Landale will cash in on huge pay rise after stepping up for Jokic mission impossible with Suns
Jock Landale is earning minutes, respect and plenty of extra zeroes on his next contract with his exploits with Phoenix banging bodies with an unstoppable and unpredictable force.
The 27-year-old late-blooming Australian centre has been crucial in keeping the Suns in their Western Conference semi-final series against Denver leading into Friday’s do-or-die game-six scenario on Phoenix’s home floor.
Landale has been a revelation for the Suns in their search for reliability off the bench, tasked with the nearly impossible mission of trying to counter the Nuggets’ two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in the paint and wherever else he ends up as he conjures magic from his bottomless bag of tricks.
His personal stats will go unnoticed by many fans – 5.2 points, 4.1 rebounds per game in this series – but his effort and intensity when subbing in for Deandre Ayton have definitely caught the eye.
After only getting a combined 15 minutes in the first two outings on the road, the Suns thrived when he was on the court for the back-to-back matches in Phoenix with a positive points differential of 10 and 16 during his 22 and 21-minute stints respectively.
Despite calls for Landale to get even more game time, Suns coach Monty Williams cut him back to 16 in game five and he was a plus-5 in those minutes during the 118-102 loss.
Ayton, who has had a fractured relationship with Phoenix over the years despite being a No.1 overall draft pick, has been in the firing line for failing to provide adequate support to superstar duo Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
Displaying the mateship above all else mantra that has been drummed into him from Boomers duty, Landale stuck up for Ayton when reporters asked about the player ahead of him on the Suns depth chart, praising him for passing on tips on how to deal with Jokic.
“It’s tough for me to sit back and just be OK with all the slander that’s thrown DA’s way.
“People are making him out to be like he’s this selfish individual who is playing terribly all the time, but it’s Deandre Ayton. DA has had 30 (points) and 20 (rebounds) games on the regular for a month at times this season.
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“He’s held down some big time areas of games for us throughout the year and I’m kinda sick of people shitting on him nonstop. DA’s been f—ing great for us.”
When you’re up against Jokic, it’s almost a fait accompli that he’s going to make you look foolish at some stage with his mystical passes from all angles to somehow find open teammates.
Landale is suited for this unenviable task because he doesn’t seem to care – “I think you’re gonna give up buckets, you’re gonna give up all that stuff,” he said after game three before adding he needed to show resilience to “continue to fight and I think I’m kind of built of that”.
Funnily enough, Booker said similar when asked about Landale: “That’s a tough assignment he has down there fighting with Jokic … he’s built for it.”
In the wake of Andrew Bogut retiring a couple of years ago and Aron Baynes entering the twilight of his career, Landale’s rise has come at the perfect time for Boomers coach Brian Goorjian.
He gives the team much-needed size in the frontcourt as well as an ability to stretch the floor for the World Cup in August and next year’s Paris Olympics.
Landale’s roundabout way to the NBA – via Europe and the NBL – is similar to Baynes. He made his debut a week before his 26th birthday while Baynes was just a couple of months younger when he first got a chance with the Spurs in 2012 after stops in Luthuania, Greece, Germany and Slovenia.
A restricted free agent after this season, Landale has stated that he is keen to remain in Phoenix but after his rise to prominence in the post-season, it is likely he will get decent offers a lot higher than his current $1.5 million salary.
Ayton could be traded if the Suns can’t make it past Denver so there could be a starting centre spot up for grabs if the franchise stumps up the cash.
His best-case scenario would be for a rival team to put in a lucrative bid for his services and for Phoenix to then match it.
Luc Longley will forever hold the unofficial title of the Aussie in the right NBA spot at the right time when he was traded to Chicago before Michael Jordan’s second threepeat but why wouldn’t Landale wouldn’t want to stick around for the next couple of years at Phoenix?
Durant is still an elite force despite being 35 and Booker has arguably been the biggest star of the playoffs.
Chris Paul is showing the inevitable signs of age at 38 – he suffered a groin injury in game two and is unlikely to play again in this Nuggets series – but he is still a top-notch playmaker to feed the Suns’ main duo.
If they can’t bounce back from the 3-2 series deficit, Williams could be on the coaching hot seat.
After a mediocre start to his coaching career at New Orleans, he has rejuvenated Phoenix since their 2020 Orlando post-season bubble run but they collapsed last year at the same stage and are in danger of being stuck on a playoff plateau.
First they have to nullify Jokic and the Nuggets and if Ayton can’t slow him down, Landale will always be ready to step up.