It was only two weeks ago when Isaiah Canaan was unsigned at home after being waived by the Houston Rockets earlier this season. The 5th year guard kept working on his game in hopes of being signed by an NBA team when the right opportunity surfaced. That opportunity finally came into fruition when Devin Booker was sidelined for 2-3 weeks with a strained left adductor. Booker joined Davon Reed, Brandon Knight, and Alan Williams on the list of players who would miss a significant amount of time, therefore allowing the Suns to be granted an injury hardship exception to sign Canaan. The team had a familiarity with Canaan’s game during the offseason when they brought him in for a workout. The team was impressed by his skillset but ultimately decided to not sign him due to their roster construction at the time consisting of three point guards: Eric Bledsoe, Tyler Ulis, and Mike James. Now the team’s point guard makeup has changed quite drastically since the offseason and the team was off to a 9-21 start before Canaan played his first game in a Suns’ uniform.
Canaan’s first game came against the Minnesota Timberwolves and he didn’t disappoint. He finished the game with 15 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench. Canaan’s presence with the 2nd unit was game-changing, his ability to control the tempo and willingness to pass the ball ignited the rest of the team to be unselfish. Canaan also showed that he wasn’t afraid of the big moment by hitting three clutch free throws to win the game. After the win in Minnesota, the Suns then went into Dallas and came out with another win and Canaan again didn’t disappoint. He went for 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals off the bench. His ability to deliver down the stretch was apparent again in this game as he continually made plays to secure the win. The injury-plagued Clippers were next on the schedule but the Suns’ two game winning streak would come to end in Los Angeles. Canaan didn’t play particularly well (10 points on 2-12 shooting, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds) but neither did the rest of the team as they lost 108-95. However, the team did bounce back against the Grizzlies at home in thrilling fashion. Troy Daniels hit a game-winning three to put the perfect ending to his ‘revenge game” against his former team. As for Canaan he had another solid game off the bench with 10 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals.
It was clear to see the 2nd unit operated more efficiently with Canaan running the show instead of James. You could also see the chemistry developing between Canaan and Alex Len when the two run pick-and-rolls. Canaan’s ability to come off the screen and hit Len with a clean slip bounce pass as Len rolls to the rim has become a staple in the 2nd unit. Having a solid pick-and-roll attack has helped Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels as well. In the four games with Canaan, Bender has shot 43.5% (10-23) from 3, which is a 6.7% increase from his regular season numbers. Bender benefits from being paired with a passing guard like Canaan because when teams try to scheme for a Canaan and Len pick-and-roll it allows Bender to get better looks to knock down corner triples. Canaan’s ability to spread the floor (42.9% from three) from the point guard position is very valuable to the team, especially for attacking wings T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson. Another aspect of Canaan’s game that I’ve been impressed with is his physical defense. At 6 foot, 201 pounds Canaan is built in a similar way to ex-Sun Eric Bledsoe. Canaan has been excellent using his frame to fight through screens, which helps the backline of Bender and Len not get caught in no mans land trying to decide if they should press up on the guard coming off the screen or sag back to protect the rim. The Sun have been using him to close out games as well, with his experience he knows exactly how to execute plays down the stretch for Jay Triano.
Overall, his impact on both ends of the floor has been impressive and it was no surprise the Suns decided to sign him for the remainder of the season after releasing James. In 4 games off the bench, he’s averaging 13 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 25 minutes. Canaan’s emergence has brought excitement to the team in the shape of wins and enjoyable basketball. Also, he’s brought some curiosity to the fan base regarding how good this team will be once Booker and Reed return from their injuries soon. The Suns next game is at home against the Timberwolves where they look to get their 4th win in 5 games.