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Phoenix Suns Flashback Friday: Unusual Suspects — A Suns history lesson

Sometimes in the NBA points come from very unexpected sources.

NBA Achive Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It seems like almost every year the Phoenix Suns have at least one game in which someone unexpectedly steps up and has a career game. Probably the most famous of these is Tony Delk’s legendary 53 point performance against the Kings way back on Jan. 2, 2001. The Suns lost the game but Delk, an NBA journeyman combo guard whose career high ppg average for a season was 12.3 points (2001), played himself into being more than just an obscure footnote player for the Suns. On that night he could do no wrong and became a part of Suns history with what is still the 6th highest scoring game ever by a Suns player. Only Suns greats Devin Booker and Tom Chambers have scored more points in a single game (Booker 3 times, Chambers twice).

Delk’s heroics that night have been detailed before (Throwback Thursday: Tony Delk drops 53 on the Kings) so I won’t delve deeply into them again but over the last ten years there have been some other quite unexpected scoring explosions by other Suns players. None rose to quite the same level of Delk’s performance, but they were all memorable if only for the fact that they were surprising. During the long NBA offseason where many fans (myself included) are suffering from Suns basketball withdrawal, I thought it worth the time to revisit some of these exemplary past performances by some of the most unlikely players.

2022/23 Season: Josh Okogie - 28 pts vs Boston (125-98 Loss), Dec. 7, 2022

Pretty much everyone but Okogie just played badly in this one. Cam Johnson was the only rotation player out (injury) and Boston had a 69-42 lead at halftime. Josh was 8 of 14 from the field, 4 of 6 from three and 8 of 10 from the line while also pulling down 7 rebounds. It was a horrible loss for the Suns but a career game for Okogie coming off the bench.

2021/22 Season: Frank Kaminsky - 31 pts vs Portland (119-109 Win), Nov. 10, 2021

Deandre Ayton was out for this one and with JaVale McGee starting, little used 3rd string center Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to have the highest scoring game of his career and led the Suns to an early season win over the Blazers. Frank was 12 of 18 from the field, 2 of 5 from three and 5 of 5 from the line with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Frank cemented his place both as a fan favorite and in Suns lore with this one.

2020/21 Season: E’Twaun Moore - 22 pts vs San Antonio (123-121 Win), May 16, 2021

This was the final game of the season with Book, CP3, DA and Crowder all sitting out and was pretty much meaningless as virtually nothing was at stake. The Suns starters were Jevon Carter, Cam Payne, Dario Saric, Jalen Smith and Mikal Bridges (who only played 3 minutes just to keep his streak of consecutive games played intact). The Spurs were not resting anyone though which made many think it might be a tough night for the undermanned Suns. The Suns’ bench players decided they weren’t going to let it go that way though and the Suns were up 89-85 going into the 4th. The Spurs had a 121-120 point lead with just 2 seconds left to play when E’Twaun calmly swished a 26ft 3-pointer to retake the lead and get the win on SA’s home court.

Moore’s 22 points aren’t as impressive as the other 30+ point performances detailed in this article but that smooth game winning three at the end made it well worth including to me.

2019/20 Season: Aron Baynes - 37 pts vs Portland (127-117 Win) March 6, 2020

Following Deandre Ayton’s 25-game suspension, Baynes moved into the Suns’ starting lineup and already had a few nice 20+ point games under his belt and proved to be a great floor spacer with his 3-point shooting (44.2%). Then he got injured in mid-November and missed 9 of the next 10 games. When he returned, he didn’t seem quite the same and his 3-pointer started to fail him (24.6%) over the next 20 games before he again was injured and sat out and additional 13 games. When he returned from that, it just seemed that the 33 year old Baynes had just worn himself out and was done for the season.

Then out of the blue came his career high 37 point game against the Blazers where he was 12 of 23 from the field and 9 of 14 (64.3%) from three with a season high 16 rebounds. The season was suspended due to Covid less than a week later and Baynes did not play during the Bubble Games due to contracting Covid and having a protracted recovery time.

2018/19 Season: Jamal Crawford - 51 pts vs Dallas (120-109 Loss) April 9, 2019

This wasn’t Jamal Crawford’s first 50+ point game but it had been 10 years since he had last done it (or even gotten 40+) and doing it at age 38 made it pretty unexpected. He did it in a loss that was also in a meaningless end of the season game but damn he sure made it fun to watch!

