The search for a 3-point shooting big man to spread the floor led the Suns to sign Anthony Tolliver and draft Alec Brown after Channing Frye departed via free agency in 2014. Tolliver washed out, Brown isn't ready yet, so the search continued into last summer.
Finally, the answer fell into their laps when the Brooklyn Nets released Bosnian sharpshooter Mirza Teletovic in July. Teletovic signed with the Suns, then went on to hit more 3-pointers in a season than any NBA bench player ever had.
As the Suns missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, they at least seemed to solve one festering problem: Teletovic converted 181 3-pointers, making them at a 39% clip in scoring 12.2 PPG off the bench. A valuable role player was discovered.
Teletovic notched NBA career highs in the following categories:
- Points per 36 minutes at 20.6
- Converted 3 pointers at 181
- 3-point % at 39.3
- O-rating at 111
- Win shares/48 mins at .109
- FT rate at .199
That shot carries especially fond memories for me, as it was the only Suns game I was able to attend this season, and I was right behind the Wolves bench to see it. (The guy in the purple Alvan Adams shirsey second row behind Iasis sign is me.)
As to be expected from a player who honed his shooting stroke in a war zone, Teletovic fears nothing on a basketball court.
"I used to wake up at six o'clock in the morning and go to the basketball court. I wouldn't come home until 11 or 12 o'clock at night, when you don't know the situation at that time. You don't even have shoes. The basketball court is like 300 meters from my house. And all my friends and me are playing and then you hear the sirens like the grenades start falling down and just run to your house and hide. If I have to die, I die. For basketball, I will do anything.
A free agent going into this summer, Teletovic also has his weaknesses. Not overly athletic, he's a bit of a liability on defense with a D-rating of 110. And his rebounding is poor for a PF with only 6.5 per 36 minutes. He's a new age, European style big man, not suited to be an NBA starter but a great role player off the bench.
In his exit interview, Teletovic expressed strong interest in staying with the team. He said this of Earl Watson and how interested he is in coming back to the Suns:
"Very, very interested, very interested. For me to come back, it's keeping the same coaching idea. It's very important for this team to have him as coach. I think it's the right way to coach, it's the right way to be, it's the right way to win. Having him and the way we played last three months with him, defense, offense, team chemistry, honesty between each other, I think it might be very important for me."
As a veteran team leader, those words carry a lot of weight in support of Watson as the new coach. Teletovic made $5.5M this past season, and might command a hefty salary as a valuable role player with the increased salary cap.
I give Teletovic an A for this season. He did all that was asked of him and produced. Even amidst terrible circumstances, he competed and delivered as one of the few Suns players to fight from beginning to end.
My position is that the team should strike early and offer him a fair, market value contract in free agency before he has the chance to shop his services around. The Suns have many bigger problems to solve, for sure, so don't create another one by losing the perfect role player for this team.