As the season winds down and the Phoenix Suns move ever closer to beginning their first playoff run in over a decade the outlines for what the team is going to look like at that time are starting to take shape.
In big-time games, including the team’s playoff-clinching victory over the LA Clippers, the rotations have begun to tighten to nearly the level that might be expected in the playoffs. One player in that group whose time has not been affected is Cam Payne.
When the playoffs begin Cam Payne’s role for the Phoenix Suns will grow to the biggest it has been since he joined the team in the bubble.
Recently Payne has spent some time sharing the court with both Devin Booker and Chris Paul at the same time. While unlikely, this is something that could be used in the playoffs with a shortened rotation when shot creation, especially in isolation, is so important. Checking in at over 40% from behind the arc on 2.6 attempts a game, Payne is also one of the best floor spacing and catch and shoot options the Suns can deploy.
That shot-making could become more important in a different role that is more likely to occur, and one that Payne has been filling at times recently. That is being the true backup to Booker and playing shooting guard with Paul on the court. These are the minutes that are usually occupied by either Jevon Carter or Langston Galloway, but have been played by Payne at points in games where Monty Williams shortens his bench.
The reason Payne is going to be so dynamic and important for the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs is that he has the versatility to play in either of these newer situations or working in the backcourt with Booker like he has been for most of the year.
The biggest area of concern in the playoffs would be if Payne were left as the only ball-handler on the court. His steady passing and isolation scoring is more than passable for the regular season, but would likely not hold up in the playoffs as a primary option for a lineup.
Unless there are injuries or serious foul trouble it would be surprising if one of Paul or Booker were not on the court at all times. With that being the case Payne’s ability to fill in gaps on the court makes him a great option to be the third and only guard off the bench come playoff time.
There are not any flaws in Payne’s game that keep him from being able to effectively share the floor with Booker or Paul. He has the size and length to defend one’s and two’s reasonably well, he can create for others without being prone to turnovers, and he can move and shoot off the ball at a more than respectable clip.
Part of the reason all of these things are true is that Payne has been in a role that keeps him at under 20 minutes per game, playing mostly against bench units. If his minutes ballooned into the 30’s some of the effectiveness would wear off, which is fine because that is not what he needs to do.
Come playoff time Payne’s role for the Phoenix Suns might be changing and growing. Whether or not he lives up to the billing could play a big part in the kind of success the Suns have. Because of his play since joining the team, there is good reason to believe he will continue to thrive.