When the Phoenix Suns signed 26-year old NBA rookie Mike James this summer to a two-way contract, few observers took notice.
Now that he has led the desperate Phoenix Suns to their first win with a strong game and the game-deciding bucket, the entire NBA world is about to take notice (or at least take credit for “knowing” this would happen).
James, in only the fourth game of his career, scored 18 points on 8-10 shooting, dished 7 assists and grabbed a pair of rebounds as the starting point guard for YOUUUUURRRRR Phoenix Suns.
“I was just trying to be myself,” James said after. “We needed to work on pushing the pace and moving the ball a little bit more.”
On his game winning left-handed scoop shot over the outstretched arms of Willie Cauley-Stein, James was predictably humble.
“I actually practice that shot a lot,” he said with a chuckle. “Like, every day. But I haven’t done it this year, so I was a little nervous when I did it.”
James said that he knew they were running out of time on the shot clock, wouldn’t have enough time to call another play, so he “just kinda went.”
I love this quote from interim coach Jay Triano when asked about Mike James.
“The one thing Mike has is experience playing basketball in crazy environments,” Triano said. “Playing in that Greek league is no joke. Games go down to the wire, they’re throwing stuff at you, and there’s smoke bombs going off in the crowd, and it’s a passionate place to play, and he’s been through this before and it was a pretty cool play.”
Now, the Suns have their first win of the season thanks to a guy who’s signing this summer went completely under the NBA radar.
Sure, the die-hard scouts across the globe knew everything about James.
Source: Mike James, Euroleague's most electrifying combo guard, has committed to make NBA jump with the Phoenix Suns.— David Pick (@IAmDPick) June 28, 2017
But casual NBA fans and even long-time NBA insiders barely offered a shrug. Most initially assumed he would spend this year in the G-league, and were shocked to hear James had a promise from the Suns to keep him on the team in a 45-day “tryout” period - the maximum number of days you can spend with the NBA club on a two-way contract.
James took the deal, even knowing he’d be third on the depth chart, at best, at point guard and shooting guard, and that in his six-week stint in Phoenix he might not see the floor at all.
But he wanted an NBA chance, he worked hard, and produced every time he stepped on the court. All he needed was an NBA role.
“I hope they trust me to do that,” Mike James said during preseason of being a scoring spark plug off the bench. “That’s a ‘role’. That’s an important role on a team. If they ask me to do that, I’d gladly do it.”
After an opening night 48-point loss, when James scored 12 points in 10 garbage-time minutes off the bench in the fourth quarter, coach Watson said that he would indeed turn to James as their bench scorer going forward.
James has since scored 10+ points in all four contests of his NBA career - a franchise record, by the way, for a rookie. His minutes have increased each game from 10 to 22 to 24 to 27 minutes.
On Monday night, Mike James found himself in the starting lineup at point guard, expected to get other guys going as much as himself. He faced incredible pressure to perform in the wake of the coach being fired and the starting point guard quitting the team.
“I’ve been a pro for a long time,” James said to Fox Sports Arizona. “So I wasn’t really that nervous, I was just ready to get out and play.”
He’s not just a scorer. James has 13 assists in the last two games since playing more of a point guard role. Here’s a couple of quick hits of his assists.
His deciding shot at the end of the game, putting the Suns up two points with 14 seconds left, was just the icing in the cake of a great first start.
“I hope it’s not my only win,” James joked.
So do the Suns.
Unless Eric Bledsoe has a change of heart (he tweeted “wow” when James made that game clincher) or is traded for a replacement point guard ready to start games, you’re likely to see Mike James in the starting lineup for the Phoenix Suns for a while to come.
Here’s the Mike James highlights in one place.