It appeared that Ronnie Price had played his last game with the Phoenix Suns when he signed a two-year guaranteed contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer. But like a stray cat you made the mistake of feeding one morning, Price keeps returning to the Suns’ doorstep.
At least it’s not so bad when that stray happens to be an awesome junkyard cat.
(Note: Deadpoolio’s grading system will differ slightly from the norm. No conversion table will be provided.)
Price has never in his career been known as an offensive juggernaut, but even by his own muted standards this was far from a tour de force. In his 14 games this season, he managed to score in just five of them, registering a scoring average of 1.0 points per game — lowest on the team (even behind Elijah Millsap). And getting that 1.0 average for the season required his season’s best offensive output of five points in the finale.
His shooting percentages explain the struggle. Price shot 16.7 percent from the field, and for perspective on how poor that is, of players in team history who made at least one field goal over a season, Price’s field goal percentage is tied with Yuta Tabuse and David Wood for third-worst ever. Only Reggie Bullock in 2014-15 (6.3 percent) and Millsap this year (14.3 percent) were ever worse.
Price did shoot better from beyond the 3-point arc, where nearly 71 percent of his attempts came from, but at 17.6 percent, better is relative.
On a positive note, he shot 75 percent from the free throw line, which is the sixth-best percentage of his career. He only took four free throws, sure, but let’s not get bogged down with too many details.
Price’s situation wasn’t ideal for success. He didn’t play any NBA basketball until the Suns picked him up in late January and then spent most games riding the bench for 48 minutes, hearing his name called scarcely until Phoenix went full tank in mid-March. For a player who isn’t gifted offensively, that’s a recipe for, well, one point a game on 16.7-percent shooting. While Price was never brought in for his offense — any points he generated would have merely been a bonus — no one involved expected to see a shooting percentage mired in the teens. As Sam the Snowman once famously said, “Tell me when it’s over.”
Grade: 16.7 gold stars
Defense has always been Price’s calling card, and when he’s let loose for short stints like he was this season, he starts flinging those calling cards around like shuriken.
Despite playing just 9.6 minutes a night, Price averaged a respectable 0.8 steals per game, which landed him sixth among Suns on the end-of-season roster. But his per 36 minutes steals numbers (3.0) and per possession steals numbers (3.9) were far and away better than anyone on the team. In fact, both those numbers were better than anyone in the NBA who played at least 100 minutes this season. His steal percentage of 3.9 percent was also a career high and would have been first in the league had he qualified for the leader board.
Outside of hunting steals, though, Price had his struggles. He held his matchup to 26.7 percent from 3-point range, which was a difference of 8.5 percentage points from what they usually shot. However, his matchup turned the tables from elsewhere on the court, and Price allowed his man to shoot 6.2 percentage points higher than his average overall. How much of that could be attributed to Price spending time as the off guard in lineups with Tyler Ulis is unclear, but Price definitely found himself out of position defensively more often this season.
The effort was there defensively — as it always is with Price — but he appeared more focused on trying to make something happen in his short stints on the court rather than taking the safe, fundamentally sound route. While none of that usually mattered when Price saw the floor, it might not leave a positive impression with GMs around the league, especially for veteran teams who want to know if the defensive-minded backup point guard they are considering signing can still play strong positional defense.
Grade: Three pirate ships
As a defensive-oriented player, Price has never been known as a playmaker the way someone like Ulis would be. Despite that, he did an admirable job while in the game this year.
In his 14 games, Price racked up 18 assists to just three turnovers for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.00. Only Pierre Jackson, who appeared in eight games for the Dallas Mavericks, had a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Price this season, and while it is fair to point out that Price didn’t have a huge sample size (just 134 total minutes), the league had other players in similar situations to Price who were unable to match his efficiency in that regard.
Moreover, Price finished with the fourth-highest assist percentage on the team (16.9) behind only Eric Bledsoe, Ulis, and Brandon Knight and had only T.J. Warren and Derrick Jones Jr. ahead of him when it came to lowest turnover percentage (10.4) of players on the end-of-season roster.
Price may not be undergoing some late-career transformation into John Stockton, but he did what a coach wants from a deep reserve point guard: get teammates involved and limit turnovers.
Grade: A purple yo-yo.
This was Price’s 12th season in the NBA. He wasn’t about to become someone different. His lack of sustained opportunity was the likely culprit in his exaggerated numbers (in both directions), but they were exaggerations of the player everyone has come to understand by now.
Price works hard and offers a steady-if-unspectacular hand at the point when his name is called. He doesn’t gripe about minutes, doesn’t cause problems off the court, and generally sets a good example for those around him. And as an opponent in practice, it’s hard to think of a better player for a young point guard to test himself against than Price and his relentless defense.
Who knows what next year will bring for the career journeyman, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Price showed up on Phoenix’s doorstep again this summer.
Final Grade: Junkyard cat
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