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Suns backup guards can step up in Paul’s absence

Nobody can replace CP3...but the Suns are well-equipped to make do without him.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The hearts of Phoenix Suns fans the world over dropped just a bit when we all learned the hard truth that Chris Paul’s right thumb injury will keep him sidelined up to two months.

There’s no real silver lining to this. It isn’t “good” for anyone...including Devin Booker who benefits as much as any of his teammates from CP3s presence on the floor. But there are at least some reasons for optimism as the Suns prepare to close this season out.

Standings

First of all...the Suns’ stellar play has put them in excellent shape at the break. With a 6.5 game lead on second-place Golden State, the Suns are still in great position to maintain their top playoff seed and its basically inconceivable that they could fall beyond a 3 seed by season’s end even if they stumble badly down the home stretch. The loss of the Point God would be far more devastating if the Suns were locked in a tight race for playoff position, but their fantastic season to this point has given them the great luxury of not having to be fantastic to stay on top of the standings and give themselves the best possible path back to the Western Conference Finals.

The other guards

To repeat myself...nobody on the Suns roster can actually replicate what Chris Paul brings to the floor for this team. His ability to be a stalwart on both ends, his near peerless court vision, and his ability to create for himself at all three levels make him a rare player and the reason he’ll go down in history as one of the top point guards ever to lace ‘em up. But Suns GM James Jones has constructed a team that should have the goods to handle CP3s absence.

Let’s start with the new guy, Aaron Holiday. A savvy trade acquisition just a couple of weeks back, the 25 year-old has the toughness and tenacity to make Paul proud. Like CP3, Holiday is just 6’0 and under 200 pounds, but somehow plays defense much bigger than that and ably defends wings that look like mismatches.

What has held Holiday back in his NBA career, and what the Suns would love to see him break free of now, is his inconsistent scoring touch. Holiday is not a bad shooter in principle, especially from deep where he is a respectable 37% in his career. But he shot only 39% from the field a season ago. He is not especially good at attacking the rim, something that has also become true of CP3 in his mature stage. But while Paul is still finishing shots inside of 3 feet at almost 73% when he does get there, Holiday is at just 62%.

Holiday has also had some turnover issues in his young career that he needs to clean up as his services become more key to the Suns.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Will Elf Payton see an increased role? I’m skeptical. He has been sparingly played all season, and appears to have already very firmly taken a back seat to Holiday. I’d suspect he remains lightly used except in mop-up duty or barring (gulp) further injury problems.

Now, onto Cam Payne. Payne was a fantastic contributor last season, and after a great playoffs Suns fans had some reason to believe the one-time NBA washout had improbably established himself as one of the better point guards in the league. His 2021-2022 season has been a disappointment, as his shooting has fallen off a cliff and his possession-adjusted turnovers have skyrocketed from a CP3-like just 2.7 per 100 to 4.2 this season.

But the player Suns fans couldn’t stop cheering for last year is still in there somewhere, and now would be a great time for him to reemerge. We haven’t seen much of him this season, but the man who slaughtered the Clippers in the playoffs to the tune of 29 points and 9 assists would surely be welcome right now.

And then there’s Devin Booker. We all know what he can do. He’s one of the most dynamic players in basketball, a scoring machine with developed playmaking skills and a desire to prove he’s a champion. The Suns will need him to step up perhaps most of all. Not just to shoulder more of the playmaking load as Point Book inevitably makes a major comeback...but to be the team’s on-court leader by example without Paul taking up a huge part of that role. I’m not holding my breath on Book getting the MVP nod over Steph Curry, but this is where he needs to show he is that guy.