Playing most of the season on a two-way contract for the Phoenix Suns, Wainright proved he at least belongs
Welcome to our Phoenix Suns Season in Review series where we do individual PLAYER REVIEWS of each man that contributed in the 2021-22 season. We go through the roster to analyze what went right/wrong for them, and what they can do to get better for next season.
Nearing the close of this series, we have…
- Position: combo forward (sometimes small-ball 5)
- Vitals: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, 27 years old
- Experience: 1st NBA Season, undrafted, though he didn’t begin his career in Phoenix (we’ll get into that momentarily)
- Stats: 2.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists, and 0.4 steals in 8.0 minutes per game on 39/32/58 shooting splits
Wainright was a two-sport athlete at Baylor University, playing both football and basketball, though not at the same time.
First were four seasons of basketball, including being named to a Big-12 All-Defensive Team his senior year, which he followed with a season of football where he played tight end and caught two touchdowns.
Wainright had the chance to play pro football, joining the Buffalo Bills on a camp basis before getting cut ahead of making the final roster.
He returned to basketball with a couple seasons in Europe, including one with Champions League power SIG Strasbourg out of Strasbourg, France, where he averaged nearly 12 points and 5 rebounds on 49/32/73 shooting.
His international career continued as he represented Uganda during the 2021 FIBA AfroBasket tournament. He averaged 12.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.0 steals in 32.8 minutes per game on 34/38/71 shooting splits.
His best game of the tournament came in the final match of the group phase against South Sudan with 22 points (5-8 3P) and 10 assists.
Wainright finally made his way to the NBA, signing a two-year non-guaranteed contract with the Toronto Raptors last August. That “non-guaranteed” phrase reared it’s ugly head when he was waived just 71 days later ahead of 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 games in the Association (he appeared in 45) and none in the playoffs, were they to remain on that contract.
Wainright did not remain on that contract, and he was officially signed as a full-time Sun on Apr. 10, just ahead of the playoff deadline. The new deal keeps him here for next season as well at a very team-friendly $1.8 million, after which he’ll 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’ve been a 26-point fourth quarter comeback:
Though his stats on the season are mostly underwhelming, he shined bright when he was given playing time. Over ten games when he played at least 12 minutes, Wainright shot a combined 15-33 from deep (45.5%) and totaled 10 steals and 3 blocks juxtaposed with only 3 turnovers.
Aside from his sparse minutes, Wainright made his impact on the team as part of the bench mob, helping to provide lots of celebration highlights as well as one of my favorite examples of team chemistry from this past season, when Mikal Bridges notices Wainright at his press availability:
Mikal Bridges leaves us with a shoutout for Ish Wainright. pic.twitter.com/jMdrx6HTRp
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 31, 2022
Thanks to the new deal he signed at the end of the season, Wainright was available for playoff minutes, and he appeared in seven games, including a high moment of 10 points (2-2 3P) and 4 rebounds in garbage time of that fateful game 7; he was also a +11 in 5 minutes if you can believe it.
Would you believe me if I told you it was literal strength? Look at his shoulders for exactly 0.25 seconds and you will believe it. His 250 pounds and football strength help uniquely position Wainright as a small ball 5 option, and it 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 the 5, and the Suns needed it. He totaled 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 blocks to just 1 turnover and 1 foul in the frame, including being +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 – A Thread….
First we see:
– Monty & CP3 chatting in a TO about possibly needing to go small.
– Spurs then killing the Suns deep drop coverage.
– A final possession where Wainright switches onto the big to go to the level of the screen. pic.twitter.com/3nSXMjmqgy
— David (@theIVpointplay) January 31, 2022
Might get torn to pieces for saying this, but it might be having a coach that doesn’t really like to develop guys in-game and give them chances to experiment with their games. As alluded to 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.
During his time representing Uganda during AfroBasket as well as in garbage time minutes for the Suns, Wainright’s proven that he can create for himself and others at least a little bit, but due to the high usage rates of guards like Paul, Devin Booker, and even Cam Payne to some extent, there just wasn’t room for him to do that in this system.
What to work on
Every single wing on this roster can improve as a dribbler, and Wainright is no exception. And while he has shown some promise as a creator, he needs to process things faster with and without the ball, as well as just operating more confidently as a roller and popper out of pick sets.
All of this is likely to improve if for no other reason than he has some job security now, and he’s able to take an entire off-season 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 grades against the contract they’re played on, and since Wainright didn’t even make a million dollars as a Sun this season, it’s pretty easy to give him…
- A- based on what he showed
- A+ given the opportunities he had