Kyle Macy, the second-year guard of the Phoenix Suns who looks fragile next to most of his contemporaries, actually plays tougher than his size. Among those who make their living ducking elbows in the National Basketball Association, that's a little like being compared to Bob Cousy.
This isn't to say that Macy has Cousy's ability to create openings in the twinkling of an eye where a moment before none seemed to exist, only that Kyle pours all of himself into every play, the same way Bob did. His consistency so far this year has been remarkable, and his outside shooting as dependable as anyone's in the league.
Prior to the start of this season, Phoenix coach John MacLeod, whose winning philosophy has always been based on keeping fresh personnel on the court by substituting frequently, decided to reverse that policy in regard to his backcourt.
Macy had such a fine rookie season last year that MacLeod planned to divide up the 96 minutes of playing time available to his backcourt among three guards instead of using his usual four-man rotation.
That meant that even though Walter Davis and Dennis Johnson would continue to start for Phoenix, Kyle probably would get to play just as many minutes coming off the bench. Actually that philosophy is working, except that one name was changed when Davis broke an elbow and Macy moved in as Johnson's partner, with Dudley Bradley in the backup role.
''It is not unusual for a kid who played well in college to come into pro basketball and make a significant contribution his first year,'' explained Suns' assistant coach Al Bianchi. ''It happens all the time and it has happened to this team before with guys like Davis and Alvan Adams.
''But Kyle went beyond that, because no matter what the situation was last year he never seemed rattled or out of place,'' Bianchi continued. ''We'd even set him up for the last shot in a clutch situation sometimes and it wasn't like we didn't have other, more experienced players to whom we could have given the ball.
''But this kid is smart, fundamentally sound, has a knowledge of the game that goes well beyond his years, and the instincts not to force a shot when it isn't there. I mean we never ran into a situation last year when this kid wasn't ready, and that's amazing for a rookie. Looking back, I think we made a mistake by not playing him more than we did.''
Macy is more believable once you've mined his background and discovered he was All-Indiana, All-America, and all-everything when he played under his father , Robert, at Peru High School. As a senior, he averaged nine rebounds, six assists, and 35 points a game, including a career high 51.
''While I've heard stories about kids who played under their fathers getting everybody in the family uptight, including themselves, I never felt that way,'' Macy says. ''My dad and I have always been very close, and whenever I've had any kind of problem I've always taken it either to him or my mother or both.''
''I've always had this feeling that my father already knew my potential as a basketball player and that he pushed me because that was what I needed at the time,'' Kyle continued. 'I learned from him and I profited by it, and at the same time it was fun. But when scholarship offers began to come in my senior year, he told me he felt I should make my own decision and I did.''
Even though Macy finally settled on Purdue, the program wasn't what he had expected when he got there. So he transferred to the University of Kentucky after his freshman year, red-shirted for a season, and later played on the Wildcats' 1977-78 NCAA championship team.
The Suns' scouting staff was so impressed with Kyle that they made him the team's No. 1 choice in the 1979 NBA draft as a future - the term used to describe players whose original class is graduating but still have athletic eligibility left. And Macy made Phoenix look good by starring for the gold medal-winning US team in the 1979 Pan-Am Games, then being named Kentucky's most valuable player in 1980, as well as a consensus All-America.
''I think what helped me most during my rookie year was the fact that MacLeod played me in all 82 of the Suns' games,'' Kyle said. ''Without that kind of continuity, you don't improve much.
''For example, at first I found so many hands in my face when I got the ball in close that I had trouble getting my shot away. I solved that by simply extending my range a little and shooting quicker.''
Said Bianchi, in a kind of final tribute to Macy: ''This kid is probably going to double his scoring average this year, and that's what everyone will talk about. But as a former guard myself, who always worked at stopping the other guy, I'm really impressed with how much more defense Kyle is playing this season.''