Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss is still months shy of his 20th birthday, which helps explain what he says is the biggest lifestyle adjustment he had to make in his first NBA season.
“Just not having to wake up early and get to class,” Chriss said Tuesday before the Suns played the Kings at Golden 1 Center. “You kind of just had to switch your mindset that I’m going to work.”
Chriss, the Pleasant Grove High School product, put in plenty during his first tour around the league. Tuesday marked Chriss’ 75th start of the season for the last-place Suns – the most by an NBA rookie this season and most by a teenager in Suns franchise history.
That meant plenty of chances to show the versatility and athleticism that made him the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft. Entering Tuesday, Chriss ranked eighth among rookies in points per game (9.0), fifth in rebounds (4.2) and sixth in shooting (45 percent).
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His 98 dunks are the most among NBA rookies. The 6-foot-10 forward had also amassed 70 3-pointers and 68 blocks, two blocks shy of becoming the fifth rookie in NBA history to total 70 in both categories.
“He’s been above the rim,” Suns coach Earl Watson said. “And just maturing in front of our eyes as far as a person has been phenomenal. He has some moves around the basket, post moves. He’s another young player we’re developing quickly.”
Phoenix is in full rebuild mode – on March 23, Chriss was the youngest member of what the Elias Sports Bureau confirmed as the youngest starting lineup in NBA history at an average age of 21 years, 14 days. Chriss had one of his best games of the season in a loss, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
The commitment to youth meant Chriss appeared in every game for the Suns this season, as they played their finale Tuesday in the Kings’ final home game.
“Being able to play all 82, that’s big-time for any player, any rookie at the pop-four position,” Watson said. “It’s not like a point guard who’s not getting banged around. Quese is playing every night, and he’s here for all 82, so he’s durable.”
Chriss said getting used to the grind of the NBA was “kind of a shock at first.”
“Being gone (from home) for so long, you start being like, ‘What city am I in?’ or, ‘What day is it?’ ” he said. “You kind of lose track of the days and try to focus on the games and just forget about everything else.”
He said his biggest takeaway from his rookie season has been staying consistent amid the relentless schedule.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, just playing night in and night out, not taking any days off,” he said. “And even just being consistent with my emotions and everything, keeping myself levelheaded and just staying focused.”
Chriss attributed his growing comfort level to a jump in his numbers recently. Since the All-Star Break, he’s averaging 12.3 points on 50.5 percent shooting and making 36.3 percent from 3-point range.
This summer, Chriss plans to split time between a few different places, including Sacramento and Seattle, where he spent one collegiate year at Washington. Asked where he’ll focus his offseason work, he named several areas – shooting, post moves, defensive positioning. He’ll turn 20 on July 2, already with a full season of NBA experience.
“This whole year was fun,” Chriss said. “It was a lot of ups and downs. But that’s what you get in for.”
Home court – To mark their final home game of the season, the Kings passed out shirts to all fans in attendance and had forward Willie-Cauley Stein address the crowd briefly before tip-off. Coach Dave Joerger also talked about the team’s first season playing at Golden 1 Center to the media before the game.
“I think we’ve performed well here,” Joerger said. “Beating Golden State and beating Boston, we got Toronto twice in a 10-day span (once on the road) – those are all top seeds. So I think those are things you look back and enjoy.”
The Kings entered Tuesday with a 16-24 record at home, assured a worse home-court finish than last season, when they won 18 games. Joerger said establishing an advantage at home is a future goal.
“I think there’s a pride in what we want to do going forward,” Joerger said. “We want to be, in my mind, a bunch of guys that care about each other and go out and compete, and try to form a home-court advantage. I think we’re working towards that.”
Sitting out – The Kings were without veterans Arron Afflalo (rest), Darren Collison (migraine), Tyreke Evans (rest) and Kosta Koufos (rest) for Tuesday’s game. Collison joined Rudy Gay and Malachi Richardson on the inactive list.