I’ve been doing plenty of digging into this Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks NBA Finals matchup, looking at previous matchups, playoff statistics, and personnel... you name it.
One thing that crossed my mind (that I brought up on the latest Locked On Suns episode) was that this could be a huge Cam Payne series given the Bucks' “weak links” defensively in their second unit, specifically looking at the guards.
*The staring at Jeff Teague, Bryn Forbes, and Pat Connaughton intensifies*
The Secret Weapon
The related idea to that thought never connected in my mind until I listened to the most recent 7 Seconds or Less podcast by David Kevin and Max McCauley. I highly recommend you give that a listen and subscribe to David’s newsletter for top-notch Suns coverage and breakdowns.
The thought from 7SOL, you ask? Why not trot out a three-guard lineup?
Now, I’m well aware that in the playoffs it’s risky to go against what you typically have done throughout the regular season and prior playoff bouts, but at the end of the day, adjustments win series.
The Bucks do not have many weaknesses in their defense as they make it tough to beat them through their ability to shrink the court by harnessing their size in creative ways. One way to counter that (especially with Giannis out + lineup shuffling for MIL) is by throwing out a Chris Paul — Cameron Payne — Devin Booker lineup.
During the regular season, it was a very minuscule sample size, but it worked out fairly well:
The Paul-Book-Payne lineup has an O-Rating of 121.1 & D-Rating of 102.7 for a Net Rating of +18.3 during 18 regular season mins. https://t.co/AXLazIXf21— David Kevin (@theIVpointplay) July 6, 2021
In an even smaller postseason sample size, those numbers are even more exaggerated with an O-Rating of 142.9 and D-Rating of 33.3 for a Net Rating of +109.5 during 3(!) playoff minutes.
While these are not concrete sample sizes that should be followed blindly or religiously AT ALL, it is interesting to see how effective those looks have been in small pockets of run.
The Bucks wing/big guard depth suddenly becomes fairly thin without Giannis Antetokounmpo or Donte DiVincenzo in the mix. This means they’re likely going to be relying on Connaughton, Forbes, and even some Teague minutes, which the Suns should try to take advantage of as long as Giannis is out.
Phoenix hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to experiment with the three-guard lineups due to a combination of matchups, Paul’s shoulder injury, COVID protocols, and Payne’s ankle injury. The opportunity hasn’t truly presented itself until now.
Having a downhill threat that attacks the rim in Payne via his explosive burst paired with the methodical scoring backcourt of Paul and Booker could give the Suns a dangerous punch of offense that could knock the Bucks on their asses very quick if they aren’t prepared to defend it.
Payne himself is not a secret weapon, everyone knows what he’s capable of at this point. Throwing him in the mix with CP3 and Booker changes things and truly makes it a game of “pick your poison”.
Is this something anyone should expect to happen in Game One? Probably not. Is it something Monty could throw out there if they struggle to score in stretches? Absolutely.
Either way, guard play is going to be the key for this Phoenix Suns squad if they hope to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the next week or two.
What should this trio’s hypothetical nickname be? No, hydra will not suffice. Comment with your ideas below!