Why the Suns Need to Keep Devin Booker at Point over Cameron Payne

Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker, Cameron Payne. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker, Cameron Payne. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

The Phoenix Suns are already feeling the effects of Chris Paul’s absence. Having dropped two of their first three games, they find themselves stumbling out of the All-Star Break, even despite Devin Booker’s best efforts while filling in at point guard.

Having upped his assist and steal per game averages across this stretch, Booker’s work at both ends remains something to behold, especially for a guy playing out of position.

But this morning, we learned that Booker will miss tonight’s game vs the Portland Trail Blazers and possibly more after falling into health and safety protocols. Cameron Payne’s return now feels like a “must” rather than any sort of a bonus.

However, once Booker does return, it might be fruitful for the Suns to move him back into the point guard spot and drop Payne into a sixth man role. Although Payne came through big time for the Suns the last time Paul went out, the “Point Book” experience promises to wield even better results.

Why the Phoenix Suns will need Devin Booker to reassume point guard duties once he returns

Phoenix’s bench stands as the biggest culprit behind their weak start out of the break. In their first three games, the Suns bench averaged a paltry 20.7 points per game on just 32.4 percent shooting. Both of those marks are the worst in the league. The points drop off is particularly alarming, as the Suns average 35.6 bench points per game on the season, which ranks in the middle of the pack.

Though they’re starters, Booker and Paul have their minutes staggered so one of them is almost always on the floor, allowing each to get some time with the bench players. This has kept the group effective despite Payne sitting out the last month and a half. But now with Paul being injured, the Suns have lost that ability.

If the bench is out on the floor without Booker, then there is no creator to help get open looks for everyone else. Elfrid Payton’s minutes have dropped coming out of the All-Star Break due to his general ineffectiveness, racking up two DNP’s. Aaron Holiday is still new to the system and the team, so it’s unfair to expect him to make that kind of impact already. Landry Shamet has struggled mightily all season and does not resemble the playmaker Phoenix wanted him to be.

Even though Payne has had an up and down season to this point, he will be a boon for this team with the playmaking he brings.

In stark contrast to the bench’s struggles, the Suns starting lineup with Point Book has thrived. That five man lineup boasts an impressive +13 net rating. For context, the Suns typical starting lineup with Paul owns a +6.6 net rating on the season. It’s a very small sample size to be sure, but there’s no reason to think that lineup will be anything less than dynamic going forward.

Cameron Johnson, as he’s done before, has fit in with the starters seamlessly, providing spacing, cutting, and defense. Booker, as mentioned, has thrived in his new role as the point man and has kept his scoring punch to boot with averages of 28.3 points and 8.0 assists per game.

We’ve seen Booker shoulder a workload like this before, even for entire seasons, so there should not be much worry about it wearing on him. Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Jae Crowder have also performed well coming out of the break.

While the Suns can opt to insert Payne into the starting lineup and stagger him so he also gets time with the bench unit, it would be wiser to keep him in his usual role and get him as many minutes with that unit as possible. Doing so would also keep Johnson in the starting lineup, where he resembles a much better fit at the moment. Johnson returning to his reserve role would not alleviate the playmaking issues plaguing the team right now, but Payne off the bench would.

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While the Suns will not be getting Chris Paul back for quite some time, they may have found the next best thing with Point Book. Even if Payne were to hold the reins at point guard for a bit when Booker does come back, his playmaking will still be a vital part of the Suns march towards the playoffs.