To truly contend, the Suns need Cam Payne’s best season

For all the discuss the beginning lineup of the Phoenix Suns and their backup middle Dario Saric coming back from harm, one title hardly ever discussed this week is backup level guard Cameron Payne.

And but, the Suns possibilities at rivalry this season are a lot more depending on the high quality of play from Payne than ever sooner than.

Sure, we will be able to discuss getting extra play-initiation out of non-point-guards like Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric and Deandre Ayton, however that best is going thus far in the larger scheme.

“At the end of the day, we are who we are,” Chris Paul mentioned in easy phrases this week, after seeking to cross in conjunction with the concept that extra avid gamers will likely be dealing with the ball at the starting of possessions.

Even Monty Williams, who’s going to check out mightily to get Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson into extra alternatives to carry the ball up and start up offense, couldn’t lend a hand however mood expectancies with “ball handling is about more than dribbling.”

We can (optimistically now not however most definitely will) lament the lack of Frank Kaminsky’s excessive put up passing to corners and cutters.

We can grind over why GM James Jones didn’t cross out this summer time and get every other excessive degree playmaker for the 1/3 guard position.

We can hope and pray Chris Paul used his lengthy summer time to building up sufficient power in his frame to final all the approach thru the common season AND playoffs this 12 months. And, whilst we’re at it, we will be able to hope the Suns put CP in isolation between playoff video games so he doesn’t get COVID for the (reportedly) 1/3 12 months in a row at the worst imaginable time.

But the base line is that the Suns need the very best of Cam Payne in the event that they need to be contenders in 2023.

They were extra unhealthy in the common season and playoffs when Payne performed like the best backup level guard on the flooring, and so they’ve suffered — particularly in the playoffs — when Payne is useless.

For his section, Payne boils it down to 1 phrase.

“Just being consistent,” Payne says of the distinction between nice Payne and dangerous Payne. “Now one of my goals is just to be consistent the whole year. That’s how I can stay on the floor.”

Regular season

Last season, the Suns have been 18-3 (86%) when Payne made a minimum of 44% of his photographs. In the ones 21 video games, he averaged 23.8 mins, 14.6 issues (56% taking pictures, 51% on threes), 5.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 turnovers. That’s the Cam Payne who can let Chris Paul get the relaxation he wishes with out the Suns suffering to discover a rhythm.

And when he made lower than 44% of his photographs, the Suns have been worse. Their report used to be effective on account of everybody else on the roster — 28-9 (75%) — however Payne used to be so much much less of issue. He nonetheless averaged 20 mins in keeping with sport as a result of the Suns didn’t have every other selection, and publish simply 8.6 issues (31% taking pictures, 27% on threes), 4.7 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 turnovers in the ones 37 video games.

Notice the totals: he shot 44% or upper in best 36% of his appearances final 12 months. Contrast that to the 12 months sooner than, the place Payne made 44% of his photographs in 58% of his video games. The Suns have been 25-10 (71% win price) when Payne made 44+% vs. 17-8 (68%) when he shot worse.

When Cam Payne performs neatly, the Suns are a greater workforce. Last 12 months used to be now not a nice 12 months for Cam.

After signing a $19 million, 3-year contract, he were given the second-most enjoying time of his profession (22 mins in keeping with sport), whilst posting profession highs in issues (10.8) and assists (4.9), but in addition committing career-high turnovers (1.8) and private fouls (2.1). His taking pictures numbers have been a Suns-low (41%, 33%), but he took a career-high selection of photographs in keeping with sport (10.1).

In phrases of complex stats (PER, TS%, and so on.) his numbers principally regressed nearer to his pre-Suns days… , the days that ran him out of the league for a 12 months. No marvel 36-year outdated Chris Paul performed approach too many mins (32.9 in keeping with sport, his maximum in 8 years) and used to be gassed by means of the moment spherical of the playoffs.

Paul performed 30 or extra mins in 49 of his 65 video games this previous 12 months. That’s simply approach too many mins for a 36-year outdated, however the Suns wanted it in part on account of Payne’s up-and-down play and in part as a result of the Suns wanted his wizardry to masks over the lack of a number of necessary avid gamers in December and January, together with Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder. Sure, give credit score to Bismack Biyombo for being in a position to head from the day he signed, however give larger credit score to CP for making him glance higher than ever.

Overall, even though, the Suns have been fairly much less a success with CP enjoying 30+ mins as opposed to nights he didn’t have to hold this sort of load.

  • Suns report with CP enjoying 30+ mins: 37-10 (78%)
  • Suns report with CP enjoying below 30: 16-2 (89%)

This tells me that good-Cam = more-rested-CP3 = extra wins.

While the Suns led the league in level differential final 12 months — which means, over 82 video games, they’d the greatest cushion in issues scored vs. issues allowed at +7.5 in keeping with sport — my entire recollection of the season went like this: Suns take first-quarter lead, Suns lose lead by means of overdue 1/3 quarter, Paul and Book take over and Suns blow opponent out the remainder of the method to create a soft win margin. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s very other from the season sooner than, the place I a lot more regularly recall the bench unit kicking ass in the 1/3 quarter, then turning it over to the starters to carry the lead for the win.

