, locking himself in to come back for one of, if not the most fun weekend of the NBA season.
"That's going to be so fun. I've never experienced anything like it, besides from the nose bleed seats." Reminiscing on 2016, where he saw the Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine Slam Dunk Contest from the upper deck of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
"That was insane (as he shakes his head and laughs). Seeing some of the star athletes in this league and the celebrities that are going to be out there - I'm ready for Charlotte that weekend."
Ayton has been a joy to watch all season and is often a joy to cover in the media. If not for Doncic's breakout rookie season, he would be considered the heavy favourite for Rookie of the Year honours.
The Suns might be struggling this season but with young talent like Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Mikal Bridges to name a few, the future in Phoenix is brighter than you might realise.