4 On-court observations that are defining the Phoenix Suns’ season

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
2 of 3
Cameron Payne, Phoenix Suns
Cameron Payne, Phoenix Suns (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

2. One Man’s Injury is Another Man’s Opportunity

Cameron Payne was under a ton of scrutiny for how ineffective he was in last season’s playoffs, and I was of the crowd that was harshly critical of the ineptness he shows when the team needed him most.

As we’ve inched closer to the season’s quarter mark we’ve seen Payne play some of his best ball as a Sun. Most of this has come in place of the aforementioned Chris Paul, as a starter.

In his 10 starts this season, Payne is averaging 16.4 points per game on 42.3/39.7/77.8 shooting, 6.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and just 2.2 turnovers a night. He’s been effective as a shooter, scorer, and playmaker.

As a scorer from range as a starter, he’s shooting a blistering 52.4% from three on 2.3 pull-ups.

He’s knocking down his floaters and touch shots inside the arc at a respectable efficiency of 44.0% from two and is leading the team in drives per game, at 11.5.

That drives-per-game mark is key here, as his best ability, putting pressure on the rim, is a skill that the Suns are missing and desperately need from him in diversifying their attack. His first step is as quick as anybody’s, and with him struggling to shoot off the catch early on this season, he’s using his still-remaining shooting gravity to lure defenders a step too close when closing on him, and attacking top feet with ferocity, springboarding himself downhill for an abundance of paint touches to score for himself (he’s at 43.3% on his drives) or to generate other advantages.

He’s also been ever-active on the defensive end of the floor, with 2.2 deflections per game (22 total) as a starter, trailing only Mikal Bridges for first on the team in this window.

He’s been making the most of his 31.3 minutes per game in an expanded role, and it brings much more solace to the thought that the team’s bench can remain an advantage within the overall attack, especially once Chris Paul returns to the rotation.

3. Spacing Manipulation

The Suns have had one of the most dynamic teams in terms of their collection of talents offensively for the past three seasons now.

How they have gone about deploying their pieces to consistently keep defenses in compromising situations of decision has been fun to track.

An early instance I had from the beginning of the season saw them collect data on the Minnesota Timberwolves, then manipulate their offensive spacing in a manner that would dictate matchups and generate high-percentage shots on repeat.

Things have looked a little different of late without Paul and Johnson. Nonetheless, they’ve continued to keep a point of emphasis on working with empty corners for their actions.

This, subsequently, enables them to consistently stretch defenses and allows for the cutting ability of their wings to come to the forefront of late.

As they get players in the rotation both from injury and via inevitable trades it’ll be even more interesting to see how much more the offense evolves its attack as a machine that has multiple answers for whatever question defenses decide to pose throughout games.