Patience pays off for Hamed Haddadi

Eight hundred and twenty-one minutes.

That’s the amount of floor-time Iranian big man Hamed Haddadi saw with the Memphis Grizzlies through his first four-and-a-half years in the NBA. That amounts to approximately 68 minutes per month, 16 minutes per week and 2.3 minutes per day against the best basketball players in the world. Haddadi didn’t exactly log Kobe Bryant minutes, nor Tom Thibodeau-directed ones.

He probably would take either of those situations over the reality, but he never made excuses about it.

Haddadi’s opportunity came with patience and a lot of chance. His contract was needed as a mathematical inclusion for the Grizzlies’ decision to trade Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors. Although he never went to Canada because of visa issues, his contract was again a bargaining chip for the Raptors, who brought on backup point guard Sebastian Telfair from the Suns – they wanted to shed his contract and thus make room for Kendall Marshall’s playing time.

The run of luck for Haddadi didn’t end there. Had it not been for a season-ending injury to Marcin Gortat with 21 games remaining and then Jermaine O’Neal’s various leaves, who knows if Haddadi would’ve gotten a chance with Phoenix?

“I was in Memphis for five years and didn’t get a chance to play,” he said after exit interviews. “The past 15 games (Editor’s note: Haddadi actually logged 17 games played with the Suns) they gave me a chance here. I’m happy to get the time, but I’m not happy with the losing. I’m happy I got to show my skills, show that maybe I can play in this league.”

The big man logged 235 with Phoenix, playing more than a fifth of his career minutes – 22 percent to be exact – over the course of a two-month span after spending the first four-and-a-half years with the Grizzlies riding the pine.

And he proved to be more than a big body.

The 7-foot-2, 265 center averaged 2.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 10.7 minutes per game. He joined the Suns soon after the trade at the deadline and arrived a bit out of shape having been in Los Angeles as his visa problems failed to be resolved.

First and foremost, Haddadi became a rim-protecting center who could prove to be a bargain for the Suns or otherwise. His 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes would be bettered by only JaVale McGee, Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan in terms of rotations players, and Haddadi’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 102 was the best of any Suns play during 2012-13, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

Haddadi was also an effective rebounder, grabbing 21 percent of the available rebounds while on the court – for perspective, the next-best rebounder for Phoenix was Jermaine O’Neal, who snatched an estimated 16.2 percent of missed shots. More impressively, Haddadi was a freakish offensive rebounder.

In his 30 games played for both Memphis and Phoenix this year, he ranked 10th in the league among players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game with an offensive rebounding rate of 14.3 percent, according to the NBA.com Stats tool.

As the season wore on, Haddadi’s body showed more agility and a leaner look than it ever did in Memphis – tip of the hat to the Suns’ training staff. He displayed more skillfulness than expected as well, throwing a pocket-pass here and launching a 15-footer to Lindsey Hunter’s dismay there – though he joked about it, he never did let one fly from three-point range.

Haddadi became more than a marketing ploy, but it shouldn’t be discounted that his influence in international circles goes deeper than many might believe. He wore No. 98 as a reference to Iran’s telephone code and despite Phoenix’s previous proclamations of having a social-media savvy locker room, it was the Iranian – not Jared Dudley or Channing Frye – who leads the Suns with more than 345,000 Twitter followers.

He was also accepted into the locker room. The Suns distributed “Who’s your Haddadi?” t-shirts after the last home game of the year.

As is the case for most of the Suns, the future is uncertain. Haddadi, 27, might have earned himself another NBA contract. He has one year left on his deal at an unguaranteed $1,397,500 and from his arrival said he enjoyed Phoenix; he felt at home because of the large Persian population.

“I’m waiting to hear what will happen in the future,” he said. “I’d be happy with the Suns. They have good fans, they have good people and it’s a good situation here.

“I’m going to go home, get a coach and work on my conditioning. If I focus on that this summer, I think I’ll be a better player next season.”

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