Look, the Suns have been nice final 12 months it doesn’t matter what. They even went 11-6 with out Paul totally, together with a handful of the ones video games with out Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder both.

But those numbers display that the Suns have been at their best when CP may just play only a contact much less mins as a result of Cameron Payne performed neatly sufficient to earn the distinction. Two seasons in the past, when Payne used to be higher, Paul best performed 30+ mins in 65% of the Suns common season video games. This previous 12 months, he needed to play 30+ mins in 75% in their video games. Coming off the moment consecutive quick offseason because of the pandemic, and it’s no marvel Paul ran out of gasoline.


In the playoffs, bench avid gamers typically play worse as a result of rotations are tighter, defenses are harder and your matchup is a greater participant than you’re used to dealing with in the common season.

The 2021 playoffs have been a coming-out birthday party for Cam Payne. He crammed in admirably for Chris Paul when Paul ignored time in the first spherical and Conference Finals. In 22 appearances, he averaged 19 mins in keeping with sport on 42%/36% splits, with a three:1 lend a hand:turnover ratio. Famously, his 29 level, 9 lend a hand, 0 turnover line in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals as the starter in position in Chris Paul (COVID) helped the Suns take a 2-0 lead in the sequence on their method to their first Finals in 28 years.

The 2022 playoffs have been a whole dud for Payne. He used to be out of varieties the entire time, ignored as regards to each and every shot he took, and performed best 13 mins in keeping with sport on 29%/16% splits. He performed dangerous sufficient that he were given best 4 mins of enjoying time in each and every of Games 5 and six of the Dallas sequence, and best were given as much as 12 mins in Game 7 on account of the blowout. The Suns have been out of the playoffs by means of the finish of the moment spherical.

Other components have been concerned in fact, however the takeaway here’s that Chris Paul used to be hardly totally wholesome and enjoying his best ball in either one of the ones playoffs, and the Suns have been higher when Cam Payne made the maximum of his enjoying time in Paul’s absence.

Now what?

This 12 months, the drawback will get even larger: Cam Payne’s 22 mins in keeping with sport need to extend this season.

Paul flat-out must play fewer mins, and the Suns don’t have any actual choices in the back of Payne. I do know, you’re considering it might’t worsen than Elfrid Payton, however oh sure it might. The backup level guard possibility in the back of Payne (or instead of Payne) this 12 months is… no person. The Suns don’t have a third-string level guard on the lively roster. Frank Jackson (1 lend a hand in keeping with sport over 4 years in the NBA) is on a coaching camp deal, whilst Duane Washington Jr. (1.8 assists in keeping with sport for Indiana as a rookie final 12 months) is on a two-way contract. Neither is an actual level guard. They’re simply now not tall sufficient to be full-time taking pictures guards.

So the Suns need the best of Cam Payne. And Cam Payne wishes the best of Cam Payne too, making an allowance for his contract is principally expiring at the finish of this 12 months.

One large issue for Payne, doubtlessly, is how his pick-and-pop sport meshes so neatly with Dario Saric. Saric units robust selections in opposition to the ball handler’s defender, then pops to the best of the key, forcing Payne’s smaller defender out with him and leaving Dario’s larger defender on an island to check out to prevent Payne’s force. Payne used to be markedly higher in scoring the 12 months Dario used to be wholesome.

“It helped my game a little bit,” Payne says with a large smile, of enjoying with Dario. “Going against ‘fives’ a little bit more. Dario gives a different dynamic. It’s gonna be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

For what it’s price, Payne brings the proper perspective and fireplace each day. That’s what were given him again into the NBA and what is going to lend a hand him keep right here as neatly.

“Ain’t much more fuel I need,” Payne mentioned, of the sting of that playoff run serving to him figure out tougher for this 12 months. “Just being in the NBA is enough fuel for me.”

While Payne will make $6 million this 12 months, the Suns dangle a workforce possibility on the 2023-24 season with best $2 million assured to Payne if he’s launched subsequent June. That $2 million successfully approach not anything to the Suns, since that’s about the league minimal for a veteran fifteenth guy.

Again, the Suns will tout the playmaking talents of non level guards of their offensive scheme, however the entire scheme depends upon a lead playmaker to run the display. And the best actual choices at lead playmaker are Chris Paul and Cameron Payne.

For his sake and the Suns sake, the Suns need Cam to carry the Payne this 12 months.

“This is home,” Payne says brazenly about Phoenix. He’s been supporting all the native groups, and stayed on the town virtually the entire summer time. “I’m just eager to play.”

He used to be wired when the Kevin Durant rumors have been floating round this summer time, anxious that he’d be despatched to Brooklyn for wage matching functions.

“Thank the lord in heaven it didn’t happen,” Payne mentioned with aid. “I just feel like I finally found a place I call home, and I don’t want to leave.”

Let’s all hope we see the best of Payne this 12 months in the Valley.

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