When Ronnie Price previously played for the Suns in the 2011-12 season, I wrote his player review. I was less than impressed by Price's NBA skill set at the time, but worked to find something positive to say about him. Even then, I realized there were reasons he continued to earn employment in the NBA despite his meager production.
Four years later, coming off one of the best of his 11 NBA seasons, I now fully understand why teams want him around as a backup, especially coaches. Price is the guy every coach can point to and say, "You want minutes? You want to see the correct way to approach the game? Look at him. Work like that."
But Price proved to be more than just a try hard, locker room guy. A woeful shooter for most of his career at 30% from 3 going into this season, Price made 35% of his 3s this season. Not that 35% is a real threat, but it did help make him at least somewhat useful on the offensive end.
He scored his career high this past December with 20 points, including 6 converted 3 pointers.
On the defensive end, he led the team in steal %, while the Suns were nearly 9 points better in points allowed per 100 possessions (112.0-103.1) with him on the court as opposed to him off of it. That's a real impact player on defense. No other Suns player was such a positive in affecting team defense.
A frequent complaint of Suns fans here and on Twitter regarding Price was that it made no sense a 32 year old journeyman was receiving minutes on a bottom 5 NBA team playing for nothing but pride and hoping for a high pick in June's draft.
The answer is simple to me: Former coach Jeff Hornacek and then-interim coach Earl Watson were trying to build the foundation of a winning culture. Requiring players to earn their minutes through hard work and following the coaches' direction is essential to creating such a culture.
Young players don't get minutes just because the playoffs are out of reach and you want to "develop" them. Besides, how does it benefit a person's development to give them rewards (playing time) they haven't earned? It doesn't.
So we had the situation with Price earning regular minutes while prospects such as Archie Goodwin and John Jenkins sat. Lots of fans pulled their hair out over it, but it makes perfect sense when Watson explains:
"...I think Archie and John Jenkins are closest, but you have to compete every possession (my emphasis). Nothing is granted in this league, and we have a record that's only 20 wins (at the time). I don't think anything is guaranteed, so where the veterans separate themselves like a Ronnie Price...If you see Ronnie Price play, you'd think Ronnie Price was in the third year of his career with no contract trying to prove a point, but Ronnie has been on winning teams and winning programs. He understands how you have to play."
High praise from the coach there, and it's telling the way he compares and contrasts Price with the youngsters. When Hornacek was still around, he said similar things:
"We need Ronnie Price effort every night, from everybody," Hornacek said, referring to the relentless effort put forth by the team's third-string point guard. "You got to get after somebody, and Ronnie Price is the prime example of guys you want to have on your team."
As I wrote in the intro, you want to play? Play that way, that hard ALL THE TIME. If the Suns current prospects can't take the message to heart, maybe time to replace them with new ones who do. The Suns have plenty of upcoming draft picks to do exactly that.
For his professionalism, 3 and D play on the court, and unyielding hard work in the face of a disastrous, lost cause of a season, I give Ronnie Price a B+/A-. Expectations, role and salary matter, and I don't see how Price could have possibly done any better given his.
It would also not surprise me a bit if the Suns bring him back next season for a backup role. I can't help but think that the current Suns coach, a former career backup PG who carved out 13 NBA seasons with smarts and hard work, sees some of himself in Price.
All stats quoted courtesy of the indispensable BasketballReference.com.