Even with Payton, Booker still needs plenty of run at PG

MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 22: Devin Booker
MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 22: Devin Booker /

When Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough swung his brilliant trade of Memphis’ second round pick for Elfrid Payton, it meant that the team’s short-term need of a starting point guard had been filled.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean that their long-term need at point doesn’t still exist.

While opinions regarding the acquisition of Payton as a good move have been met with near unanimous agreement, there is no guarantee that he should be retained, for multiple reasons:

  • If the Suns draft Trae Young or Luka Doncic, then the Phoenix starting backcourt is pretty much set with either one of them paired up next to Devin Booker.
  • Payton will likely need a long-term deal to be retained, one at or around $10M a year (that numbr is purely speculative as it certainly could be more or less, although I would presume on the higher end for sure). That’s not too bad of a contract considering his age. However, money talks and if he has a successful enough final 20+ plus games in Phoenix, another team might look to overpay to steal him away leaving the Suns empty-handed.
  • At the same time, Payton might not be that good. After all, he was traded for a second round pick. Legitimate starting point guards in this league are not given away willy-nilly and being that Orlando (a bottom-feeder team as well) jettisoned him after trading up to acquire him only three summers ago, should tell us something.
  • Brandon Knight is still on the roster at $12M+ a year. Even if the Suns like Payton, knowing that Knight is coming back – and is a statistically better point guard than Payton – letting Knight run the show should be the priority which might be reason enough to push Payton aside and use whatever money needed to re-sign him on a player more likely to come in as a starter.

That being said, even with Payton as the presumed starting point guard for the final 26 (now 24) games this season, Devin Booker still needs to get plenty of run at the position in case Payton is not retained. Even if the Suns do draft a point guard or do make Knight an integral part in the rotation, Booker will still get run as a backup or at the very least as a co-point in a more position-less offense.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

Devin Booker should therefore still be given time to play point guard this season to continue to grow at the position the moment he returns from injury.

There is also another possibility: Devin Booker develops into a superior point guard to both Knight and  Payton. This isn’t to say that he will even be as good as Steph Curry or James Harden, but those two players are living proof that having your best player be the primary ball-handler (especially in these cases where they are natural guards, unlike LeBron James) can lead to significant offensive success. If Devin Booker can make that transition long-term – especially depending on the roster around him after Ryan McDonough’s presumed busy summer – that would be incredibly advantageous to the team to have Booker as their primary ball-handler and thus be able to focus on acquiring talent regardless of passing proficiency, but rather on a player’s ability to shoot.

If Devin Booker can fit into that mold of offensive point guard (he is averaging 6.0 assists since Christmas – only .5 less than Payton’s career-high), then not only does this open a maximum number of offensive opportunities for him, but then minimizes the necessity of having to seek the services of a dedicated point guard in the starting lineup.

Do not get me wrong: despite his teammates short-comings, Elfrid Payton has seriously impressed in his first two outings, his game against the Golden State Warriors being the paramount of what the franchise should expect from him offensively. There is great and legitimate excitement around having Payton on the roster and plenty of hope of what could become of this offense when Devin Booker returns.

But let’s also attempt to reserve judgement as these two games could merely be part of a short flash-in-the-pan run that will fizzle out by the end of the year.

In two games for Phoenix, Elfrid is averaging 24.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game. Astounding  numbers that appear make Payton the steal  of the deadline.

Yet do not forget: not only are these numbers inflated over his career stats (particularly his scoring), but he is also historically not much of a shooter. Granted he is known as a pass-first point guard, but he is not generally an efficient scorer and still needed to develop a more deadly offensive game, not to mention, his defense is far from spectacular. He can certainly improve with growth (he is only 23 at the moment), but it needs to be proven over the last few months of the season that it is coming. He is a career 46.0% shooter from the field, while also only a 30.8% shooter from beyond the arc, and as deconstructed in the defensive link above, he is one of the absolute worst pick-and-role defenders in the entire NBA.

If Elfrid Payton works out; if he can be the point guard of the future; if he can be the starting point guard when the Suns finally make it back to the playoffs and begin to make runs to the Finals; if he only continues to get better and better, the Valley of the Suns will explode with excitement. To steal a quality starting point guard with a mid-second round pick, and still have the ability to draft a star this summer, trade for or sign another (or more) as well, and cross the point guard position of the list off need, would be an incredible boost to morale within the fanbase, the locker room, and the front office.

Next: Previewing Devin Booker's second 3-point shooting contest

There is just guarantee at this moment, and the chance that Suns fans will be happy he was here, but not disappointed that he is gone. Therefore, do provide the franchise with protection from this possibility, Devin Booker must still get run at point this season, continue to improve himself, continue to build confidence and rapport with his teammates, and hone his craft.

Devin Booker is still the franchise’s centerpiece and needs the ball in his hands. With or without Elfrid Payton, he needs to get as much time with it as possible. Playing point is the best way of making that happen, and getting him the continued reps will only make him better.