PHOENIX — When Josh Childress signed with the Suns, he expected to “anchor the bench.”
Instead he was anchored to the bench.
Not much when right for J-Chill since he starred in last season’s training camp exhibition game.
First he fractured his finger going up for a dunk during a meaningless preseason game and thus wore a splint over his injured digit the first two months of the season.
Then right as the finger started to heal, the Suns pulled off their blockbuster trade with Orlando that left them with five wings for four spots, and Childress was the odd man out. By the time he returned to the rotation there were only a few weeks left in the season.
“Everything that happened to Josh last year wasn’t completely his fault,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We had an overload at that position and he didn’t have an opportunity to play consistent minutes, and he really did a good job when he was able to play, but unfortunately for him he was playing behind Grant and then there was Vince Carter and then there was some other things, so I look for him to bounce back. He’s playing well right now, so we’ll see where that takes us.”
Added Childress, “With that being said, it’s still a lot of responsibility placed on me and I take that responsibility just because I feel like I should have a certain standard that I like to set for myself and I didn’t meet that, but this is a new year and new goals and new opportunities.”
Part of the reason Childress spent so much time on the pine, though, was because he suffered through an underwhelming season when he did play.
As John Hollinger noted in his Suns player profiles, Childress amazingly ranked as the Suns’ worst defender in Synergy (yielding 1.05 points per play) and the Suns were actually 5.14 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Childress on the floor.
Childress still was a superb rebounder for a wing (10.0 rebound rate), particularly on the offensive side of the ball (8.9 ORR), and his 56.5 percent shooting percentage was nothing to sneeze at. However, he lost all confidence whatsoever at the line (49.2 percent) and from three-point range (1-for-16).
Childress entered the season as an 80 percent free throw shooter who got to the line over 200 times in each of his first four NBA seasons with the Hawks. Diminished playing time certainly played a role but perhaps he shied away from the line a bit as well in getting there a mere 59 times last season.
In addition, Chilly has never been known as a three-point shooter, but he at least was a passable 36 percent shooter with 258 career attempts entering this year rather than the player who seemed to lack confidence altogether on his long ball attempts.
To that end, Childress said he worked on the “mental aspect” of shooting quite a bit this summer.
“I’m really trying to get that dialed in because people say playing basketball is 90 percent mental. I know it sounds cliché, but it really is true,” he said. “Having that strong mentality and being able to withstand the constant ups and downs of a season.”
When asked if there was a mental aspect to his struggles last season, Childress did not want to go there, saying, “I’m not trying to look back, I’m trying to look forward. I worked hard this summer to try to help myself.”
To that end not only does Childress feel more comfortable in the Suns’ system, or “at ease a little bit” as he put it, the Suns have a better understanding of his game as well and what he can and can’t do.
He’s not a guy who will launch threes all day like many previous Phoenix wings, he’s a slasher who can take the ball to the basket and then chip in on the offensive glass. It will be up to the coaching staff to put him into situations where he stands a better chance at success.
“He knows the system better but we also know him better,” Gentry said.
In the aftermath of his disappointing first year in Phoenix, Childress became a popular amnesty target among the national media because his play last season was not befitting of a player earning the full midlevel. His contract was seen as a mistake, and based on last year’s production that would be accurate.
But the Suns understand all the extenuating circumstances that led to Childress’ down year, which coincided with his mental game not being quite right.
With another underwhelming season Childress would surely be an amnesty possibility next summer as the Suns strive to clear as much cap space as possible, but that won’t happen if Chilly slashes for easy buckets, creates chaos in the passing lanes, and shoots a high percentage while being a menace on the boards, as he was signed to be.
Or as Childress put it, “Just to be Josh.”
Childress’ take on the Fiesta Bowl showdown between his alma mater Stanford and Oklahoma State: “Stanford all the way baby. We got robbed in the Heisman, but I think we’re going to pull out a victory.”