Have the Phoenix Suns Found a New Weapon in Ish Wainright?

Phoenix Suns, Ish Wainright, Monty Williams (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Ish Wainright, Monty Williams (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) /

Monty Williams has been working with a short deck in terms of rotation guys given the injury bug’s recent attack on the Phoenix Suns.  He’s been forced to play guys somewhat out of position, and even had to throw extra minutes at Chris Paul and Devin Booker as they push forward with only 9-10 players available.

Oftentimes when a coach’s hands are forced like this, the proverbial “diamond in the rough” can begin to emerge. That can come due to a rotation tweak, new lineup combinations, or even a player stepping up and earning a rotation spot along with trust from his coaches and teammates alike.

The latter point is where versatile forward Ish Wainright currently finds himself trending toward.

The former dual-athlete at Baylor is on a two-way deal with the Suns right now and prior to Sunday, only received spot minutes outside of garbage time runs.

However, Wainright can be seen oftentimes as the first player off the bench when a big play happens, and that conducive team energy was returned to him in the form of some highly impactful minutes during Phoenix’s previous game vs the San Antonio Spurs.

The Suns found themselves in a dogfight (don’t they always seem this way?) with the Popovich-led Spurs the other night. Both Bismack Biyombo and JaVale McGee struggled in their drop coverages on San Antonio’s pick-and-roll sequences. To their credit, neither player had much film to properly prepare for that, but regardless, they needed some help.

In looking to plug up that hole, the Suns came out in the fourth quarter with a “small ball” lineup. Williams may be the most small ball adverse coach in the league, having compiled just 162 possessions without a traditional big man on the floor this season. But the game’s flow and Phoenix’s injuries forced his hand.

Luckily, it all went down as a fruitful experiment.

For small ball to be effective in any rendition, there are a few prerequisites which the integral piece at the “center” position must have:

  • Stature
  • Charisma
  • Corner shooting and floater conversion
  • Toughness and grit
  • Functionality as a screener
  • Playmaking in the short roll/as the outlet man from double-teams
  • Rim protection (whether as a shot deterrent or having the propensity to take charges; being ever-present in help defense)
  • Strong rebounding presence

P.J. Tucker and Draymond Green strike as the game’s best “small ball” centers, and although their skillsets somewhat differ, they both still embody all of the aforementioned entities.

Back to Wainright though, when looking at him and all that he presents, he most certainly fits this mold, best exemplified by his performance against the Spurs.

In 20 minutes played, Wainright compiled two drawn charges, two blocked shots, and a steal. He also played extremely well up on screens and switched with minimal hiccups in the transition phase of each coverage. Doing so provided a stark contrast to the drop coverage play from Biyombo and McGee which again grew porous as the game went on.

Inserting Wainright into the lineup as the center also allowed the Suns to control the game’s pace and force multiple stops in large part due to his energy and effectiveness as a versatile defender. Wainright also worked well on offense in the halfcourt, functioning as his team’s only true screener and even scoring seven of his career-high 10 points in the final period.

Wainright even dished out a sweet dime from the middle of the floor to the second side, where Bridges spotted up in the corner, and then attacked a closeout for an elusive reverse finish along the baseline. These renditions of small ball that were used in the fourth and sparked Phoenix’s comeback went:

PaulShametBridgesJohnsonWainright: 14 possessions

PaulBookerBridgesJohnsonWainright: 15 possessions (to close)

Has Wainright and these “Ish-Wagon” lineups swayed Monty enough to deploy them as a featured part of the rotation moving forward? Likely no, or not yet at least.

It has, however, allowed Wainright to earn more steady minutes in the rotation. If he can prove efficient and effective for a sustained period, maybe we could see the Ish-Wagon lineup experimented even more in different renditions, potentially with him paired beside Jae Crowder in the frontcourt, allowing the Suns to double-down on gritty presences.

In all, Wainright did an excellent job the other night “holding it down” as he allocated in his postgame presser, and shared that he loves being in that center spot due to his experience overseas in a similar role.

Next. Mock has the Suns Picking NCAA Champ in 2022 Draft. dark

No matter how far it progresses, the Suns have yet another inner-working, developing player to follow as this team continues to evolve. If Wainright does make this stellar play a habit though and Monty buys into it, Phoenix will become an even more dangerous team as we enter the 2021-22 season’s latter half.