3 Phoenix Suns Players Show Silver Linings from Chris Paul’s Injury

Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges (Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges (Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images) /

Despite missing their conductor, the Phoenix Suns train kept chugging along out of the All-Star break this year. They managed to go 11-4 without Chris Paul; starting their stretch run on a high note.

The Suns obviously never want to be without their floor general—and are glad to have him back now. However, there were some silver linings in his absence which might help the team going forward.

Paul not being able to suit up impacted the entire Suns lineup, but many pointed to Deandre Ayton as the player who would be most affected. After all, Ayton is Paul’s pick-and-roll mate; rolls account for nearly a third of Ayton’s points total.

However, the exact opposite happened, as Ayton went on an absolute tear even without the Point God.

In those 15 games without CP3, Ayton averaged 19.5 points per game on 67.0 percent shooting—both up from his season averages. He looked as confident as ever shooting the midrange, taking jumpers without hesitation.

He also showed off a new found assertiveness in getting to his spot on the block rather than just settling. All of this culminated in a career night for him two weeks ago, as he dropped 35 points in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Ayton’s confidence on offense could be a huge development for the Suns come playoff time. If the team ever goes through a lull, having the option to turn toward Ayton for a few buckets instead of putting all the pressure on Devin Booker or Paul would be a luxury.

Moving onto The Warden, the Suns also saw great returns with their two-way forward minus Paul. He too took this stretch of games as a personal challenge.

Though he’s not the first name that comes to mind in terms of feeling CP3’s absence, Mikal Bridges was just as dependent on him as anyone on the roster. Prior to Paul’s injury, only 18.2 percent of Bridges’ field goals were unassisted. That number was actually lower than Ayton’s.

But Without Paul, Bridges averaged four more points per game while maintaining his efficiency. His unassisted percentage rose to 23.2 percent during this time. He consistently got to his spot in the midrange and finished over tough defenders. Bridges’ ability to create for himself promises add yet another weapon for the Suns in the playoffs.

The Suns re-acquisition of Torrey Craig at the deadline grabbed a lot of the headlines, and rightfully so, but it was the lesser talked about move in swiping Aaron Holiday that paid immediate dividends for the Suns.

Phoenix quickly thrusted the former Pacer into the backup point guard role with both Paul and Cameron Payne out with injuries. However, he handled it with poise and displayed great focus.

Holiday, like his older brother Jrue, is a menace on defense. His defensive rating of 108.1 rose to fifth on the team during CP3’s absence. He averaged over a steal per game despite playing only 18 minutes each contest. Although not an offensive star by any means, Holiday also hit some big shots when the Suns needed him to.

Now, with Paul and Payne back in commission, Holiday’s minutes completely dried up; he has not logged a minute of action in the last three games.

Regardless, Holiday showed too much promise to relegate him to the bench for the rest of the season. I’m not expecting him to play a big role in the playoffs, but should the Suns need an injection of defense and energy at the guard position, he resembles the most likely candidate to do so.

In that scenario, he plays alongside Paul or Payne—something almost unheard of this year—with Holiday logging only 23 combined minutes with those two. Holiday fills out as a natural point guard, and played almost his entire career at the one, making it prudent for the Suns to get a look at him in an off ball role in the remaining games to test him out. If he can, that gives the Suns a defensive wildcard.

Next. What Could Suns Playoff Rotation Look Like?. dark

Though the revelations from Chris Paul’s absence don’t seem like much on their own, they altogether give the Suns more versatility heading into the playoffs. Every little advantage will matter, and the Suns may have found some during the unlikeliest of times.