Against Minnesota on Thursday, Cameron Johnson was out after surgery and Chris Paul was also unavailable after picking up an injury against Philadelphia earlier this week. With two opening-night starters out and coming off a bad loss to the Sixers, the Phoenix Suns needed some players to step up, and three, in particular, did just that.
The Suns player you expect to step up – Devin Booker
The unquestioned leader of the team and as soon as Robert Sarver sells the franchise, Devin Booker needed to step up with Johnson and Paul both out. Additionally, after a poor performance in Philly, Book was due for a big night, and he delivered.
With Paul out, Book handled more playmaking duties, dishing out ten assists to go with his 32 points, leading all players in both categories. It looked like Booker would get an early end to the night, but he had to come back late in the fourth quarter to end a little Minnesota run.
With a +/- of 26 –10 better than anyone else who stepped on the court – and only one assist, Booker dominated when he needed to.
The Suns player that should step up – Mikal Bridges
Players on big contracts need to deliver big performances, and Mikal Bridges did just that on Thursday in Minnesota. Bridges had a season-high 31 points despite only hitting 2-6 from three-point range.
Instead, Bridges got to the basket and showed a midrange game, hitting 10-14 two-point attempts. Maybe most impressive was that Bridges led the team in free throw attempts, going 5-5 from the line.
Performances like Mikal had against the Timberwolves show a player that can be more than three and D and is worth the money the Suns are paying him.
The Suns player that needed to step up – Cameron Payne
Coming off a disappointing season, Cameron Payne has shown glimpses of the point guard who helped the Suns reach the NBA Finals two seasons ago. Of course, with Chris Paul in front of him, the opportunities have been limited for Payne, although he has shined in those limited minutes, averaging nine points and three assists in October.
On Thursday evening, Payne got his first start of the season with Paul out, and he delivered.
Payne was a facilitator, dishing out eight assists to complement the 10 from Booker. Cam shot the three-ball, going 4-9 (44%) from beyond the arc. Those threes helped contribute to a season-high 23 points from Payne, providing that third scoring punch the Suns needed.
Maybe the most impressive statistic for Payne was his zero turnovers in 35 minutes of playing time. It is the first time all season that Payne has not turned over the rock, and it was the most minutes he has played. Paul injury or not, there is a correlation there.
If Payne has more nights like that, Paul can afford to miss a few more games.
The Suns got some other contributions like 16 big bench points from Landry Shamet; however, it was Payne, Bridges, and Booker who led the way for the Suns.