Here is how the Suns can still use Chris Paul vs. the Lakers

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images /

The Phoenix Suns should not play Chris Paul tonight, until his injured shoulder no longer hurts his game, but we all know Paul will play.

The Phoenix Suns can still use Chris Paul even if he is injured

Suns coach Monty Williams made the right decision to replace Paul with Cameron Payne down the stretch. Just because Paul can “gut it out” does not mean he should play. The Lakers made him an offensive liability in Game 2 when their defense used Paul’s man to trap Devin Booker.

Chris Paul injury. Get updates on injury status and CP3 injury history here. light

In the first quarter, the Suns turned the ball over seven times with the Lakers scoring 12 points off those turnovers. Paul had only one turnover in that timeframe, but his inability to shoot the ball is the reason the Lakers were using Paul’s man, Dennis Schroder, as a one-man trap to pressure the other four Suns players into turnovers.

The Suns ability to take care of the ball (only six turnovers the rest of the way!) improved considerably when Cam Payne was brought into the game in place of Paul since the Lakers could no longer use Paul’s man to always trap the ball.

But if Chris Paul can walk, Chris Paul will play.

Chris Paul knows the time for him to win a championship is now. The same ego and pride that made Paul a superstar is the same thing that will keep him on the court, even though his limitations hurt the team more often than not.

Moreover, Paul knows Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton have already picked up the slack so he is compelled to help them that much more in any way he can. Paul also knows Booker and Ayton’s superstar-level performances have only kept the Suns competitive at minimum.

In both games, Booker scored over 30 points while Ayton has averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds. Cam Payne’s monster game (19 points off the bench!) was the difference between a close loss and a blowout.

Related: Phoenix Suns showed determination in Game 2 rally

There is not much more Booker and Ayton can do to carry the Suns offense. Unless if Payne can repeat his Game 2 performance, Coach Williams will have to go deep into his bag of tricks to manufacture enough points to keep the Suns within striking distance for Game 3.

How can the Suns keep up with the Lakers? The Suns must go way, way outside the box in their half court sets on offense to use Chris Paul effectively.

Here is how the Suns can use Chris Paul

The Phoenix Suns should use Chris Paul as a center on offense. If Paul cannot dribble or shoot the ball due to his injury, he can still create passing lanes and set nasty screens from the elbows.

This is not the first time a team has used a guard to play center on offense. Suns legend and current Brooklyn Nets Head Coach Steve Nash often uses a little-known guard by the name of Bruce Brown as a de facto center on offense.

While not a great shooter or playmaker, Brown still has value as a guard on offense. Nash has Brown set ball screens for James Harden and Kyrie Irving with the understanding defenses will double-team Harden/Irving and leave Brown open, who is an adept finisher at the rim.

The Suns can use Paul in a similar way.

Here are wrinkles that the Suns can run with Chris Paul at center

Suns coach Monty Williams has a lot of creative Horns sets (Horns is when there are two post players at the elbows). With Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul at the elbows, Coach Williams can be creative in setting up the Booker-Ayton pick-and-roll at the top of the key.

When Paul is at the elbow, Jae Crowder will bring the ball up in this scenario. Crowder can draw Anthony Davis away from the basket at the immediate point of attack. Booker will be positioned at one of the corners so he can get the ball on the move.

The Suns can run enough wrinkles from the Horns set to generate the offense needed to keep them in Game 3 for as long as possible.

Here are a few actions the Suns can run with Paul in the game.

Paul sets a hard screen on Booker or Ayton’s man before the Booker-Ayton pick-and-roll: 
As a guard, Paul can get away with setting questionable screens. The intent behind using Paul as a screener is that it gives either Booker or Ayton’s man an extra roadblock to clear before defending the Booker-Ayton pick-and-roll.

Of course, this also includes Cam Payne in place of Booker. Paul’s screens can help Payne turn the corner like on this possession.

Like with setting up open three-point shooters, the Lakers playing way off Paul can give Payne a head start before he has to turn the corner on the pick-and-roll.

Paul sets off-ball screens for Cam Johnson and the Suns other 3-point shooters:
Cameron Johnson is the hot hand for the Suns, having knocked several key corner threes. The Lakers will adjust and deny Johnson those open looks.

They will also back off on Paul because they perceive him as a non-threat on offense. There is an opportunity for Paul to set screens when this happens. Whenever a defense is playing way off somebody, that player has more space to set screens for the other four guys on the court.

Credit to Zona Hoops for compiling a (brief) shooting montage for Cameron Johnson in this series.

The Lakers won’t have enough time to send over Paul’s man to jump out on the shooter because he will be too far back playing Paul as a total non-shooter.

This sets up shooters like Cam Johnson to get open looks in rhythm.

Post up Paul at either the elbow or on the block:
Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges (a savvy off-ball cutter) can run split cuts (where two players cut alongside the post player with the ball) to set each other up while Paul commands the offense from the elbow or on the block.  Ayton can also dive hard to the opposite block to duck in for a post-up opportunity.

The off-ball movement will at least disrupt the Lakers rotations. Then Devin Booker or Cam Payne can attack a Lakers defense scrambling to catch up.

Have the weakside corner shooter cut backdoor when Paul-Ayton pick-and-roll:
Chris Paul can still run the show on offense. Torrey Craig was smart to cut backdoor whenever his man slid over to cut off Ayton.

In this case, Torrey Craig’s man went all the way to the middle of the court to stop Ayton on the roll. Notice how Ayton delayed his roll to the basket for a split second so Craig’s backdoor cut can materialize.

If the initial backdoor cut is not there, Ayton will be open around the free-throw line. For the Suns to win Game 3, Ayton will have to hit a few of those midrange shots.

There are so many creative ways the Suns can use Paul without expecting him to shoot or dribble on offense. Ultimately, manufacturing enough offense through Paul gives Devin Booker enough of a rest to carry the team down the stretch.

Devin Booker had 30 points but was absolutely exhausted as Game 2 slipped away from the Suns down the stretch. Obviously, Booker cannot carry the Suns playmaking duties by himself.

With Chris Paul severely limited, Booker has no choice. Or so we think. The Suns still have another avenue to generate offense while keeping Booker fresh.

The Suns just need to use Chris Paul, an old school point guard, in new school ways.

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