3 Factors to Dictate how the Suns will Function without Chris Paul

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns Life Without Chris Paul: Players to Watch

You cannot just recreate Chris Paul out of thin air. He remains a one of a kind player even at 36-years-old. This truth leaves Monty Williams and the Suns with no choice but to lean a bit more on their other players from here on out.

Devin Booker

After Paul went back to the locker room during Wednesday’s win vs the Rockets, “Point Book” made a reappearance.

The All-Star shooting guard registered 15 points, five assists, and two turnovers in 21 minutes left to play after Paul exited. He finished the contest at +9 and helped Phoenix overcome a 67-59 halftime deficit.

Going forward, expect Booker to continue getting more touches each game and relish the opportunity, as he reassumes that primary creator role which he spent his early days on the Suns fulfilling.

So far this season, Booker finds himself averaging 4.5 assists per game, but again, that was mainly with Paul on the floor. But now without his partner in crime, watch for Booker to hover north of the six assists per game mark, as this top flight offense begins to shape-shift around his talents.

From a scoring standpoint, Booker currently averages at 25.5 points per game. Playing with the utmost confidence, he also finds himself averaging a career-high 20.8 field goal attempts per game.

Those numbers naturally promise to increase with Paul gone as well. I expect Booker to establish an early rhythm and flow for the style of play he will have to exude in taking the reins away from Paul, eventually pushing his scoring numbers for the year into career-high territory. Doing so might also further his MVP argument, which remains something to keep an eye on.

From an efficiency standpoint though, Booker’s shooting splits have hit a snag over the past few weeks, in large part due to his team’s backcourt injuries which forced Monty to play him extra minutes.

After two weeks into a rotation without Landry Shamet and Cameron Payne, fatigue clearly caught up to Booker. The All-Star break could not have come at a better time for him, as it should serve as the perfect refresher for him to come back with a clear conscience in the role he’ll be playing for the next two months.

Mikal Bridges

The Warden has averaged 19.4 points per game over his last 11 contests while posting highly efficient .615/.340/.833 shooting splits. His ability to hit self-created shots has helped boost those numbers more than anything else.

Bridges typically earns his points by attacking defenses that are not yet set or late on their rotations, but more recently, he’s been able to pick out and abuse his matchups in the half court as well.

Prior to the aforementioned 11-game stretch, Bridges averaged 2.1 points on 2.3 pull-up jumpers per game, shooting at a 45.2 percent clip. But on this 11-game ride, he’s up to 2.9 points on 2.6 pull-up attempts per game, shooting at a 55.2 percent clip.

His rim finishing over that period has been near perfect as well, going 32-34 on shots right around the cylinder. He also finds himself shooting a smoking hot 68.0 percent from the midrange.

Having also scored 18+ points in four straight games, Bridges has the longest streak of his career by those parameters. He just keeps finding easy ways to score, often coming around off-ball screens and either pulling up or getting to his spots in the midrange to convert.

The pace at which Bridges plays at within the half court indicates that:

  • He’s reestablished his touch and feel within the Suns offensive sets
  • He’s acquired the prerequisite comfort in self-creation needed to function with confidence and consistency
  • His previously dislocated right pinky is feeling a whole lot better, or he’s at least grown comfortable with it.

Whether or not this is true third option level play remains to be seen, but Bridges’s growth on the attack and his realization of that growth are both here to stay. In all of this, the touch on his turnarounds, especially over his right shoulder, has been exquisite, even becoming a staple in the Phoenix offense.

As per usual, Bridges also continues to burn teams while road running in transition. Even his game in that entity has grown nuanced however, as he has a feel for when to duck out to the corner for a triple, or seal early in transition for hit ahead layups as he pins opposing guards under the basket.

Oh yeah, and Bridges still remains an absolute menace at the floor’s opposite end, looking more and more like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate each day.

Bridges’s ability to maintain that defensive effectiveness even while improving other parts of his game makes him a unique talent with a high-game IQ, both of which promise to help the Suns stay afloat without Paul.

Deandre Ayton

Deandre Ayton earning an opportunity to prove to the world that he can function at a high level without Chris Paul on the floor might be the greatest silver lining stemming from this whole situation.

In doing so, he needs to throw out the “old reliable” dynamic of pick-and-roll offense and instead focus on his own abilities to create shots while dialing up his aggression.

First and foremost, I expect to see more assertiveness and consistency on his touches, setting a tone for what might come in the playoffs, and potentially even beyond (amazing that there’s still ambiguity about his future with this franchise).

Ayton possessing the highest field goal percentage of all big men from the short midrange area indicates how assertive and sure of himself he’s been already this year. From that zone, Ayton shoots it at a 65.0 percent rate on the second highest volume of attempts compared to his fellow centers.

Paul being out opens the door for him to build on that and re-establish “DominAyton,” who is the proverbial pit bull on a chain as displayed in his pregame antics with JaVale McGee.

I want to see Ayton average north of 18 points and 11 rebounds during this period without Paul. His blocks and steals feel destined for an uptick as well based on what Ayton has said about his defensive ideals in the past.

Ayton already does the little things well at the defensive end. He always positions himself to challenge shots and bother even smaller guards off the dribble, even if not always coming away with a block or steal.

But if Ayton can begin to do that extra stuff, such as coming away with those steals and blocks, that will set him up to impress even more, as his entire game hopefully snowballs into the playoffs.