Mike James' game-winner made the Suns forget Eric Bledsoe for one night

For one night, the Phoenix Suns didn’t miss veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Undrafted 27-year-old rookie Mike James started in Bledsoe’s place, and in the clutch he executed the finishing moves on the Sacramento Kings. Not only did James, now playing on a two-way contract, score 18 points and dish seven assists in 27 minutes on Monday night, he also netted the deciding points on a left-handed floater off the glass in the final minute of a 117-115 win over the Kings.

James sent the Suns home with their first victory of the young season, just a day after the franchise appeared in complete disarray. On Sunday, Phoenix fired head coach Earl Watson after three games — including a pair of losses by more than 40 points — in a move that coincided with Bledsoe tweeting, “I don’t wanna be here,” and GM Ryan McDonough declaring, “He won’t be with us going forward.”

In his first start since Bledsoe pressed send on his nuclear tweet, James may have secured a starting spot for the near future with this bucket over Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox with 15 seconds remaining:


James’ ascendance began two years ago in the 2015 summer league, but his long-overdue emergence is significant for several reasons. He may be on the verge of becoming the first two-way contract player to carve out a starting role, even if the Suns acquire a point guard for the future in a Bledsoe deal. According to ESPN’s Law Murray, James has already played more than twice as many minutes, 84, as the second-most active two-way contract player, and for good reason.

The 6-foot-1 James makes up for what he lacks in size with athleticism as a quick-twitch, explosive ball-handler:


And he still towers over 5-foot-8 backup Tyler Ulis, who was excellent in Bledsoe’s stead at the tail end of last season. It was a little surprising that Watson and interim head coach Jay Triano elevated James over Ulis, but the 27-year-old has rewarded the coaching staff’s faith by being a steady hand amid chaos during the first week of the season. With all that said, James is also lacking the upside for which a team that has a vested interest in landing at the bottom half of the lottery should aspire.

Conversely, as someone with all of three NBA games under his belt, his early success may be fleeting. Fortunately, the Suns have time to decide about James. After 45 games, the organization can either allow him to become a free agent or convert his two-way deal into a standard one-year NBA contract.

For now, though, they’ll savor the moment and the satisfaction of winning despite Bledsoe’s banishment.

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