2017/18 Season: Alec Peters - 36 pts vs Dallas (124-97 Win) April 10, 2018

Some of you might not even remember Alec Peters. The Suns took him with the 54th pick in the 2017 Draft and he was the first player ever to sign one of the then new Two-Way contracts with Phoenix. He only played in 20 games during his one and only season with the Suns (and in the NBA), basically getting garbage minutes in the Suns numerous losses (61) that season. But for one night in the final game of the season, Peters got hot and got to play the star in one of only 2 wins that he got playing time in.

It was a meaningless end of the season game with both teams out of the playoff picture but Alec led the Suns to a win shooting 12 of 20 from the field, 8 of 13 from three and grabbed 9 rebounds to just miss getting a double-double. If you’re going to have a very short NBA career, going out as he did wasn’t too shabby.

Troy Daniels Season: 32 pts vs Toronto (115-109 Loss) Dec 13, 2017

Also during the 2017/18 season, journeyman sharp-shooter Troy Daniels had his career night in a fairly close loss to a strong Raptors team that finished the season with the best record in the East. Troy pretty much had one NBA level skill - three point shooting - which he put on full display that night going 7 of 10 from three and 11 of 16 from the field coming off the bench for the Suns.

2016/17 Season: Tyler Ulis - 34 pts vs Houston (123-116 Loss) April 2, 2017

Some might say that Tyler Ulis’ most memorable moment as a Sun was that jump ball between he (5’10”) and the equally diminutive Isaiah Thomas (5’9”) during the Suns/Celtics game earlier that season (see below) but in this game Ulis played over 45 minutes, got his career high in points plus dished out 9 assists and pulled down 9 (yes, NINE) rebounds to fall just short (no pun intended!) of a triple-double. And this was a very good Houston team headed for the playoffs... although they were without James Harden that night (the only game he missed that season).

2015/16 Season: Mirza Teletovic 30 pts vs Brooklyn (116-106 Loss) Feb. 25, 2016

Both Phoenix and Brooklyn were pretty bad this season. The Suns already had several rotation players lost to injury and rookie Devin Booker had just begun to make a name for himself (at this point he’d only scored 20+ points in a game 5 times) after being thrust into the starting lineup. Mirza was a 30-year old sharp shooter who mostly subbed in off the bench and wasn’t known for much else (especially not defense). On this night, Mirza came off the Suns’ bench to lead them in scoring with 30 points plus pulling down 11 rebounds (his career average was just 3.2 rpg) to help the Suns to come back from being down 66-45 at the half and avoid getting badly blown out.

Alex Len: 31 pts vs Orlando (102-84 Win) March 4, 2016

Selected 5th overall by the Suns in the 2013 NBA Draft, many fans had already voiced disappointment with Len. In this game, that was forgotten - at least for a while - as he led the Suns to a dominant win over a slightly better Magic team while actually playing power forward alongside Tyson Chandler at the 5. Len was just 10 of 22 from the field but 11 of 14 from the FT line while adding 15 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal and his 31 points was then a career high. The twin towers experiment with Len as a PF had some success early on but ultimately did not pan out though.

2014/15 Season: None!

Believe me, I looked thoroughly but during this entire season no one unexpectedly stepped up during any game in any way worth documenting. There were some very good performances that season, just not from anyone you weren’t expecting one from.

2013/14 Season: Gerald Green - 41 pts vs OKC (128-122 Win) March 6, 2014

A LOT of unexpected things happened this season. First, the Suns were supposed to tank that year, not win 48 games and just barely miss the playoffs. They had traded away several older vets for younger, less proven players - one of whom being Gerald Green - in what initially seemed like an effort to get a high draft pick at the end of that season. Well, many of those less proven players exceeded expectations that year including Green who set his career high in this game against OKC - Kevin Durant’s and Russell Westbrook’s OKC - which eventually went all the way to the WCFs that year.

In one of his rare starts, Green (who went on to be known as the 9-fingered assassin) scored 41 points on 12 of 22 shooting from the field, 8 of 13 from three and 9 of 11 from the line while also adding 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block to his stat line.

I hope everyone enjoyed this little stroll down memory lane and now I have a question for you.

Who’s the next guy to step up and join this list in 2023/24? I can hardly wait to find out.

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