With the NBA season just past the All-Star break, the Phoenix Suns currently lead the league with a 49-10 record. The Suns have far and away been the best team in the Association, holding the best record with a comfortable 6.5-game lead over the next closest team.
The injury to Chris Paul, who was diagnosed with a right thumb avulsion fracture and will miss six to eight weeks, will hurt the team, but Phoenix is deep enough to hold their spot atop the NBA standings.
The injury to the All-Star point guard may actually be a blessing in disguise. Paul averages 33 minutes per game and leads the league in assists and steals. He had yet to miss a game this season prior to the All-Star break, and now he will enter the stretch run/playoffs fully rested.
Paul out Suns roll!!!!!!!!
— Chris Paul (@CP3) February 25, 2022
Devin Booker found this as a silver lining for the Point God. “I look at the beauty in it. He gets to rest his legs. He gets to get ready for a long postseason that we’re trying to make happen”. With a balanced roster full of scoring, playmaking, and defense, this Suns team will continue to play at a high level.
Paul has made this team a championship contender since being acquired and he has formed one of the best duos and backcourts in the NBA with Booker. Paul’s injury will greatly affect Booker, as he will be expected to take on a much stronger workload and will often be the primary ball handler and playmaker along with Cameron Payne.
Already the number one option on the best team in the league, Booker’s usage rate will climb substantially as he will need to make up for the loss of Paul, a role he has fully delivered in when the opportunity was there.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 25, 2022
In games without Paul since he was acquired, Booker has a perfect 11-0 record while averaging 30.9 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 5.5 RPG (pre-OKC game). Last postseason, the Suns played Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals without Paul and won both. Booker dropped a 40-point triple-double in Game 1.
With the injury to Paul, the most important player on this Phoenix roster other than Booker is Deandre Ayton. With Paul, he has become much more efficient as a scorer, shooting over 62% from the field in both this season and last.
Ayton has excelled in the pick-and-roll while paired with one of the best playmakers the game has ever seen, and he leads the NBA in roll man FG% (min. two attempts per game).
Without Paul, Ayton will have to create offense himself by being more aggressive in the post. His mid-range shot has improved, but most of his work will consist of being down low in a gameplan that the Suns will want to focus on with Ayton as a number two option for an extended amount of time.
The small forward position for the Suns is deep with Bridges starting and Cameron Johnson backing him up. Bridges, one of the best perimeter defenders and slashers in the NBA, had benefited from playing with Paul.
Paul’s excellent court vision matched with Bridges’ IQ pairs perfectly, as they have connected countless times on backdoor cuts, off-ball screen mid-ranges, and corner threes. With Paul out, Bridges may have more opportunities down low, as his post-up game has improved this season with a solid fadeaway due to his 7’1” wingspan.
With his elite defense and willingness to defend the opposing team’s star player, Bridges may be tasked more with guarding the star point guard, as seen when playing Stephen Curry and Golden State Warriors.
Not having their star point guard will of course be detrimental to the team as Paul accounts for almost 40% of the Suns’ assists, but Payne is expected to return from injury shortly after the All-Star Break.
Payne, who has not played since January 22, will be slotted into the starting point guard role for the remainder of the regular season. His shooting splits have drastically dropped from last season as his shots have increased.
Payne won’t be asked to carry the load of the starting lineup as he has done off the bench with Booker, Ayton, and Mikal Bridges starting alongside him.
Aaron Holiday will get extended minutes as the backup point guard with Paul out. Holiday, who was acquired at the trade deadline, has been efficient so far in three games with Phoenix while playing 13 minutes per game ahead of Thursday’s contest against the Thunder. His role as a primary playmaker off the bench will be vital to the rest of the second unit.
Aaron Holiday looking like a QB sneaking the ball through THAT window 🤯 pic.twitter.com/8kDqzUrCJn
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) February 25, 2022
Elfrid Payton’s minutes will likely be reduced to little to none for the final stretch of the season with the acquisition of Holiday and Landry Shamet returning right after the break. Shamet, who has not played since January 30, is shooting career lows in both FG% and 3PT% this season and will retake his role as the backup shooting guard.
With Payne now entering the starting five, Johnson will need to continue to be a scoring spark as one of the main options off the bench. He is having a great season so far with career highs in points, FG% and 3PT%, as well as improvement as a defender.
Johnson, among the league leaders in three-point shooting at 43%, has to develop a chemistry with Holiday like he did with Paul. The same goes for JaVale McGee, as a solid Holiday-McGee pick-and-roll could be devastating for opposing benches.
Torrey Craig and Bismack Biyombo will continue to get minutes in the frontcourt as they contribute more on the defensive end.
The Suns have been the best team in the NBA this season, excelling in the fourth quarter and crunch time. They lead the league with a 24-3 record in clutch games, something that has much to do with Paul. Paul and Booker tend to take over games in the fourth quarter, and they have continued to do that this season.
It will be interesting to see who Monty Williams has on the floor in crunch time in Paul’s absence. He could run the expected starting five with Payne-Booker-Bridges-Crowder-Ayton, or he could go bigger with Booker at the one and throw out Booker-Bridges-Johnson-Crowder-Ayton. Regardless, Booker will be the one with the ball in his hands as he has been one of the clutchest players this season, ranking second in the league in clutch time FG% (min. 30 attempts).
The Suns will have a heavy task for the remainder of the regular season playing without Chris Paul. Booker and Ayton will be looked to carry the load of the offense, Payne will need to play clean and efficient basketball as the starting point guard, and the bench has to play solid minutes when the starters rest. Phoenix will need to keep playing consistent basketball and stay healthy as Chris Paul rests and recovers.
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