Welcome to the 2021-22 Suns Season Preview series, starting with individual PLAYER PREVIEWS. We go through the roster, recapping last year and analyzing how they can help the Suns in their upcoming championship.
Point Guard, 6’1” tall, 183 pounds, 27 years old
Cameron Payne entered the 2020/2021 season as a question mark, having been with the Phoenix Suns for only the eight bubble games in his return to the NBA following a sojourn in China and the G-League. Though Payne played excellently in the bubble, averaging 11 points 3 assists and 4 rebounds in just about 23 minutes per game with a video game-like 15/29 shooting from downtown, it was not clear how good he might prove to be under regular conditions. It was also an open question as to how coach Monty Williams would assign backup PG duties among the Suns’ guards, which at the time included Jevon Carter, E’Twaun Moore, and Langston Galloway, all of whom had point guard experience.
Payne answered those questions during the season, by the end playing himself into discussion of being among the best backup point guards in the NBA. He was extremely efficient in the role, with a nearly 4-1 assist-turnover ratio. He ranked 18th among all NBA players in assists per 100 possessions, and 20th in assists per 36 minutes.
- Overall grade as an NBA player: B
- Grade relative to preseason expectations: A
Payne signed 3 year/$19 million contract, with $14.5 million guaranteed. The first two yeas are fully guaranteed, while the final year has only $2 million guaranteed. He is an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
Payne is a very efficient and reliable backup point guard. While lacking the next-level court vision of the truly elite guards, Payne is a mostly pretty good decision-maker who takes care of the ball. He is a good shooter with a knack for getting into the paint, and is a pesky defender.
Payne has no particularly glaring weaknesses. His biggest flaw is that he does have a habit of becoming overcommitted to his drive, sometimes even when it is well-defended and clearly calling for a pass-out. However, we also anecdotally at least saw this tendency fade a little bit near the end of the season. While he is an energetic defender, his size does limit his versatility and he can be a poor matchup on some of the larger, more athletic guards in the NBA.
One Key Factor
Payne’s season might be defined by the extent he’s able to make strides as a true playmaker in the Suns’ backcourt. If he can further refine his drive and dish game, he could be a crucial part of the Suns for at least the length of his contract. If he does not, or regresses in that area, that’s a different story.
Payne is the Suns’ primary bench guard, and like last season will see a lot of time playing along primarily starters. He should average in the vicinity of 10 points and 4 assists per game, probably playing about 20 minutes on average, or a bit more if the Suns opt to lessen the load on Chris Paul.