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Suns GM James Jones is just showing off now with Stix, Biyombo (signed for rest of season)

COVID has given Jones lottery pick and outcast center a chance to shine

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Phoenix Suns General Manager James Jones is just showing off now. He’s getting lots of credit for his recent addition of 10-year veteran Bismack Biyombo to the team, a seamless addition at exactly the right time.

As of today, the Suns have already decided to sign ‘No Bizzy’ for the rest of the season, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Suns will have now all of Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Bismack Biyombo, Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric and Jalen Smith under contract for the rest of the season (only Dario is signed beyond this year though) to play a single position in the Suns rotation. Depth is here to stay, folks!

But it’s not just the signing of Biyombo that should be earning James Jones his flowers. Everyone knew the 10-year veteran Biyombo could play respectable minutes at center.

It’s the ‘ohhhh you mean he really IS good?’ emergence of Jalen Smith as emergency starting center where Jones is showing he really knows how to spot an NBA player.

Phoenix Suns v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Two drafts ago, Jones surprised everyone outside their war room in taking Jalen Smith, a long-armed 6’10” forward/center from Maryland with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 Draft. ‘Stix’ appeared to be too young (he was only 20!), too thin and too limited athletically to hold up in the NBA. So we weren’t surprised when Smith couldn’t crack the rotation for the same exact reasons we thought he couldn’t. And we weren’t even that surprised when the team decided they could do better with the $4.66 million earmarked for his team option for next season.

But then injuries and COVID happened.

All it took was the loss of four other centers (Ayton, McGee, Saric, Kaminsky), their most-used small-ball big man (Crowder), AND the head coach (Williams) for Jalen Smith to get his first real, bona-fide opportunity to play extended minutes at his natural position in the NBA with starting level talent around him.

Smith has responded with games of:

  • 29 minutes, 15 points, 9 rebounds (L, Grizzlies)
  • 24 minutes, 11 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks (W, Thunder)
  • 26 minutes, 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block (L, Celtics)
  • 24 minutes, 19 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks (W, Hornets)
  • 16 minutes, 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block (W, Pelicans)
  • Overall: 56% shooting, 36% on threes, +9 per game in plus/minus on the court

That’s a real NBA player right there, who can provide both inside and outside scoring and has a nose for the ball on rebounds. And more important than anything else: he’s shown he can produce on a good team, not just a talent-bereft bad team.

Someone the other day mentioned that he reminds them of Hakim Warrick, who would definitely be a center in today’s game, and I can’t get that image out of my mind. Warrick had an 8-year NBA career with averages of 9 points, 4 rebounds, with a 15.5 PER. He started 108 of 526 career NBA games and made good mid-range money.

My recollection of Warrick, who played for the Suns for two seasons to ‘replace’ Amare Stoudemire? Good effort, some strong skills, too undersized for the middle and a too immobile to guard mobile forwards.

Smith has proven he’s at least as good as Warrick was, with a floor as an 8-10 year player who can produce in a good or bad rotation, and that’s kinda what you want out of a late lottery pick, right? Those eight years might not be with the Suns, but at least rival GMs will see a real NBA player in there now. And he’s just 21 still — perfect for a rebuilding team.

Jones can also put Cameron Johnson, Cam Payne, Frank Kaminsky, Torrey Craig, JaVale McGee and Biyombo on his mantle of great moves over the past couple of years too.

Heck, I’d even put the decision to stick with the trio of Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton as the core (remember — they went 19-63 together in 2018-19 with no hope on defense) on his mantle, and we should even add Chris Paul (whose acquisition half the media and fanbase slammed) to the list too.

Under Jones, the Suns went a 10-year playoff drought to only the second team in NBA history to go from one of the two worst to the two best in two years or less, and has the most wins in the NBA since July 2020, which began barely a year after he got the full-time job.

He hasn’t won all moves, even in long-term retrospect. Landry Shamet and his looming $10 million/yr extension is still a question mark (especially considering he cost the team a first round pick), and many of the end-of-bench additions have flamed out, though they didn’t have any expectations anyway.

But if you can give Jones some credit for taking Jalen Smith in the 2020 Draft now, go ahead and do it. The kid belongs in the NBA, and nothing makes me happier than seeing a player succeed who had previously struggled.

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