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The Suns’ Top Four Reserves Pummeled the League During Incendiary Run

Stout bench comprised of JaVale, Landry, and the Cams offer foes no respite

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday night brought an end to the Phoenix Suns’ latest run of dominance. After 34 days filled with a franchise record of 18 straight wins, the Suns were topped by the resurgent Golden State Warriors. In a contest against one of the league’s best teams, played without star shooting guard Devin Booker, the Suns had a rare off-night. More particularly, the quartet of Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Cameron Johnson, and JaVale McGee all struggled.

While the loss triggered a temporary lapse in good vibes, one poor performance should not overshadow the four-man unit’s excellent work over the previous 18 games. All of Cam P, Landry, Cam J, and JaVale proved their immense worth throughout the Suns’ run, whether integrating with the starters or teaming up as an elite bench unit.


Cam Payne

Streak Stats: 15 G, 18.0 MPG, 10.4 PPG, .410/.346/.875, 2.9 APG, 2.7 RPG

Best Performance: tied regular-season career-high with 24 points against Sacramento (11/8)

While it is his outburst against the Kings highlighted above, Cam also had big nights against the Spurs (20 points) and Pistons (19 points). All three performances helped to quell viable comeback attempts and ensure Phoenix victories.

As a competitor, Cam’s feistiness is as present as ever, and he provides instant energy whenever checking in.

Regarding ability, a healthy Payne is arguably as slippery as any player in the league.

As one of the few Suns that can consistently create his own shot, Cam’s offensive arsenal is vital to the success of the second unit. Fully unlocking his playmaking ability would make him an even tougher matchup moving forward.


Landry Shamet

Streak Stats: 17 G, 1 GS, 19.6 MPG, 8.0 PPG, .368/.364/.857, 2.4 RPG, 1.8 APG

Best Performance: season-high 19 points, four 3PT-FG against Houston (11/4)

Sure, the threes are not quite falling at an elite level. However, the past few weeks have shown why Monty and the Suns’ front office were so keen to acquire Landry on draft night.

While sharpshooting is his calling card, he offers this team so much more:

Shamet’s ability to shoot off of movement and provide secondary ball-handling, in addition to his consistent hustle and defensive edge, make him a valuable and polymorphous piece of the Suns’ rotation.

He is battle-tested from playoff trips with the Clippers and Nets, and is ready to take (and make) big shots in key moments, as evidenced by his back-to-back daggers that sank the Warriors and Pistons.


Cam Johnson

Streak Stats: 18 G, 23.2 MPG, 9.9 PPG, .441/.416/.714, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 SPG, +86

Best Performance: career-high 22 points, +19 versus Denver (11/21)

So he can still shoot after all! Despite starting the season uncharacteristically frigid (under 30% 3PT over the first nine games), Cam is back to his old sniper ways. Over the streak’s final eight contests, he averaged 12.9 PPG and 3.3 RPG on 52% FG and 49% 3’s. That run included a scintillating 19-point, six-rebound, and four 3PT-FG performance against the Pistons.

Even while searching for his shot, Cam continued to develop his game in other ways. His perimeter defense- both as an on- and off-ball menace- continues to evolve, and he has developed an exciting two-man game with reserve running-mate JaVale McGee.

Johnson’s recent run of form has also seen him resume his old habit of rim-ruining across the league.


JaVale McGee

Streak Stats: 18 G, 6 GS, 16.5 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 66.4% FG, 72.2% FT, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG, +96

Best Performance: 19 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, and +30 as fill-in starter versus Houston (11/14)

Almost two months into the JaVale McGee Experience, it is easy to see how he carved out a critical role on three (four, including the U.S. Olympic squad) championship teams over the past six years. Even when he makes mistakes, JaVale plays hard ALL the time. McGee has been a dastardly rim deterrent this season, and his boundless energy, relentless rebounding, and ability as a lob threat make him a terror to handle off the bench. He also has an old-school bag of tricks, and is often liable to pull out something downright funky.

A fun aside: as of 12/5, JaVale has posted 30.4 PTS, 21.3 REB, and 2.7 BLK per 100 possessions this season. He is the only player thus far to hit each of those benchmarks.


As a Unit

Of the Suns’ six different four-man combos to register at least 100 minutes during the streak, the Cam(x2)-Landry-JaVale variant posted the highest net rating of them all (+17.7). Expanded across the entire NBA, the group ranked 12th out of 135 unique units that played at least 106 minutes together (92nd percentile). Whether sharing the court with Book, Mikal, Abdel, CP3, or Elfrid Payton, the four aforementioned reserves were excellent.

Perhaps what stands out most is their 95.0 defensive rating. While 106 minutes is a small sample size, that number is over five points better than the league-leading Warriors.


Poll

What is your impression of the Suns’ top four reserves thus far?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Vastly exceeded expectations
    (52 votes)
  • 58%
    Better than expected
    (161 votes)
  • 20%
    As advertised
    (57 votes)
  • 1%
    A bit underwhelming
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Disastrous. The streak would still be alive if not for them.
    (3 votes)
277 votes total Vote Now

Statistics through the morning of 12/6