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Why Cameron Payne could be the Suns’ point guard of the future

Cam Payne is not your typical backup point guard.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with some housekeeping.

Chris Paul won’t be Chris Paul forever, but as long as he is this (or close to) version of himself I will enjoy the hell out of it. I believe CP3 will continue to age gracefully due to the type of player he is and how he takes care of his body.

That being said, he is 36 years old on a Phoenix Suns team where the core is aged anywhere from 22-25 years old, so there will come a time when they’ll need an heir to the throne. Father Time is undefeated, though Tom Brady is putting that saying to the test.

Then, on the other end, you have a “reclamation project turned success” story in Cam Payne that was part of the Suns’ magical bubble and NBA Finals run. A guy that wants to be in Phoenix, a city that wants him right back.

“I knew deep down I wanted to be here,” Payne said of free agency, as part of an exclusive interview with Bright Side’s Dave King on Media Day. “I had a couple more offers, but like I said I wanted to be here. I wanted to be here in Phoenix. The city embraced me. That decision wasn’t too hard.”

Payne re-signed with the Suns this summer for just over $6 million per year — a bargain for a quality backup point guard.

Payne tells us that Devin Booker called him after he threw at the first pitch at the Dbacks game last week saying, “OK, kinda getting blessed into the city, huh?”

Can he eventually be blessed into taking on the starting point guard role? I make the case for Cam Payne to be that guy.

The Numbers

Regular Season Stats (60 games played) *18.0 minutes per game

8.4 PPG — 3.6 APG — 2.4 RPG — 0.6 SPG on 48/44/89 shooting splits.

Playoff Stats (22 games played) *19.0 minutes per game

9.3 PPG — 3.2 APG — 2.5 RPG — 0.8 SPG on 42/36/89 shooting splits.

Success in the NBA is about 3 major components. Talent, opportunity, and confidence. He’s always had the talent and even at times an opportunity… but the thing he’s been searching for in the NBA has finally come… confidence.

So, can Cameron Payne actually be the Suns’ point guard of the future? I believe the answer is yes.

Let’s start with Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals where Payne steps in for Chris Paul (COVID protocols).

“I was nervous. Nervous as hell,” Payne admitted to Dave King with a chuckle.

He casually puts up a 29-point, 9 assist, 0 turnover game against a stingy Clippers defense.

“I was like all right I got to make sure my game is super tight now,” he told Dave. “Don’t make no turnovers! And I guess playing like that allowed me to have some great games. It was definitely an experience. I feel like I stepped up when my opportunity was called and made the most of it.”

The offense started stagnant in their Game 2 victory but came alive eventually and was capped off by Deandre Ayton’s jaw-dropping “Valley Oop”.

While the 29/9/0 was a special game, here are the numbers he put up in 11 games last season (including 5 playoff games) with 25+ minutes played:

16.7PPG – 6.7 APG on a True Shooting Percentage of 62.4.

74 assists to 20 turnovers which equates to a 3.4 AST/TO ratio and had a plus/minus of +89 overall in those 11 games, including that 29 point, 9 assist, 0(!) turnover game against the Clippers in the WCF. That is not normal for a backup point guard.

While these numbers aren’t the largest sample size, they seem right on track with his regular-season per-36 numbers (16.8 PPG — 7.2 APG — 4.8 RPG — 1.6 SPG on a 60.2 TS%) over the course of the regular season.

Strengths

Rim pressure. Inside gravity. Pull-up shooting. Microwave scoring.

He uses the glass/rim better than almost anyone I’ve ever seen in a Phoenix uniform. Finishing those wild up and under layups going full speed while throwing defenders off balance. Payne is brilliant in changing pace/deceleration on these downhill attacks.

Defensively his greatest strength is effort. How much of that could be mitigated by a larger workload over the course of a regular season? That’s the major question with high-energy bench guys translating to a starting role. Hopefully, we don’t find out anytime soon, but down the road, it’s something I think he’s capable of doing.

Two-man lineups:

Payne+Booker = 7.1 net rating in 659 minutes .

Paul+Booker = 6.9 net rating in 1485 minutes

Not much of a dropoff there! Sure, a lot of missing context with two-man lineups, but thought it was an interesting nugget to toss in.

Shooting Balance

  • 44% from 3 on 166 attempts.
  • 42.9% left corner threes. 44.4% right corner threes. 44.7% above the break, where the majority of his attempts came.
  • 53% mid-range
  • 45% in the paint (non-restricted area)
  • 57% in the restricted area (at the rim)

The picture below with CP3 and CP15 almost seems symbolic in a way.

Path for improvement

It’s tough to gauge one particular area that Payne needs to improve in on either end of the floor. The one obvious point that stands out about his offensive profile is his lack of a mid-range game.

His bread and butter is either finishing at the rim or hitting threes at an efficient rate from multiple zones. That in-between game would be a boon to his skillset, but it’s the last missing layer to add to his offensive bag.

“I got floaters for sure,” Cam said to Dave on this topic. “That’s crazy, that’s how I started my career, I was all floaters. Floaters to threes. That wasn’t the shot to take in the NBA at the time, but now it’s okay. I got to add to my game.”

Game management and running an offense would also be very important. Balancing out knowing when to attack, when to create and when to get the hell out of Booker’s way. Luckily, he gets to learn from one of the best in NBA history at balancing those acts in Chris Paul.

Shot selection and finishing around the rim could improve, a few lapses here and there that go hand in hand, but overall this feels like nitpicking but Cam happens to agree.

“I feel like teams have scouted me and they know I’m gonna do a quick left-hand layup,” Payne told Dave, thrilled that he’s finally good enough in the NBA to be scouted like that. “I’ll kinda just add a couple more layups to my package to try to keep the defense guessing a little bit more.”

Cam also wants to improve on his defense, has been working on building up his body to handle more wear and tear, and says the whole team can be better on that end this year because there’s so much continuity.


Cameron Payne is a lot of fun.

The Suns’ second unit is going to be a lot of fun.