After the Suns spent the last several weeks of the 2014-15 season handing out 10-day contracts to guards such as Seth Curry, A.J. Price and Jerel McNeal, it became clear that a reliable backup point guard would have to be discovered during the offseason.
Many people were partial to unrestricted free agent Ish Smith, who was a fan favorite just two seasons ago.
Instead, Ryan McDonough went with a different former Sun. In a surprising move the team brought back Ronnie Price with a one-year, veteran minimum contract of $1.5 million.
You may remember Price as the third-string guard from the 2011-12 season, back when he failed to earn the primary backup PG spot over Sebastian Telfair. He appeared in just 36 games that season, and shot 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range.
But before you crucify the front office for this move, let's do a basic statistical comparison between Price and the more venerated Smith.
Ish spent 30 games as a bench warmer with OKC before getting some serious burn with the Sixers. Price appeared in a total of 43 games for the Lakers.
Both players shot poorly from the field, but Smith was able to score significantly more. Ish averaged 14.6 points per 36 minutes, a new career-high, whereas Price averaged just 8.1 points.
Price averaged three times as many fouls as Ish, but he also racked up more than double the number of steals. Additionally, Price achieved an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.17. For comparison, both Bledsoe and Knight ranked near dead last among point guards in that category, with ratios of 1.80 and 1.75 respectively.
The Suns can count on Bledsoe and Knight for offense, but they could also sorely use some good defense and smart ball movement. According to the numbers, Price can give them that. Let's take a closer look at his skill set using some clips.
Ronnie Price is a career 37 percent shooter from the field. When you're that bad of a shooter, you don't get an entire decade in the NBA without being able to contribute something on the other end of the court.
Price, like Smith, is blazing fast. He loves to stay close to his man, pressure the ball and gamble for steals, but he also has the lateral quickness to stay with his assignment more times than not. It's not easy to blow right by him.
In this first clip, Price is challenged with containing Isaiah Thomas during the final possession of the first quarter. We immediately see that Price likes to gamble, as he swipes his left arm at Thomas with five seconds left on the clock. Thomas keeps control by bringing the ball behind his back and driving to the right, but Price quickly shuffles over and cuts him off again.
With no way to get to the rim, Thomas attempts a step back jumper with about two seconds remaining. Price is right there in his face to contest the shot, and it clanks off the rim as the buzzer sounds.
In a minute we'll take a look at some examples of Price's gambling gone wrong. But at least in this situation, his quickness allows him to stumble once or twice and still recover.
Here's another example of Price matching up against Thomas. Price takes two swipes at IT within several seconds, and then cuts him off as he dribbles to the right side of the court. With only five seconds left on the shot clock Thomas finally drives, only to take another contested mid-range shot over Price.
But there's more in this clip to appreciate. After the miss Price grabs the rebound away from P.J. Tucker and takes off down the court, using a behind-the-back dribble move to evade Gerald Green's swipe at the ball. With 18 seconds left on the shot clock he has already given the ball to Jordan Hill for an ISO play. Even though Price is no longer involved after that point, I had to let you watch Hill's sweet spin move on Len.
So, Ronnie Price can't shoot. He can't dribble up the court and pull up for a long three. But he played great defense, grabbed the rebound, kept control of the ball and set up the offense within a matter of seconds. That's all the Suns need.
Of course, when you gamble for steals as much as Price does you're going to stumble from time to time.
In this first example, Price switches onto Gerald Green after a screen.
Once Green actually has the ball, Price immediately jabs at Gerald and goes for the steal. But that opens up an easy lane for Green, who begins to drive to his right. Instead of recovering at that point, Price once again takes a swipe at the ball from behind as a desperate attempt for a steal.
This forces Jordan Hill to make up for Price's mistake, and Hill runs out of the restricted area to meet Green. A good playmaker would have easily been able to find a wide open Plumlee underneath the basket at that point, but Green's pass sails out of bounds.
Price is generally pretty good at forcing turnovers, but his style of defense is going to create some major headaches for Tyson Chandler and Alex Len. Those two will be asked to guard two players at once every time Price loses his assignment. And even if Chandler is a former Defensive Player of the Year, he can't shoulder that load.
