Cameron Payne’s form has presented the Phoenix Suns with a problem

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul, Cameron Payne. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul, Cameron Payne. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Cameron Payne’s first year with the Phoenix Suns exceeded expectations, providing valuable contributions as the team made an historic run to the NBA Finals.

After an underwhelming start to his NBA career, after which he played overseas, Cameron Payne signed with the Phoenix Suns prior to the 2020 Bubble in Orlando. He averaged 11 points (shot 52% from three-point range) and three assists during the team’s eight-game winning streak.

This earned him a roster spot for the next season. During the 2021-22 season, he averaged eight points and four assists in 18 minutes per game. His slashing, perimeter scoring, and playmaking really aided the Suns’ bench and contributed to their great regular season.

His production proved to be valuable, and his herky-jerky playstyle took teams by surprise throughout the year. During the postseason, he became a starter in the absence of Chris Paul to begin the Western Conference Finals.

Payne performed incredibly well, dropping a monumental 29-point, nine-assist performance in game two against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But individual games like this can often cloud our judgement regarding a player’s consistent contributions. His efficiency as a scorer peaked during the 2021 regular season, before absolutely plummeting in every future setting.

Here is a comparison of Payne’s true shooting percentages, his field goal percentages at the rim, and his efficiency from beyond the arc.

True Shooting percentages

2021 Regular Season: 60.2%
2021 Postseason: 51.0% (-9.2)

2022 Regular Season: 50.0%
2022 Postseason: 35.2% (-14.8)

Payne was the least efficient scorer of the entire 2022 playoffs.

Field-goal percentages from within three feet

2021 Regular Season: 66.7%
2021 Postseason: 55.1% (-11.6)

2022 Regular Season: 53.6%
2022 Postseason: 37.5% (-16.1)

Three-Point Percentages

2021 Regular Season: 44.0%, 37.3% on pull-up three-point attempts
2021 Postseason: 36.2% (-7.8), 18.2% (-19.1) on pull-up attempts

2022 Regular Season: 33.6%, 29.9% on pull-up attempts
2022 Postseason: 16.7% (-16.9), 28.6% (-1.3) on pull-up attempts

Phoenix Suns, Cameron Payne
Phoenix Suns, Cameron Payne. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

Cameron Payne was played off the floor during the 2022 NBA playoffs, leaving Phoenix Suns’ fans very uneasy about their backup point-guard situation.

Payne’s ‘playoff drop’ against stronger defenses severely diminished his value. As teams began to scout and gameplan for him, he became a much less effective player throughout last season.

He was given help with the additions of Javale McGee and Landry Shamet. The former combined with Cameron Johnson to serve as perimeter options for him to pass to, while McGee was an effective roll man.

The two seemed to share a connection in the pick-and-roll, and McGee was especially good at cleaning up Payne’s misses at the rim. In ball screen actions with the Suns’ big men, Payne was able to keep the offense alive to an extent. Below are the stats on those actions with him as the ball handler.

Cameron Payne x JaVale McGee: 8.4 screens per game, 1.23 points per possession

Cameron Payne x Deandre Ayton: 8.4 screens screens per game, 1.16 points per possession

Cameron Payne x Bismack Biyombo: 6.0 screens per game, 1.05 points per possession

Unfortunately, both Payne and McGee were rendered less valuable in a playoff setting. Not only was Payne much less efficient this past year, but it seemed he was forcing too many shots and not facilitating as much as previously.

In the last five games against the Dallas Mavericks in their second-round series, , Payne shot 3-for-20 from the field. He was targeted on defense as well, often hunted on switches by Luka Doncic with the Suns foolishly conceding every time.

Payne was effectively played off the floor, leaving the Suns in an uneasy and vulnerable position when it comes to their backup point-guard situation (especially since Paul has been injured in consecutive postseasons).

So, if the team is running it back, can we expect Payne to bounce back from a down year, or was his 2021 season just an outlier?

Next. Should the Phoenix Suns chase this former All-Star?. dark

If he’s being shopped around on the trade market, the Suns have limited options. They’ll need a replacement who can both remain on the floor, and maintain a balance of scoring and facilitating duties.