Welcome to our Phoenix Suns Season in Review series where we do individual PLAYER REVIEWS of every man who contributed to the 2021-22 season. We go through the list to analyze what went well for them and what they can do to improve for next season.
Towards the end of this series, we have…
- Position: front combo (sometimes small ball 5)
- Vitals: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, 27 years old
- Experience: 1st NBA season, undrafted, although he didn’t start his career in Phoenix (we’ll get to that in a bit)
- Stats: 2.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists and 0.4 steals in 8.0 minutes per game in 39/32/58 shooting time
Wainright was a dual-sport athlete at Baylor University, playing both football and basketball, but not at the same time.
The first were four seasons of basketball, including his nomination to an All-Defensive Big-12 team his senior year, which he followed with a football season where he played tight end and caught two affected.
Wainright had a chance to play professional football, joining the Buffalo Bills in a camp before being cut short of making the final roster.
He returned to basketball with a few seasons in Europe, including one with Champions League powerhouse SIG Strasbourg out of Strasbourg, France, where he averaged nearly 12 points and 5 rebounds on the 49/32/ 73.
His international career continued by representing Uganda in the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 tournament. He averaged 12.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.0 steals in 32.8 minutes per game on shot splits 34/38/71.
His best game of the tournament came in the last game of the group stage against South Sudan with 22 points (5-8 3P) and 10 assists.
Wainright finally made his way to the NBA, signing a non-guaranteed two-year contract with the Toronto Raptors last August. This “unsecured” phrase surfaced when it was waived just 71 days later before opening day.
Luckily for him, the Suns signed him to a two-way contract five days later. Two-way contracts limit players to a maximum of 50 regular-season conference games (he appeared in 45) and none in the playoffs, should they remain on that contract.
Wainright did not stay on that contract, and he was officially signed as a full-time Sun on April 10, just before the playoff deadline. The new contract also keeps him here for next season at a very team-friendly $1.8 million, after which he will be a restricted free agent.
Regular season recap
His best game as a Sun came just days before signing that new contract, when he totaled 20 points in the fourth quarter alone against the Clippers, nearly completing what would have been a 26-point fourth quarter comeback:
Although his stats on the season were mostly disappointing, he shone when given playing time. Over ten games where he played at least 12 minutes, Wainright shot a combined 15-33 from deep (45.5%) and totaled 10 interceptions and 3 juxtaposed blocks with only 3 turnovers.
In addition to his rare minutes, Wainright made an impact on the team as part of the crowd on the bench, helping to provide many celebratory highlights as well as one of my favorite examples of team chemistry from the last season, when Mikal Bridges noticed Wainright about his press availability:
Thanks to the new contract he signed at the end of the season, Wainright was available for playoff minutes, and he appeared in seven games, including a highlight of 10 points (2-2 3P) and 4 rebounds. in the filthy time of that fateful Game 7; he was also a +11 in 5 minutes if you can believe it.
The greatest assets
Would you believe me if I told you it was literal force? Look at his shoulders for exactly 0.25 seconds and you’ll believe him. His 250 pounds and football strength help uniquely position Wainright as a small-ball 5 option, and it has worked to Phoenix’s benefit.
One of my favorite Wainright games came on Jan. 30 against the Spurs when he played the entire fourth quarter at 5, and the Suns needed it. He had 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 blocks for just 1 turnover and 1 foul in the frame, including a +17 in the final quarter of a game the Suns won by 5.
Here’s a great thread breaking down that performance:
Ish Wainright – Small Ball 5 – One Thread….
First we see:
– Monty and CP3 discuss in a TO about the need to be small.
– Spurs then kill Suns deep falls coverage.
– A last possession where Wainright switches on the big one to pass at the level of the screen. pic.twitter.com/3nSXMjmqgy
—David (@theIVpointplay) January 31, 2022
The biggest weakness
It might be torn to shreds for saying that, but it might be having a coach who doesn’t really like to develop guys in the game and give them chances to experiment with their games. As mentioned in the thread above, Monty Williams sometimes has to be pushed to do different things, like when Chris Paul urged him to go small with Wainright.
While representing Uganda during the AfroBasket as well as in the foul weather minutes for the Suns, Wainright proved he could create for himself and others at least a little, but due to the rates of high usage of guards like Paul, Devin Booker and even Cam Payne to some degree, there just wasn’t a place for him in that system.
What to work on
Every wing on this list can improve as a dribbler, and Wainright is no exception. And while he’s shown promise as a creator, he needs to process things quicker on and off the ball, as well as just function more confidently as a roll and pop off selection sets.
All of that is likely to get better if for no other reason that he has some job security now, and he’s capable of taking an entire offseason to focus on what the Suns are asking of him; not the Buffalo Bills and not the Ugandan national team, just what the Suns want him to be.
I like to base the ratings on the contract they’re played on, and since Wainright didn’t even make a million dollars as the Sun this season, it’s pretty easy to give him…
- A- based on what he showed
- A+ considering the opportunities he had