If there is one player who has certainly flown under the radar in what has been an extravagant offseason for the Phoenix Suns, it is forward Ish Wainright. The 28-year-old still a part of this roster, and at this point one of the longer tenured players as he enters his third season.
In 105 regular games with the organization, and only two starts, he has put up a barely noticeable 3.4 points and 1.8 rebounds in just over 12 minutes of action on the court. Hardly the kind of numbers that would have head coach Frank Vogel believing he can be a major contributor as the Suns bid to win a championship.
There has to be a reason the franchise continue to bring him back to this group however, and you can be sure in 2023-24, he is going to have his moment.
After all, if this summer showed us anything, it is that everybody from veterans like Eric Gordon to young players with something to prove like Bol Bol were willing to sign on to play on a minimum contract. If the Suns wanted to go in a different direction to Wainright, they easily could have. So why didn’t they?
It starts with what Wainright can do on the defensive end, particularly during the regular season. It is highly likely Kevin Durant will miss some time through injury, and really the Suns should be resting him as much as possible during the regular season, in anticipation of a championship run.
Last season when Wainright was on the court (15.3 minutes per night across 60 games), the Suns had a defensive rating of 106.6. Not a huge sample size, but enough to build a case here. During those times when Wainright was on the court, the Suns had what would have been by far and away the best defensive rating in the league (number one defense was 109.9).
If this feels like cherry-picking a statistic to make Wainright look good, the eye test would back up that impressive number, albeit in only 15 minutes per night and alongside players like Mikal Bridges who are themselves excellent defenders. Wainright is a big body, and he plays hard.
Looking at this another way though, and when Wainright was on the court, the Suns had an offensive rating (112.7) that easily would have put them in the bottom 10 in the NBA. The beauty of Wainright this season however, and one of the reasons he was brought back, was because he will be playing on an offensive juggernaut.
This is a player who came to the league late, and who was initially on a two-way contract. To show the fight that Wainright has to not only get a couple of small guaranteed deals, but see the court regularly for a contender, is exactly the kind of tenacious player the coaching staff are going to love.
Wainright will obviously do all of the dirty work without saying a word, and on some nights he is going to have an impact. The regular season may be what the organization have in mind here with Wainright and his role, and it makes sense. Come the postseason, the rotation is going to be shortened to seven or eight guys.
Yet in his two seasons with the team, Wainright has surprisingly appeared in 13 playoff games. Make no mistake, he has averaged about 3.4 minutes in those contests. But think about how many other really good, NBA level players are stuck to the bench in the postseason because their head coaches don’t trust them in key moments.
The previous coaching staff, led by Monty Williams, saw enough in Wainright to believe that for a couple of minutes in huge games, he could come in and defend at a high level, and not be a disaster offensively, while some other players took a breather. That is priceless for a group like the Suns, having that trust factor that will surely be continued with the new coaching staff.
Lead assistant Kevin Young may be crucial here, as he is a holdover from the previous staff, and has worked with Wainright for a couple of years now. There is little doubt he will fight the player’s corner if needed. Tiny though the sample size is, Wainright has also shot 40 percent from deep in the playoffs, and is a career 32.9 percent shooter from 3-point range. Something to watch.
It may be that Wainright ultimately doesn’t see the court next season when the playoffs begin. Competition is as fierce as it has ever been with this group, and they are true contenders. But during the regular season, between injuries, inconsistencies and rest, Wainright is going to have a couple of nights that make fans sit up and take notice.
Whether it is a 20 point display, or more likely a high-level defensive game, Wainright will give the Suns exactly what they need throughout the campaign. Somebody who is familiar with the organization, and who will provide consistency when other players are experiencing their own dips in play. The Suns brought Ish Wainright back for a reason, and it was a hugely important one.