PHOENIX – Jock Landale can’t get anyone on the Suns to try Vegemite.
“Keep it at home,” said forward Mikal Bridges, later smiling while reassuring reporters, “I like Jock, sometimes.”
“Polarizing flavor?” said star guard Devin Booker after learning about the Australian spread. “I’ll watch Mikal (eat it) first.”
Hey @mikal_bridges you down for a taste test? ??
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) September 26, 2022
Landale, a native of Melbourne, Australia, has quickly become a Suns fan favorite for his off-the-court banter. He’s easy to spot on the hardwood – the Australian big man is 6-feet-11, 256 pounds, has a blonde curly mohawk and spends a good chunk of his minutes as a battering ram under the rim.
He was traded to Phoenix for cash considerations early in the offseason, and his well-rounded skill set and upbeat personality have helped him fit seamlessly into the Suns locker room. He’s hoping it will open up opportunities in the rotation, too.
The Phoenix Suns are trading for Australian center Jock Landale from the Atlanta Hawks, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Landale averaged 4.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 54 games for the Spurs last season.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 2, 2022
Last year, Landale was a 26-year-old NBA rookie, but in 2020, he took the National Basketball League in Australia by storm. As the leading scorer for Melbourne United, he led them to the 2021 NBL Australia title, while averaging 16.4 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. Landale also led the NBL in field-goal percentage, shooting at a 54.5% clip.
His role as the designated jokester on the Suns roster doesn’t surprise Landale’s former Melbourne United teammate Mitch McCarron.
“He’s super charismatic in the locker room and guys like to be around him,” said McCarron, who vowed to keep his inside jokes with Landale private. “But at the same time, (he) gets serious and he wants to win. He wants to be competitive, so he’s got a good balance.”
After his season in Australia, Landale made the leap to the NBA, signing with San Antonio before last season. In 54 games with the Spurs, his role was sporadic for a team in the midst of a rebuild – he played 11 minutes per game, averaging 2.6 rebounds and 4.9 points on 49.5% shooting.
The Spurs traded Landale to Atlanta in the Dejounte Murray deal just a week before the Hawks moved him to Phoenix. With the trade, the Suns took a gamble on the versatility of Landale’s offensive game. He can immediately impact the game plan with his ability to be a pick-and-pop threat, while also being able to work out of the low post. But Landale’s defense is what ultimately might determine his role in Phoenix.
The loss of center JaVale McGee left fans wondering what the interior defense will look like in Phoenix. McGee signed a three-year, $17.2 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, subtracting one of the premier rim protectors in the entire league from the Suns roster.
In his breakout season in the NBL, Landale led the league in blocks per game, and eventually won the Grand Final Series MVP with five blocks and four steals in the three-game series against Perth.
In a preseason matchup against the Sacramento Kings, Landale stole the show, posting a staggering four blocks and three steals to go along with 17 points on 50% shooting.
Leading up to the season, Suns coach Monty Williams said that Landale’s improved defensive mobility and quick hands could potentially pave his way to a place in the Phoenix rotation.
“He does a good job of keeping his big in front of him but also dealing with the ball and then being able to go up and distract the shot,” said Williams, who is entering his fourth season as head coach. “That’s a skill that we lost in JaVale and now we feel like we have some similarities in Jock.”
Landale, who turns 27 next week, joins a frontcourt group with starter Deandre Ayton, Croatian stretch-five Dario Šarić and lob threat Bismack Biyombo. Šarić and Landale both have the ability to be effective playing the four or the five since each of them can stretch their defenders all the way out to the three-point line.
If opposing teams are forced to consistently guard the Suns bigs on the perimeter, the lack of an inside presence will open up opportunities for guards like Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Landry Shamet and Cam Payne to attack the paint.
“I really enjoyed playing the four,” said Landale. “I have done that when I was with the Boomers (Australian National Team) and bits and pieces with the Spurs. It is a position where, for me, I have the ability to get more open off of screens and work in between cracks.”
While the scheme fit in Phoenix looks promising, it’s Landale’s intangibles that set him apart from other stretch bigs in the NBA. Coaches have made note of the toughness that defines Landale and other players from Australia.
While preparing for the Suns preseason contest against the NBL’s Adelaide 36ers, Monty Williams said that he’s never met a “soft” Australian hooper, and 36ers coach C.J. Bruton says opposing coaches should know what to expect.
“You all know how we play,” Bruton said. “We leave our mark. We respect you, and we’ll shake your hands and have a beer afterwards. But ultimately, we’re competing.”
Landale’s on-court toughness and off-court demeanor will be refreshing in Phoenix’s season-opener against the Mavericks, a team that, just three months ago, was celebrating a blowout win over them at the Footprint Center in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.
It remains to be seen where Landale will be in the rotation in the opener, or at what position, but he expects to leave his imprint on the team no matter where he is on the floor.
“For me, I play such a high intensity brand of basketball, and that is what I am going to do,” Landale said. “It is all the same thing for me compared to prior seasons like setting hard screens, roll, pop and do (the) little things as best as I can.”
Meanwhile, Landale will keep grinding on his teammates to try Australian grub, and he’s already taken his role as a fan favorite in stride – he just hasn’t quite figured out why the fans have taken to him.
“I don’t know if it’s the mohawk or what’s going on with the fan-favorite thing,” he said. “But I’m just being me.
“Maybe I’m just a (expletive), I don’t know,” Landale said.