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Cameron Payne has turned a corner

Over his last 11 games, the Phoenix Suns’ backup point guard has excelled.

Phoenix Suns v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Phoenix Suns currently boast the best record in the NBA, there has still been an opportunity to be better. It is rare for a team to click on all cylinders each and every night. That is why no team has ever gone 82-0 during a regular season run or 16-0 in the NBA playoffs.

Unless you are playing NBA2K, it just isn’t going to happen. Sorry Facebook readers (go follow some of the Suns’ Facebook groups...they expect the Suns to win every game, and when they lose, be somewhere else!).

The Suns have played extremely well as of late and navigated the COVID-stricken holiday season only dropping 4 games. Much akin to other teams, they have felt their fair share of lumps and bruises, bumps and sore muscles. Yet they have come out the other side with an impressive record and, just past the halfway mark of the season, are on pace for the best record in franchise history.

The depth of the Suns is what has allowed them to flourish. They are deep at nearly every position and, due to the strength of this depth, have been able to sustain sub-par stretches from many of their contributors.

One player who has struggled throughout the beginning of the season is seventh year backup point guard Cameron Payne. Signing a 3-year, $19M contract this past offseason provided him with the stability he has longed for his entire career. He hasn’t delivered on what was expected when he re-signed with Phoenix.

The odds have been against Cameron Payne his entire career. We know his tale well: a player drafted with 14th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft who ended up playing in China before getting a call from the pre-bubble Suns while he was in the pool.

In his first full season with the Suns he put together a stellar season. He averaged a career-high 44% from beyond the arc – on 2.8 attempts in 60 games mind you – and was pivotal in the postseason.

“He’s a kid that has played his way back into a position … which is a really good, quality, rotation NBA player,” James Jones stated after his signing. “We’re excited for what he’s done.”

Yet the 2021-22 season has seen a decline in production for Cam Payne. He has been consistently inconsistent. While averaging the most shot attempts in his career (9.9), he is shooting his second worst field goal percentage (40.4%). His three-point production has dropped 11 points to 33.3%. He’s never turned the ball over more (1.8).

You wonder what happens mentally to mid-level players who are finally rewarded for their success. You hope they stay hungry and continue to grind. But sometimes, as human nature has it, the production falls off as the comfort sets in. If that is the case for Cameron Payne, it’s hard to see it on the court outside of some missed shots.

With Cam Payne, the effort level is still present, however, and it is clear that this is not the case. He still plays in an aggressive manner that frustrates the opposition. Even the King.

Has it been frustrating to see Payne’s production wane? Sure. It isn’t from lack of trying though. It can be explained, though. The level of difficulty with the shots he takes is high. Only Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee, both centers, take more two-point field goals with defenders two-feet or closer.

Payne attacks. That’s the only way he knows how. The difference between this season and last season is the shots in close aren’t falling consistently. What’s nice, however, is he is starting to turn a corner.

The beginning of the 2021-22 season was a turbulent one for Cam Payne. He missed games 3 through 7 for the Phoenix Suns due to a right hamstring strain. He returned to the lineup and, two games later, poured in his season high of 24 points against the Sacramento Kings. He looked fantastic.

You see it in this game and, as mentioned above, he attacks.

The corner he has turned is when he attacks, he is once again successful. It is as if his hamstring has fully healed and he has regained his first step, the ability that makes him so lethal.

Since December 27, Payne has led the team on two-point field goals with defenders inside of two feet as he averages 1.3 FGA a game. The difference is, through his first 27 games played, he averaged 29.2% on those attempts. He is averaging 69.2% in his last 11 games.

You are seeing his confidence grow from beyond the arc as well. He shot 30.9% from deep in his first 27 games. I don’t know what happened on December 27, but since that date he is a cool 40% from deep.

His volume has increased this year and equated to 10.5 points and 3.7 assists; ideal numbers for your backup point guard. The turnovers are a bit heavy at 1.8 – and sometimes reminds me of Eric Bledsoe’s ‘drive, jump, now I’ll find my teammate’ strategy – but you are starting to see those numbers decline as well.

In Payne’s first 27 games this season, he averaged 2.1 turnovers. In his last 11, that number has dropped to 1.3.

His comfort level on the court is allowing him to find teammates as well, for the opposition must respect his speed and quickness off the dribble. His assist numbers pre-December 27? 3.4. Since then? 4.4. And he’s making it look easy.

We don’t know the “why”, but Cameron Payne has turned a corner and is playing with aggressiveness and consistency that the Phoenix Suns need. His method of attack is drastically different from Chris Paul, which is ideal. It changes the look on offense and stresses the defense, forcing them to adjust and change.

Given his willingness to play fast – he averages a speed of 4.75 on offense versus Chris Paul’s team low 4.14 – creates confusion which leads to opportunity. He always has had this. But now he is effective in doing so. You can outrun the defense all day, but if it doesn’t equate to points, what’s the point?

We’ll continue to track and monitor Payne’s efficiency, but he is a primary reason the Suns have been successful as of late.

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