PHOENIX — When speculating the Suns’ final cuts before the Marcin Gortat trade, the mere possibility of said trade made center Viacheslav Kravtsov a player Phoenix was unlikely to cut. Once Gortat was traded to the Washington Wizards for the injured Emeka Okafor, Kravtsov’s opportunity grew.
It appears Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye and Alex Len could eat up the minutes at center, but lurking in the background is the 25-year-old Ukrainian who brings everything they won’t. Plumlee will bring the hard rim-rolls, Frye the outside shooting and Len the high-post passing and faceup game.
Kravtsov can bring the hammer that the Polish version leaves with — or arguably, never had — and despite the Ukrainian’s rough English, he’s not shy about it.
“First of all … as a classical center, I will create some damage in the paint,” Kravtsov said at media day. “I’m a good finisher, good rebounder, good shotblocker. I just want to put those (together) … and help the team.”
Kravtsov didn’t know Len personally — the younger Ukrainian played in the lower levels before joining Maryland — and his inclusion in the trade that sent Caron Butler to the Milwaukee Bucks made him a late addition to the Suns roster. And since his Ukrainian team went deep into the EuroBasket tournament, he arrived in Phoenix just before training camp.
Rough around the edges, Kravtsov at the very least is in shape and arguably the most physical player on the roster. He only took a few weeks off after the 2012-13 season, his first in the NBA. He returned to the Detroit Pistons training camp to work out, then headed to Europe where he trained with the Ukrainian national team.
The jury is still out on Kravtsov. He’s limited offensively and couldn’t crack the lineup for a bad Pistons team. Shooting 29.7 percent from the foul stripe, Kravtsov isn’t good for anything but finishing at the cup. His shot chart in 224 minutes played with Detroit last year said it all.
Kravtsov took one of his 46 shots outside of the paint, but he did shoot 73 percent inside the paint. The limitations very well could hamper the physical 6’11 center, and they did just that with Ukraine in the EuroBasket tournament. The Suns’ new center didn’t even start for head coach Mike Fratello this summer, and he came off the bench behind former University of Arizona center Kyryl Natyazhko — for perspective, Natyazhko left the Wildcats after struggling to scratch the rotation.
Off the bench, Kravtsov played 19 minutes per game and averaged 7.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and a EuroBasket-leading 2.0 blocks per game. Kravtsov might not speak English well, but his confidence comes across just fine despite the language barrier.
“They didn’t write down all of mine,” he said of his blocks totals at EuroBasket. “Lots more.”
The blocks allude to his underrated fluidity as an athlete. In his few preseason minutes, Kravtsov hit all six of his shot attempts in 42 minutes played. He scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had two blocks in those minutes, and if anything displayed his style by shouldering into opponents chests with one-dribble moves off catches in the paint.
No, it’s not all that likely Kravtsov cracks the Suns’ rotation. Frye and Plumlee could actually garner heavy minutes, and Len and the Morris twins surely will be included as well. It’s unclear when or if Okafor could return, but nonetheless, Kravtsov will provide an insurance big man off the bench and an above-average practice player to toughen up Len, the younger Ukrainian and fifth overall draft pick.
The opportunity for the man whose shortened first name is Slava and whose Internet-given name is Ctrl-V (because Viecheslav is just too difficult type type out) is a little bigger than it was before the Gortat trade.
And the intrigue for the confident, fun-natured center remains.