If you’ve read me in the past, then you already know I’ve sung my James Jones praises from the rooftops. General Managers often win awards through the blockbuster trades they make. Taking a risk, taking a swing for the fences to move the needle, etc.
While awards and accolades are cool and all, the true impact that can elevate a good team to a great one (or title contender) lies in the ability to find hidden gems or diamonds in the rough. Reclamation projects if you will.
Jones has already made numerous bold moves with the Phoenix Suns roster in his tenure. While some of them were initially scoffed at or questioned, he kept the big picture in mind. A few additions stand out when looking at the current roster construction.
Surrounding your star players with the right complementary pieces both from a basketball and character perspective is what cultivates a winning culture. James Jones knows a thing or two about that.
2020-21 Salary: $9,250,000
First off, the trade where Phoenix acquired Saric and Cam Johnson for the 6th pick from Minnesota is looking like an absolute landslide in the Suns’ favor. Not only has Dario revived his career in Phoenix, but he’s reinvented himself as a stretch five that they can run the offense through.
Landing him on a 3 year, $27 million extension is looking more and more like a steal, as he’s been one of the most productive bench players in the NBA and he’s still just 26 years old. The minutes have declined a bit, as he’s averaging a career-low 18.5 minutes per-game, but he is making the most of them as he’s ranked 3rd in the NBA in net rating at an astounding 15.9.
2020-21 Salary: $1,977,011
Cam Payne has made a remarkable leap from the G League to the backup point guard for a contender in the NBA. His career was revived in the Bubble, where he averaged 10.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, in 22.9 minutes per-game on a TS% of 61.2.
He has continued his impressive run and continues to gain the trust of the front office and coaching staff. This offseason they could’ve “upgraded” the backup PG spot. They didn’t. This trade deadline they could’ve done the same, and they once again did not. That points towards them having the utmost confidence in the Payne train.
2020-21 Salary: $1,620,564
Langston Galloway is a perfect 17-for-17 from the free-throw line and shooting an eye-popping 45.1% from the three-point line. The backup shooting guard spot has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride between him, Jevon Carter, and E’Twaun Moore this season, but it looks like he’s edged them out of late.
Since the All-Star Break, he’s seen an uptick in minutes and more consistency in his role as a microwave floor-spacer off the bench. He also seems like a genuinely great person and has made a positive impact in the locker room already. Getting him at this price tag remains a steal.
Abdel Nader & Frank Kaminsky
2020-21 Combined Salary: $3,373,514
There may be mixed opinions on both of these guys, but make no mistake about it, they’ve had their moments this year where they’ve contributed to winning basketball. Nader was merely a throw-in in the Chris Paul trade, and he’s proven to be a useful wing insurance policy that can eat minutes if need be.
Kaminsky was another guy they essentially got for free after his brief run with the Sacramento Kings. He gave the Suns some much-needed big man production when Dario Saric missed time and Damian Jones was unplayable.
2020-21 Salary: $1,620,564
Cash considerations have been a long-time fan favorite in Phoenix, so it was tough to see them go in the other direction this time. In all seriousness, essentially getting Torrey Craig for free was an incredible play by Phoenix.
It’s only been seven games for Craig in Phoenix, and he’s already become a fan favorite in the Valley.
In those 7 games, he’s putting up per-100 possessions numbers of 20.4 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 0.9 BPG on a .563 True Shooting Percentage.
When you can add Dario Saric, Cam Payne, Langston Galloway, Torrey Craig, Abdel Nader, and Frank Kaminsky for a total of approximately $17.8 million— that’s unheard of. You’re looking at six rotations players or 40(!) percent of your roster taking up just 14.2% of your cap space.
It is worth noting that of this group, only Dario Saric is under contract for next season. They may not get as many team-friendly deals next season, but you’d figure they would expect to at least bring 2 or 3 of these five back excluding Dario.
In any case, the little moves have been just as important as the big ones when discussing the Phoenix Suns’ success. This bench truly carried them for a good chunk of the season as the starters were figuring things out.