After a win over the Chicago Bulls earlier this season the team sarcastically wrote "Jared Who?" on the white board, signifying that they didn't need him to win. Last night, the same thing was done for the newest member of the Phoenix Suns, Hamed Haddadi.
The need is there of course with Marcin Gortat out a minimum of three to four weeks and Jermaine O'Neal out indefinitely taking care of his daughter and a personal matter. Haddadi stepped on the court and logged a career-high 28 minutes but more importantly, was extremely productive with his time on the court.
"When I was in Memphis the coach always took me out after the first mistake, but here the first mistake they don't take me out," Haddadi after the game on his performance. "I was feeling good and I played all four quarters."
In those 28 minutes, Haddadi defended the rim with the same toughness and strength as O'Neal while providing a large body in the paint to finish on the offensive end. His 11 rebounds were also a career-high, surpassing the previous mark of 10 that he had achieved twice in Memphis. Playing a full game and getting a rhythm on the court is very important for a basketball player. For his career, Haddadi was getting under 15 minutes of court action nearly every time out. To be exact, he had only logged 15+ minutes a total of 12 times before last night and five minutes or less 76 times over his career.
Defensively, he was the linchpin in the fourth quarter, as the Suns were limiting the Rockets to 13 points in the first seven minutes of action, collecting six rebounds, a block, and a steal.
Even with those numbers, the play of the game defensively for the Suns was a show that Haddadi made on James Harden when he caught the ball on the perimeter and he had to switch out on the star scorer. Harden could have launched a three, but was forced into making a cross-court pass along the baseline instead of attacking the rim for the score in a mismatch. The surprising size and length of Haddadi didn't allow for a shot over him as he forced him to put the ball on the floor.
That type of play typically does not end well for big men. Just ask Aaron Gray after Kobe Bryant brutalized him 30 feet from the basket the other night. However, Haddadi has enough size, length, and defensive intangible ability to make that show on a star scorer.
For that, "Marcin Who?" was last night's locker room fodder on the white board.
There is no denying that the fifth year center from Iran is a large presence on the court, but even his teammates were surprised at how big and active he can be.
"He is a huge presence down there for us and helps start our fast break," Kendall Marshall said after the game. "When he has his hands up, he is making things happen without even touching the ball."
For this newer, defensive-minded Suns culture they play, a throwback center like Haddadi is a welcome sign for interim head coach Lindsey Hunter.
"I thought Haddadi was a great neutralizer for us, he was phenomenal in the middle."
Most of these minutes would not exist with a healthy Gortat and a present O'Neal, but with the way the Suns have been playing with the "Next Man Up" philosophy, you have to be ready to go on the court and produce at any given juncture in the season or game. Right now, this happens to be Haddadi's audition, despite being discussed as a potential cut after the trade went through to acquire him.
Like P.J. Tucker has done all year, Haddadi has the opportunity on this current roster to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff that could ultimately lead the shortest tenured Sun to become a part of a long-term plan.