When the Suns signed Mirza Teletovic over the summer, it was with the hope that he would provide the floor spacing necessary as a stretch four to allow the offense to flourish, replacing the shooting lost from the position when Channing Frye left in 2014. This season's offense has been sporadic at best, but Teletovic has more than held up his end of the bargain.
Teletovic is having arguably his best season since coming over to the NBA four seasons ago. He is averaging a career-best 9.8 points per game while shooting 43 percent from behind the 3-point arc. That percentage is good enough for 12th in the NBA and is four percent higher than his previous career high.
Even more impressive is that over the first 40 games of the season, Teletovic has sunk 86 3-pointers — all coming off the bench. At that rate according to basketball-reference.com, he will make 176 3s this season off the bench, which would not only best Danny Ainge's mark for most 3-pointers made off the bench by a Sun (150, 1992-93) but would establish a new NBA record by smashing Chuck Person's record of 164 back in the 1994-95 season. And no one is even close to Teletovic this season, with Will Barton over 20 3s behind in second place.
Outside of his shooting, however, there is not much that one finds remarkable about Teletovic's game. He's not the quickest or fastest player on the court. He doesn't jump out of the gym. He's not a lock-down defender. But he does have a trait in common with former Sun and fellow unremarkable player Luis Scola that tends to get overlooked — he's steady.
Steady players are valuable to teams because they allow coaches to firm up their rotations and minute allotments since they know exactly what to expect from Player X on any given night. For coach Jeff Hornacek, that makes Teletovic especially valuable due to the up-and-down nature of most of his roster.
In many ways, Teletovic is the anti-Gerald Green. While it was no secret Green could heat up for 30 points on any given night, he was equally as likely to break the offense with bad shots, try ill-advised passes, and generally create chaos for one or both teams during his time on the floor. That is why Green found himself stuck on the bench for much of last season. Teletovic, on the other hand, doesn't try to be something he's not. He stays in his lane, does what is expected of him, and generally plays heady if not spectacular basketball. Even when he was struggling early in the season, Teletovic did not deviate from who he is.
Scola was the same way during his time spent as a Sun. In his lone season in the Valley, Scola played in all 82 games for a woeful 25-57 Suns team and averaged 12.8 points amid the wreckage, knocking down mid-range jumpers with the reliability of a Swiss clock. Despite all the negativity, Scola wasn't in the media complaining that year and even said after he was traded to Indiana that he wished he could have stuck around to make amends for the poor 2012-13 season.
Every team needs players like Scola and Teletovic, but their value tends to be wasted on teams that aren't ready to win yet. Were Teletovic suiting up for the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors, he would be a terrific cog in their machines, filling a need while allowing the systems already in place to compensate for his deficiencies. On this Suns team, however, he's just a deadeye shooter on a moribund roster.
That's part of the shame of this season; it wasn't supposed to be this way. Teletovic was supposed to be that deadly kick-out option for when Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight broke down opposing defenses. He was supposed to be an integral piece for a high-scoring offense. All these made 3-pointers were supposed to mean something. Alas, they have meant little this season, and his production has been the equivalent to putting rims on a jalopy.
If the Suns were playing better basketball, Teletovic's career year might have his name getting brought up with greater frequency in Sixth Man of the Year conversations. As it stands, he will have to settle for his name being brought up as a possible 3-point Shootout contestant during All-Star Weekend next month. He and rookie Devin Booker could even go toe to toe in the Saturday night event.
Still though, there can be little solace in that for a player who couldn't have imagined he'd play so much meaningless basketball when he signed here in July.