While there is much business ahead for Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, one of the less seismic decisions he must make this offseason is what to do with the team’s two-way players, Danuel House and Alec Peters.
The advent of the two-way contract last summer allowed for a little more roster creativity than in seasons past. Suddenly, teams could slot in two extra players to their team and shuttle them between the G League and the NBA, pushing the NBA closer to having a real farm system.
Quinn Cook of the Golden State Warriors is the model for the potential of the two-way contract. Little was expected of the second-year guard when he latched on with the defending champs on the first day of the regular season; however, he parlayed the opportunity presented by injuries to Stephen Curry late in the season into a multiyear contract and a place on the Warriors’ playoff roster.
Other players to capitalize on their two-way opportunities and show well for themselves were Tyrone Wallace (Los Angeles Clippers), C.J. Williams (Clippers), Dwight Buycks (Detroit Pistons), Torrey Craig (Denver Nuggets), and Mike James (Suns).
Not every two-way player was so fortunate, though. While some received solid minutes, others were barely dusted off. Chris Boucher, the Warriors’ other allotted two-way player, appeared in one NBA game for a grand total of 1:19 of court time all season. His rookie season lasted less time than it takes to microwave a Hot Pocket.
They’re not all success stories.
For House and Peters, their stories fall somewhere in between those extremes. While neither forced his way into the rotation of the team proper, they did get court time, with each showing flashes of potential. Now it falls to McDonough to determine whether the Suns are interested in investing more time into their development. If so, the team is in the catbird seat, as all it takes to make both players restricted free agents is a qualifying offer of — get this! — a two-way contract. At that point, the Suns can match any offer to either player. The Suns could also choose to cut bait with both and dredge the 2018 undrafted rookie pool for hidden gems.
Did House and/or Peters do enough to escape the two-way contract treadmill and earn a full-fledged NBA contract?
No one embraced the concept of recency bias quite like Alec Peters. In the final game of the season, Peters scored a career-high 36 points on shooting good enough to make a grown man blush. This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill breakout game; this was up there with Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers.
But when the euphoria wore off, two words hung over the performance: sample size. Yes, Peters had the game of his life, but he actually played 19 others with the Suns in 2017-18. Over those other 19, he scored 46 points total and shot a blush-reducing 29.6 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from 3. For someone billed as a shooter, those aren’t encouraging numbers. And he didn’t do much else on the court besides shoot. Even including his career-high nine rebounds from that Apr. 10 bonanza, he still averaged 1.9 boards for the season and never had more than five in any other game. As for defense, he had two blocks and two steals all season.
And examining those 19 games from before the anomalous season finale on a per 36 basis (8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds) doesn’t turn Peters into a role player, either — at least not one on a good team.
The problem with making a determination on Peters is there isn’t a rich enough body of NBA work to examine. He had good G League numbers with the Northern Arizona Suns, averaging 17.6 points (46.7 FG%, 41.1 3FG%) and 7.1 rebounds in 33.9 minutes per game over 35 contests, but Peters isn’t going to be given 34 minutes a night in the NBA where he can find a rhythm and get his shot going. He’s a niche player who will get five to 15 minutes on a good night. It begs the question then: Can he produce in limited time? If Peters is going to carve out a place in the league, it will be in the mold of players like Matt Bullard, Steve Novak, or Matt Bonner, with Ryan Anderson probably being an unlikely gold standard. In that case, he will need to be able to come in and provide the team something besides a body from the moment he steps on the court to the moment he steps off, no matter the duration in between. He didn’t prove that this season.
Luke Kornet — another two-way player last season with the New York Knicks — is attempting to carve out the same role as Peters, proving there is demand for bigs who are specialty shooters. Fringe specialists are easily replaceable, though, and that means the clock is ticking on Peters to establish himself as something more.
He’s earned himself a longer look, but even after that impressive showing to close the season, Peters isn’t about to fool ’em all and become the next Jon Koncak or Jerome James.
Most likely outcome: another two-way deal or heading overseas
House signed his two-way deal with the Suns on Dec. 8 and appeared in 23 games for Phoenix, mostly in an emergency capacity. However, he didn’t do half bad in his time, putting up 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. He even had a 22-point, eight-rebound performance against the Warriors on Apr. 8.
But with the Suns talking about being competitive next year — a strategy that involves bringing in veteran free agents — House’s promotion to the 15-man roster is anything but assured. Should McDonough follow through on his vow to accelerate the rebuild, the best role House could reasonably hope for is one similar to what he held this past season but on an NBA deal rather than a two-way contract. And that’s not out of the question.
Every team is required to have a minimum of 13 players on its roster, and every one of those guys isn’t going to play each night. Teams need utility players who can competently fill a role (or multiple roles) when they’re needed and who won’t gripe when they’re not. House fits that bill.
Despite some impressive performances, House’s offensive numbers aren’t going to earn him a contract by themselves. He shot 43.4 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from 3 — both of which need to improve for next season. However, he shot 50 percent from the field over the final five games of the regular season, and while those games came with an increased role, he showed enough to believe he can build upon those performances and round into a solid, short-burst player.
More than his offense, though, his solid play on the defensive end of the floor could earn him that roster spot. While averages of 0.3 steals and 0.3 blocks don’t scream Sign me!, his defensive value is more evident the deeper one looks.
On the Suns, only Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss contested more total shots per 36 minutes than did House (11.8). Breaking that down a bit further, only Bender contested more 3-point shots than House’s 5.1 per 36, and no other guard or wing player contested more 2-point shots than House’s 6.7 per 36. And they were effective contests at that, as only T.J. Warren (wha???) and Shaquille Harrison (order is restored) did a better job of holding their opponents below their shooting average than House did (1.9 percentage points lower).
“He’s got great size at the defensive end as well to guard guys in a one-on-one situation,” interim head coach Jay Triano said about House after the game on Apr. 8. “Challenge shots. He’s long, so he gets his hands in the way. I think he’s a guy that’s used this opportunity to showcase what he can do.”
House is not yet a regular role player on a good (or even average) team and has a fair amount of development ahead of him. But he’s shown himself capable of contributing to a team on both ends of the floor and can fill in at multiple positions if necessary. That’s valuable for a coach to have at the end of the bench.
Most likely outcome: Minimum or non-guaranteed standard NBA deal