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The Phoenix Suns are facing a lot of uncertainty at the center position. Deandre Ayton’s future in Phoenix is unclear amidst all the Kevin Durant trade rumors, and his backup, JaVale McGee, got a three-year, $20.1 million bag from the Dallas Mavericks. Bringing back Bismack Biyombo was a start to addressing the team’s depth at the 5-spot, and Jock Landale fits the same category.
On Saturday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the Suns had made a deal with the Atlanta Hawks for Landale, whom they recently acquired in the Dejounte Murray trade. According to The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, all Phoenix gave up to land Landale was cash.
Just a few weeks ago, Landale was talking about spending his entire career in San Antonio. Now, he’s traded teams twice in a span of three days.
At 26 years old, Landale is older than most NBA players with one year’s worth of experience in the league. After going undrafted out of St. Mary’s back in 2018, he had to alter his game and even his physique to make his way into the league, spending time overseas fine-tuning his shot until the San Antonio Spurs gave him a chance with a two-year contract.
He’ll earn $1.6 million this season before becoming a restricted free agent in 2023, and his sudden arrival — alongside the free-agency pickups of Damion Lee and Josh Okogie — signals the Suns could be battening down the hatches before a roster-altering trade.
Of course, the next, non-KD question is: What does Jock Landale bring to the table, and how can he help the Suns next season? Since we’ve still got time to kill waiting for bigger fish to fry, here’s a look at what to expect from the 6-foot-11 Aussie.
Forgive the pun, but going back and watching all 204 of Landale’s shot attempts last season, what conclusion can we draw other than Jock’s got a strap?
Well, sort of.
To his credit, Landale has worked hard on his 3-point shot over the last few years to remake himself into a stretch-big. His senior year at St. Mary’s, he attempted 10 3s in 36 games. In his first season with KK Partizan in Serbia, he tried 62 3s in 47 games. The following year with Zalgiris in Lithuania, he took 91 3s in 48 appearances. By the time he joined Melbourne United in 2019-20, he launched 149 triples over 41 games (about 3.6 per game) and made 38.9 percent of them.
After being passed up by the NBA, Landale is a highly motivated player who is rightfully proud of the progress he’s made with his shot:
In his first season with the Spurs, Landale proved to be pretty adept at popping out to the 3-point line. He took 89 shots from beyond the arc, accounting for almost 44 percent of his field goal attempts.
He initially caught quite a few defenders by surprise, leaking out to the top of the key for above-the-break triples that became one of the biggest staples of his offense. Of his 89 3-point attempts, a whopping 67 of them came above the break:
Unfortunately, that same efficiency from Melbourne didn’t quite translate to the NBA 3-point line. Landale shot 32.6 percent from downtown, making only 29.9 percent of the above-the-break 3s that constituted the majority of his attempts.
In his defense, Landale was only playing 10.9 minutes a night, so these are small sample sizes we’re dealing with. Had he made just seven more 3-pointers last year, he would’ve shot 40 percent from distance. He also shot 9-for-21 on corner 3s (42.8 percent), which is encouraging.
When he has time to go into his full wind-up, dipping the ball below the belt before swinging it upward into his release, the results suggested shooting potential. He’ll need to get quicker with that shooting motion, especially once defenses are up-to-speed on his scouting report, but as a low-usage backup big, he may continue to be a guy who slips through the cracks and catches opponents off-guard.
A smart rim roller
Landale has improved his body and his athleticism, but his leaping ability won’t blow anybody away. He compensates for that with his strength, intelligence and a sturdy, 6-foot-11 frame that allows him to serve as a useful pick-and-roll partner.
Landale said it best when he joked with the Spurs: “Well, I’m not gonna jump through the roof, so don’t expect too many flashy dunks, but I know how to play basketball.”
Landale probably won’t get too many reps with Chris Paul or Devin Booker, but he checks out as an effective rim roller in nearly every pertinent category on The Bball Index:
- 79th percentile in pick-and-roll PPP as roll man
- 82nd percentile in screen assists per 75 possessions
- 87th percentile in roll man possessions per 75 possessions
- 94th percentile in screening talent
- 96th percentile in roll impact per 75 possessions
Not bad for a guy who averaged a meager 4.9 points per game last year!