Here's another example. Watch how intense Price's defense is as he hounds Thomas all the way down the court and takes multiple swipes at the ball. But one bad step and suddenly he's on the ground, with Thomas a few feet in front of him. For a second it looks like Miles Plumlee is open for a dunk, but when Ed Davis starts to move in that direction Thomas instead opts to find an open Anthony Tolliver on the perimeter.
Either way, the Lakers are playing 4-on-5 so long as Price is on the floor.
Price puts a lot of pressure on opposing ball handlers, but that isn't actually how he generates most of his steals. A huge percentage of his steals come from pure hustle, such as diving after loose balls or intercepting passes like a cornerback.
Here are a few examples. They speak for themselves, there isn't much analysis to give.
It's a common saying that good defense leads to offense. Price himself may not be a shot creator, but he definitely knows how to find open teammates in transition. As long as he continues to generate fast break opportunities from steals, he can lead an efficient offense on the court. The Suns may have lost Thomas, Dragic and Green, but Price can create endless fast break opportunities while Goodwin and Weems both thrive in transition. The Suns should have no problem finishing in transition and keeping a quick pace to the game.
Let's return to the topic of Price's assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.17.
Last season, Bledsoe's ratio was 1.80. Dragic's ratio with Phoenix was 1.85. Thomas' was 1.92. Ish Smith's in 2013-14 was 2.75.
Heck, even Steve Nash only topped 3.17 twice during his time with the Suns. He posted an incredible 3.51 ratio during the '04-05 season and a 3.22 ratio in '10-11.
So if Price can sustain his success from last season, he'll be perfect for the team's offense. The Suns ranked 25th in turnovers per game last season and could benefit from a guard capable of quickening the pace while also maintaining control of the ball.
Check out this first assist from Price. It's as simple as can be, yet effective. Kobe backs down his man and passes out of the double team to Price. In a split second, without any hesitation whatsoever, Price zips a pass across the court to Ellington who fires a three.
It's not very flashy or impressive, but it's fast. It's sharp. Price doesn't spend a second trying to beat his man one-on-one or thinking about taking the shot. He recognizes Ellington's shot opportunity and finds him.
This second example is a little bit flashier. In this clip Price actually tricks the Suns into thinking he's taking the shot, only to find an open Ed Davis underneath the rim.
It doesn't have anything to do with Price, but watch Isaiah Thomas after Davis scores. He's yelling at Markieff Morris down the court, who left Davis in order to close out on Price's supposed shot attempt. Isn't it fun to slowly watch the team's relations go down the drain? This game was only in November, when we all still had hope.
Anyway, I like this third play the best. Price beautifully operates the pick-and-roll and bounces a pass over to Jordan Hill for an easy layup. That wasn't an easy hole for Price to find, especially with Tucker, Bledsoe and Len all surrounding Hill.
Ronnie Price can shoot?
Well, not exactly. I'm admittedly cherry picking here, showing a couple of made threes from a career 29 percent three-point shooter.
The point is, he's better than Ish Smith in that regard. Smith was seriously a nonexistent three-point option for the Suns, shooting just 1-23 (4%) from deep in his year in the desert. Price actually shot 31-109 from three-point range for the Lakers, and 47 percent of his total shot attempts were from beyond-the-arc.
Okay, maybe I'm grasping at straws. 29 percent is not good, but it's better than 4 percent. Hooray?
I'm certain that after all of last year's drama, Ryan McDonough wanted a PG that could be described as the "anti-Thomas".
I can't think of a better player to fit that description than Ronnie Price.
A large portion of the Suns' problems last season were caused by showboating young players who were only ever hungry for more. They wanted more playing time, more touches, and more money. That's not a knock on any of the '13-14 Suns, because it's simply the nature of prospects. If you haven't proved anything in the league, you play with a chip on your shoulder.
But Ronnie Price is the opposite of that. Here is a 31-year-old 10-year NBA veteran who is used to scrapping for all of his minutes. He may not give you more than a handful of double-digit scoring outings in any given season, but he also won't complain about his role or his playing time.
All he's there to do is play good defense, hustle, and find the open man. What else could you ask for?