NBA

How Ish Wainright’s Game Evolved To Be A Contestant’s Perfect Complement

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In his short time on the Phoenix Suns program, Ish Wainright transformed his game in ways that can only be explained as “intentional.”

We’re still a long way from the anniversary of Wainright joining the team on October 22, 2021, and he’s technically not on the official roster at this time, as he remains unsigned despite an impressive showing in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he served as a team leader and role model.

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But the ways Wainright has grown is proof that Phoenix wants him to perform alongside their stars — as well as stars not yet on the roster.

In five Las Vegas Summer League games, averaging 23.8 minutes:

  • 11.0 points (shooting spreads 42.1/41.4/84.6); 76.3% of his shot attempts came from deep
  • 3.4 rebounds
  • 2.2 assists per 1.0 turnovers
  • 1.2 interceptions and 0.2 blocks

Wainright’s three-point volume — 41.4% on 5.8 attempts from deep per game — is the most appealing development to me, especially considering the variety of shot types that come his way in these games.

The Suns development program built on the already pretty good shooting, adding looks off the move, off the dribble and even a step back here and there.

Focusing his shot attempts on those deep looks works well to build habits for that to be his calling card in offense, but it also simplifies the game from Wainright’s perspective; having only a few key responsibilities on either side.

Whether it’s in the lineups alongside Devin Booker, Damion Lee, or anyone else on the roster, there’s room in a lineup for a 40%-plus three-point shooter who can play any defensive position.


As for that defensive versatility, he does a great job of making it count.

For example, playing short ball with Wainright at 5 doesn’t make a functional difference if Wainright isn’t able to both hold inside – which he did, albeit in the Summer League – and step out into the perimeter when the games dictate it is necessary.

A good number of these steals come with Wainright at the 5, with my favorite coming at the 0:24 mark where he reads the incoming pocket pass and gets in front. Correctly reading the ball handlers’ intentions is one of the most important aspects of defending a pick-and-roll, and Wainright does it beautifully and correctly there.

He also does a great job of harassing ball handlers on the perimeter, especially when the offensive player is taller and Wainright is able to match the physique with his tight Baylor football frame. My favorite example comes at the 0:10 mark.


When you have a utility player like Wainright who already excels at deep shooting and defense, any play feels like a luxury. Luckily, its delivery – even at low volume – is top-notch stuff.

While there is an example of a nice lob from a downhill pick-and-roll action, it’s not the type of play I want to focus on, as there’s a slim chance that – all else being equal – Wainright is running 10+ pick-and-rolls all season, including garbage time.

I’d rather focus on his ability to find shooters and cutters from the wing and central position, as it’s a direct effect of the 0.5 offense. These possessions arise from actions that open paths to overcoming.

At 0:06, Wainright gets up from the corner for what is sometimes a wing three attempt, but here, as Jo Lual Acuil Jr. dives ever so slightly, he opens the pass from the right wing to the left corner, which Wainright offers approximately 80% accuracy; a solid mark for such a difficult pass.

The next example at the 0:12 mark is therefore translatable into minutes with the “big” team as he settles on the right wing and leads cutting Louis King for an easy field goal. It’s not hard to imagine being Mikal Bridges or Cam Johnson in King’s place.


The Suns aren’t that versatile in the roster, even among their stars, and that makes Wainright more valuable.

I believe he’s capable of being the focal point of an all-bench lineup, but I also believe that if you put him in place of Jae Crowder with the starters – not that I think Wainright should start is more of a line-up example – Wainright would go well alongside guys like Booker, Bridges and Deandre Ayton.

(And not to be too persistent, but Wainright would go great alongside Kevin Durant too; look no further than Bruce Brown as a similar example of an archetype.)

Unfortunately, that and many other “prospect”-focused ideas boil down to whether newly-resigned head coach Monty Williams is willing to give them chances to fail. So far, he hasn’t allowed many Suns to do so, although he has spoken of wanting that to change after the playoff loss to Dallas.

We will see if this exceptional summer projection is just another flash in the pan or if it is another indicator of an upward trajectory in the Valley.

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