Josh Childress’ future in Phoenix brighter than you may think despite lackluster campaign

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PHOENIX — This is not what Josh Childress signed up for.

He did not leave Greece for Phoenix to fracture a finger during the preseason and then watch his rotation spot disappear just as his injury healed due to a trade he had no control over.

After a lackluster opening to his season, Childress became the 11th man in a 10-man rotation after the trade and barely played from the end of December to the middle of March.

For the season Childress averaged 5.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game while playing in just 54 contests. Consequently, the five-year, $33.5 million contract he signed before last season is looking like quite the albatross to some who don’t see a place for Childress in the Suns’ future.

But it’s too early to write off the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft because his season wasn’t quite as bad as it looks on first blush.

“It’s hard to gauge where Josh is because he went through such a long stretch of not being able to play and not being involved in the games and then we can’t put him in and expect for everything to just click,” said head coach Alvin Gentry.

One of the biggest reasons Childress became the odd man out of the rotation is that he could not buy a jumper, and that’s a problem for a Suns team that relies so much on great spacing from its wings.

Childress made just 1-of-16 three-pointers (6.3 percent) and many of the misses weren’t close. It’s a shot he can hit with ease in warm-ups, and he has had success from deep before, drilling 49.2 percent of his 65 attempts in 2005-06.

For the season, Chilly also hit just 1-of-7 shots from 16-23 feet and 2-of-4 from 10-15 feet, according to HoopData, so he literally did all of his damage on the interior. He was very good indeed at the rim, where he took 72 percent of his shots and knocked down 65.6 percent of them.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Childress scored 0.39 points per play and scored 17.9 percent of the time when spotting up. That, not surprisingly, ranks 356th in the league.

However, Chilly scored 1.41 points per play and shot 76.5 percent off cuts in 51 attempts, which ranked 31st in the league.

“He’s a slasher,” Gentry said. “He’s not a spacer, we’ve got to understand that. We’ve got to put him in a position where he’s slashing.”

Childress was one of the better slashers in the league back in 2007-08 when his .647 true shooting percentage ranked fourth in the league just behind Amare Stoudemire and ahead of Steve Nash.

We saw his intuitive feel of when to cut to the basket this season, but he wasn’t on the court long enough to create the kind of rapport with his point guards where it seems like they are playing with one brain.

I’m surprised he was bad as he was from the perimeter. Despite the funky shot he has made jump shots before, and yet he was non-existent from the perimeter this season. Considering how many players become three-point shooters in the desert I thought he would work on the shot all offseason and become a threat from that range, but it never happened.

At this point he needs to either be in the gym taking a thousand threes a day or, like Gentry was saying, the Suns need to just understand he’s a wing who can’t shoot threes and focus on putting him in situations where he can thrive.

Childress’ 0.139 WP48 is above average and fourth on the Suns behind Nash, Gortat and Dudley, according to NerdNumbers.com.

His 10.0 rebound rate ranked fifth among guards and his 8.9 offensive rebound rate led all guards by a wide margin and would be fourth right behind the Matrix if he were classified as a small forward.

That should come as no surprise as he’s always been an elite offensive rebounder for his size. He led guards in offensive rebound rate in 2007-08 and 2004-05 and ranked in the top three his other two years. His numbers compare favorably to small forwards as well.

It makes sense that Childress pulled down offensive boards at a Marion-esque rate because the Suns signed Childress to be a sort of Matrix Lite (obviously they weren’t expecting even near the same production, just the same kind of player).

Along with both being solid offensive rebounders and slashers, they are both versatile perimeter defenders. While Childress was not a lockdown defender this year he did do a nice in isolation, holding opponents to 0.81 points per play and 40.9 percent shooting.

Like Marion/Grant Hill, he’s the kind of player who can guard multiple positions, which is always valued in Phoenix, and while both have funky shooting form at least Marion’s jumpers go in. Of course, Childress didn’t end up having even a fraction of the impact that Marion did

Rewind back to the Suns’ intrasquad scrimmage in training camp and Childress was the star of the show, scoring a game-high 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting and leaving everyone shaking their head at the kind of impact he might have in Phoenix’s system.

Thanks to the finger injury and the Orlando trade as well as Childress not doing anything to nail down a rotation spot, J-Chill was just the odd man out all year.

The thing you have to like is that he didn’t pout, he kept being a good teammate despite a situation he couldn’t have been happy with and then did his best to impress for next year during a solid end to the season.

“He didn’t get to play as many minutes I’m sure as he anticipated, but I think after a year of understanding what we want and how we play I think he can be a better player for us next year,” Gentry said.

Childress is a role player with limited shooting range, but he’s still the kind of guy who will hustle every second he’s out there, get easy looks at the rim, clean up the offensive boards and use his length to be a pest on defense.

J-Chill may not be worth the full mid-level, but he brings enough to the table to be a solid rotation player next season.

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