Despite being mostly ground-bound, Landale knows how to roll into open space, either going toward the basket or slipping back to the top of the key for 3. It didn’t take long for him to get the timing down in the short roll, catching pocket passes and finishing strong:
Although he’s not a freak athlete who can jump out of the gym, Landale used his intelligence, his craftiness, and when the case called for it, his flat-out bulk to finish past more athletic defenders. He ranked in the 73rd percentile in shots at the rim per 75 possessions, the 88th percentile in adjusted field-goal percentage at the rim and the 99th percentile in rim shot quality.
A big part of it, which may have stood out from the rim-running clip above, is that the Aussie wasn’t shy about embracing contact and finishing through it. In fact, he ranked in the 90th percentile in contact finish rate (35 percent), out-muscling people to force the ball in the basket despite not being a high leaper.
That affinity for contact — even in small doses off the bench — will be good for a Suns team that finished second-to-last in free-throw rate last season. Landale ranked in the 98th percentile in foul drawn rate on drives, at a whopping 33 percent.
That’s not to say Jock Landale is some hidden, elite finisher. He ranked in the 21st percentile in rim shot-making on The Bball Index, and although that category factors in degree of difficulty, according to Cleaning The Glass, the big man only shot 67 percent at the rim, filtering out garbage time. That ranked in the 45th percentile among all centers.
Much like his 3-point stroke, there’s room for improvement here. But the foundation is in place, and playing in a Suns offense that rewards strong screeners and assertive rollers could help him grow.
A natural fit for 0.5
Like Damion Lee, the addition of Jock Landale isn’t going to make or break the Suns’ season. But even in a second- or third-string role, he figures to be a pretty seamless fit within Monty Williams’ 0.5 offense.
Landale isn’t some high-level creator off the dribble, but he passed out on 50 percent of his drives, routinely showcasing his knack for making the extra pass, moving the ball where it needed to be and most of all, keeping the offense humming. That’s a key staple of 0.5 basketball, and Landale knows how to find shooters on the perimeter when the help defense arrives:
As well as thread the needle to cutters on the interior:
It’s not just the assists that stand out. Landale is decisive with the ball, and while he won’t always rack up highlight dimes, he moves the ball from side to side, can put it on the ground and knows where the cracks in a defense will materialize. Williams often praised Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky as “connectors” for doing exactly that, and Landale should fit that same category.
Even in the cases below where he misses the shot, Landale displays his feel for the game and his ability to make fundamentally sound plays:
Landale’s work in the post will be a helpful (albeit seldom-used) tool for the offense too. He ranked in the 89th percentile in post-up points per possession, but he also found his teammates in those situations, ranking in the 88th percentile in potential assists per post possession.
Nobody will be confusing him for Hakeem Olajuwon, but Landale was reliable in the post, making decisive moves off the dribble, incorporating nifty footwork around the basket and rarely being deterred by having to operate in a crowd:
Phoenix won’t be asking their second or third center to do too much, but even in limited minutes for San Antonio, he displayed many of the skills that should make him a natural fit in 0.5.
Coupled with his work on the offensive boards and his knack for running the floor in transition, he could very easily make an impact in his minor role.
Finally, there’s the defensive side of the ball. Landale doesn’t check out as a trustworthy defender when switched out onto the perimeter, but he’s smart enough to understand game situations and make plays when he needs to:
He’s much more reliable on the interior, using good body positioning, strength and his basketball I.Q. to make shots difficult for his opponents. Landale doesn’t exactly have the jumping ability to deter shots. He ranked in just the 35th percentile in block rate on contests, and despite contesting 141 shots at the rim, he only racked up 14 blocks all season. Out of 203 players who defended at least 130 shots at the basket, his 14 blocks were tied for 16th-fewest.
However, as much as Landale rarely sent back shots, they didn’t find their mark too often against him either. Defensive field goal percentage is an imperfect stat, but it’s still worth mentioning that opponents shot 11.3 percent worse on shots near the basket when Landale guarded them. He ranked in the 94th percentile in defensive field goal percentage (53.7 percent) compared to expected field goal percentage at the rim, and that defensive field goal percentage ranked 15th out of the 203 players who contested at least 130 shots at the basket.
Put it all together, and the picture resembles a hard-working, self-aware player who will bust his butt on both ends for the Suns in however many minutes he earns. There are certainly worse ways to spend cash, especially for a player on a minimum contract while the team faces so much uncertainty at the center position.