Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul Tests Positive For COVID-19, Suns in Trouble?

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns stand as no strangers to adversity, even specifically at the point guard position, with Chris Paul harboring a clearly unpleasant shoulder injury throughout several playoff contests already this postseason. But a far more unfortunate, and quite frankly annoying blockade now poises to seperate Paul from his team.

Essentially winning (or more accurately losing) the COVID-19 lottery, Paul tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday morning, becoming the only player to do so out of the 164 tested. The news came as a sudden surprise to the NBA community, and certainly Paul himself given his fully vaccinated status.

Listed as “out indefinitely” and likely to miss at least Game 1 during the Western Conference Finals, Paul’s pending absence puts the Suns and their championship aspirations somewhat at risk. Now, finding out how many CP3-less games Phoenix must endure comes as the first step in gauging this roadblock’s severity. But for the time being, the Suns need to cut their losses and at least prepare themselves to move forward without the Point God for Game 1.

Chris Paul has been most valuable in the fourth quarter, making it the most likely spot for the Phoenix Suns to miss him the most.

So far this postseason, Paul’s greatest contributions took place during each contest’s final period. Against the Nuggets, Paul averaged 10.8 points per game during the fourth quarter, the most by any player during the Conference Semifinals. He too added 2.5 assists per game while shooting 84.2 percent from the field during the fourth.

Paul played incredibly clean while suffocating the Nuggets with his late scoring as well, never turning the ball over even once and nailing all his attempts at the charity stripe. Collectively, he accounted for 26.2 percent of Phoenix’s fourth quarter offense during the series, far and away the most on his team.

Needless to say, Paul most definitely assumed the “closer” role for the Suns. But now, he leaves Phoenix with a gaping hole to fill consequential to his upcoming vacancy. Replicating all that production comes as no easy task. But luckily for the Suns, they bear at least some experience playing without their floor general.

During the regular season, the Suns played two games with Paul sidelined, and although those two contests combine to offer only a small sample size, Phoenix still managed to average 121 points per game during the stint, even winning both times.

However, the Suns played the Cleveland Cavaliers (22-50) and the San Antonio Spurs (33-39) during said games, both of whom surely lack the prowess which the Utah Jazz (58-24) and Los Angeles Clippers (54-30) possess. Additionally, we know the playoffs bring about an entirely different intensity level than the regular season, leaving the Suns still needing someone to step up significantly with Paul sitting out.

With Paul unavailable for the Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker will need to produce even more offensively.

Devin Booker remains the most obvious candidate to ascend as the team’s next closer, already on a historic pace right now averaging a team high 27.9 points per game this postseason. He too averages the second most touches amongst all Suns just behind Paul at 66 per game, clearly with his imprint already all over the team’s offense.

It might look unfair asking Booker to contribute with even more scoring given his impressive contributions already, but his multiple 30+ point games this postseason make it easy to believe his best performances remain yet to be seen.

Paul’s absence leaves the Phoenix Suns also needing extra help from Cameron Payne.

Additionally, Cameron Payne must elevate his play as well. Often fielding the injured Paul’s minutes mid-way through the first round when his health first became an issue, Payne averaged 15.8 points per game, nearly doubling his regular season production at 8.4 points per game. He proved himself capable before, but he needs to do so again.

As the more primary ball handler, it remains imperative that Payne keeps his poise under this larger spotlight. We know he lacks the ability to create for his team to the extent which Paul does, so expecting him to put up double-digit assists nearly every night feels like too much to ask. However, merely protecting the rock, stretching the floor, and feeding Booker or Deandre Ayton when necessary appears well within his wheelhouse.

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Between Payne’s efforts, and another boost from Booker, Paul’s temporary absence may not hurt the Suns as excessively as one might have initially thought. Few practice resiliency better than the Suns, and this is just another opportunity for them to rekindle their fighting spirit.