Two of the most momentous occasions in my journalism “career” so far were both rooted in player evaluation, both a Cam Payne-focused thread on Twitter at the time of his signing leading up to the Bubble (which I absolutely nailed), and a Ty-Shon Alexander breakdown on a Twitch stream hosted by PD Web, prospect evaluation legend. My passion in player evaluation is ultimately what led me to want to write about basketball in the first place.
This passion left me devastated when James Jones essentially said “screw prospects” this offseason when he abstained from the draft and undrafted free agents, and waived Ty-Shon Alexander, who has since found a home on Virtus Bologna (LBA in Italy).
But on Aug. 7, in an effort to build a bridge with me, James Jones and the Phoenix Suns signed Chandler Hutchison, a 6-foot-7 wing weighing 210 pounds with a reported 7-foot-1 wingspan. Hutchison was drafted 22nd overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2018. He spent his first two and a half years in Chicago, totaling 79 games (24 starts) over that span before getting traded to the Washington Wizards toward the end of 2020-21, where he played 18 games (1 start).
At Boise State
I was a big fan of Hutchison coming out in the 2018 draft out of Boise State in that “definitively not top 20, but still enjoy him” tier. As a senior, he averaged 20 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 48/36/73 shooting splits. During that season, Hutchison shot over 50% from the mid-range, a favorable skill when you’re on the Phoenix Suns.
His best games from his senior season include a game against Washington during the NIT where he scored 39 points on 17 shots and 14 rebounds, and a game against San Diego State where he scored 44 points on 21 shots.
As an NBA player
Hutchison’s best game of this past year was his first appearance as a Wizard, and was his only game of being a double-digit positive in the plus-minus column. In 25 minutes, he put up 18 points (13 in the second half) on 11 shots with 5 rebounds and was a +12 in an 8-point win over Indiana. Hutchison showed a lot of creativity as a slasher, an ability to attack closeouts, as well as how to make an impact without the ball.
Part of the reason Hutchison has struggled to catch on is injury issues. He dealt with a shoulder injury that kept him out a couple months during the 2019-20 season, a spell of COVID-19 around New Year’s 2021, as well as some undisclosed personal issues that kept him sidelined after recovering from the virus. Between injuries and Coach’s Decision-DNP’s, Hutchison has only played less than a third of the possible games since entering the league.
Hutchison was also part of a dark time in Chicago Bulls’ development, as Bullsdynasty (@MVPaw), who covers the team for OnTapSportsNet.com, told me. “He was put into a situation where he was drafted by a lame-duck GM who was going to get fired soon after he was drafted. And while Hutch was here the team was tanking with not much direction,” much like Phoenix’s development situation for many years before James Jones and Monty Williams took the reigns.
He also struggled with the focus and work ethic aspects of being an NBA player, as many Chicago fans would lament. Bullsdynasty said, “he had the mentality of a spoiled child when he was with us and expected things to be given to him not earned. That seemed to travel with him to Washington and I think getting salary-dumped then cut may have done wonders for his mentality in bringing him back down to earth.” Phoenix coach Monty Williams has already shown an ability to bring the highest levels of focus out of guys, most notably with players like Kelly Oubre and Cam Payne.
Hutchison has a few key points to improve upon as far as his on-court game. He’s a career 31% shooter from deep on 3.0 attempts per 100 possessions, likely due to a mechanics issue where he shoots with both hands under the ball. There’s slight reason for optimism with the shooting with a jump up to 37% on 3.1 attempts per 100 in his 18 games with Washington. He also has a track record of shooting well in college, totaling 36% on an outstanding 7.5 attempts per 100 (128 total attempts) in his senior season.
Having the frame that he does as well as solid leaping ability, it makes sense that Hutchison would have a natural aptitude to play well in transition. Unfortunately, under former Chicago coach Jim Boylen did not run a structured team that feasts in transition, and it wasn’t helped by the team’s inability to get stops.
Structure is one of Phoenix’s calling cards, as well as defense, where the team ranked 8th in adjusted defensive rating (10th in unadjusted) on the season. Bulldynasty added, “If getting dumped and cut helped him come down to earth, and the culture and leadership in Phoenix can help him improve his mentality, and the shot gets fixed to being even average, he’s a great rotation player.”
As a Phoenix Sun
Ideally, Hutchison’s playing time comes as the fourth or fifth wing for the Suns behind at least Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson. I love referring to this as the definitive Torrey Craig role: an extra wing who can ideally provide some athleticism, knock down an occasional open three, and play hard, especially on defense. If Hutchison can come in with the right approach after being humbled by lesser teams, then he can check all those boxes. Here’s an example of what he can bring that looks very reminiscent of Craig during the Denver series.
The most important aspect to remember about Hutchison’s signing is that it’s about as risk-free as they come, being in the two-way slot. He doesn’t count against the roster or the salary cap, and James Jones can sleep comfortably knowing that if it’s not working out, he can cut ties without it affecting the team.