No matter what way you look at it, the Phoenix Suns have had a tremendous offseason. The addition of Bradley Beal in exchange for Chris Paul was a scarcely believable start, before owner Mat Ishbia, one of the best in sports, added the kind of depth many thought impossible.
The ability to add a player such as Bol Bol for example, raw yet intriguing as he is, seen by many as a better alternative to Christian Wood, who recently signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. You can make the case that every player the Suns signed was an A grade addition, even if we all know that not every single one of them is going to work out.
Fantastic as all of this is, the organization did lose Australian big man Jock Landale this summer, and that is going to hurt more than they realize.
On the surface watching Landale go to the Houston Rockets doesn’t look like much. After all, his 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds aren’t going to be a massive miss, especially when you consider superstars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are going to be able to mask any of the glaring issues this roster ends up having by torching opponents into oblivion.
But in the postseason last year, it was a different story. Landale’s stats remained similar, but in seven games he averaged 16.1 minutes each night. Even more than the 14.2 he managed during the regular season. It is not often backup bigs see their minutes and role increase when the games matter most, so why was this the case with Landale?
Put simply, at times he was better than center Deandre Ayton during the playoffs. To be clear, Ayton is obviously the better player of the two, and he suffered with some injuries in the postseason as well. In their final game, a loss to the Denver Nuggets, Ayton was unavailable through injury.
But it was clear from watching the Suns in the playoffs especially, that when Landale was on the court, he wanted it more than Ayton. There is no reason that is going to be the case in 2023-24. After all, the Suns have a new head coach in Frank Vogel who many feel is going to get the best out of Ayton.
But in 69 games and four starts in a single season with the organization, Landale had quickly turned himself into Ayton insurance. If his counterpart was injured or not playing up to the standards expected of him, Landale was generally able to come in and the starting five didn’t miss a beat, at least in terms of tenacity and desire on the defensive end. Just like this –
For all of Ayton’s talent — which Landale could only wish to have — it is clear when he is not engaged. Coach Vogel would have loved to have had Landale in reserve if that were to happen again. Also forgotten here is that Vogel could have also worked the kind of wonders on Landale’s defensive ability as we all assume he will with Ayton.
Landale looked a more willing listener, and somebody who would do whatever was required to help the Suns win. Worryingly, the franchise didn’t quite replace that this summer. The obvious answer to who they tried to replace Landale’s spot with is Drew Eubanks, the former Portland Trail Blazer who it is hoped will do all that Landale did, and more.
But in a recent conversation with the great team over at PHNX Suns, Landale explained how former teammate and future Hall of Famer Paul was one of the first to get in touch and congratulation the Australian upon hearing he had signed with the Rockets.
A lot of people won’t read too much into this, and that’s fine. But for a player of Paul’s stature to reach out to a backup big man, the kind of player he has seen come and go countless times throughout his career, speaks to the kind of guy not only Paul is, but Landale as well. Replacing that in The Valley will not be easy.
Landale came across as a popular guy in the locker-room, and a player who did all of the dirty work in order to let the stars shine. It is not that Eubanks or anybody else can’t replace what Landale did (although we know Bol won’t because of his defensive inabilities…). But rather, it is realizing that doing this is not going to be as easy as plugging in another backup center.
Jock Landale left the Suns a fan favorite, and he is likely going to continue improving now that he is with an up-and-coming group like the Rockets. It may be that the Suns are so good offensively, and have so much firepower, that Landale quickly becomes an after thought. But you’re crazy if you think it is going to be easy to replace what he did for the franchise.