As we close the chapter in the 2021-22 season in which Cameron Payne starred as the only real initiator for the Phoenix Suns while both Chris Paul and Devin Booker were sidelined, it’s time to reflect a bit.
After a rough-by-his-Suns-standards first half of the season, when Payne returned from injury to a Suns team that was missing Chris Paul and Devin Booker, he was exactly what Phoenix needed him to be.
In some ways, that essentially meant: carbon copy of Paul.
In 58 games this season, Paul was averaging 14.9 points, 10.7 assists (league-leading), 2.4 turnovers, and 1.9 steals. In 4 games as a starter (pre-Booker’s return), Payne was nearly identical, averaging 15.8 points, 11.0 assists, 2.5 turnovers, and 1.3 steals.
So, I thought it would be fun to go back and assess how Payne performed specifically in the pick-and-roll (P&R) game.
Over a two-part series – two games in each part – I’ll give a subjective score to each P&R possession he led to find his strengths and weaknesses. And I’ve provided some examples of which possessions I won’t be including, as well.
We won’t be accounting for plays like this since neither screen was really “accepted” per se, although as a base, Phoenix does like to use the wing-big combo at the top as a sort of option screen, and I do account for the possessions where one of the screens is accepted.
These types of plays won’t be accounted for either, because the play breaks down beyond the initial pick-and-roll action to the point that it’s not the reason why whatever develops – or not, like on this possession – ends up developing.
Mar. 2 vs Portland: 120-90 (W)
Get ya floaties! Crowder on the drive! 7/10.
He’s a little out of control here, but he’s able to kick it out to Bridges who attacks the closeout and eventually gets an off-the-dribble (OTD) attempt from the top of the key, which isn’t where he’s most comfortable: 5/10.
I don’t know that a pull-up middy is what you want out of these possessions. Maybe should’ve gone to his fellow Cam in the corner here: 6/10.
Payne finds himself swarmed by three or four Blazers, and he calmly just kicks it out to a Bridges corner three: 9/10.
Blazers are too deep in their drop coverage, and Payne makes them pay(ne): 8/10.
When in doubt, snake the screen. The floater doesn’t go here, but that’s usually a good shot for Payne: 6/10.
Like I said earlier, I’m not sure the ideal shot on these possessions is a pull-up middy, but that’s going to happen more often than not on empty-side possessions: 6/10.
Straight down the middle of the lane, he seems to either (a) simply lose his dribble or (b) get caught between wanting to lay it up off the glass or kick it out to Bridges in the corner: 4/10.
An enormous breath of fresh air, Payne is patient here, and Ayton is patient here, resulting in a high percentage shot: 10/10.
Payne was able to drive through the teeth of the defense and kick it out to a shooter, eventually finding its way to an open Crowder for a deep attempt that misses wide right: 7/10.
Overall game score: 6.8/10 on 10 possessions.
Mar. 4 vs New York: 115-114 (W)
Love seeing Payne get to his floater going downhill and in space: 8/10.
Payne’s shiftiness works well as a weapon for most of this possession, but I wonder if he has a little too much confidence in it at times: 6/10.
Unbelievable vision here, and even better velocity to get the pass there quickly. He’s shown a few of these high-velocity passes recently, and it’s a dimension I quite like: 10/10.
A legit, by-the-books pick-and-pop designed for Ayton! Interesting! Not sure how much of this I want, but it keeps the defense honest when used sparingly: 7/10.
I quite adore these possessions where Payne and McGee are running their P&R, and simultaneously, Shamet sets an off-ball screen that gets Craig open in the corner. Shot doesn’t go, but it’s still so sick: 8/10.
The Tony Parker-style floater this time, getting Jericho Sims to bite: 7/10.
What an impressive, albeit ballsy, pass to go from behind the basket, out-of-bounds, in mid-air out to Johnson in the corner for his first of many buckets: 9/10.
The use of the body on this drive to get between his defender and the basket in this situation is *chef’s kiss*: 9/10.
I like the idea of this pass in to Ayton, but the ball placement could obviously be better: 5/10.
A Payne attempt off the window pane isn’t the worst thing in the world, but he probably should’ve handed it off to Johnson right next to him: 6/10.
I like when Payne keeps his eyes up in situations where he’d usually just go go go. Like the feed to Craig here, despite the miss: 7/10.
Floater doesn’t go here, unfortunately, lot of kickout options around him. Maybe his worst possession of the night, and it’s still a: 5/10.
Nice to see you again, infamous pull-up middy. Thought he could’ve found Craig on the back cut here: 5/10.
These jump passes can get a little bit risky, but Bridges attacks in a way he’s comfortable. Maybe should’ve aimed more for the left elbow rather than the mid-post on this shot though: 6/10.
Finally, beautiful, a kick to Johnson. This unfortunately goes down as his only miss of this fourth quarter, but it’s a good shot, so it gets a good score: 8/10.
Sees the lane wide open and attacks, using the glass for good measure: 8/10.
Get your floaties out – even when sandwiched by defenders, I guess: 5/10.
I love seeing this from Payne, acknowledging that no driving lane is there, pulling it back out, and finding Crowder going downhill, who draws a foul: 9/10.
Overall game score: 7.1/10 on 18 possessions.
I will be refraining from making any sweeping conclusions until the second part of this project, which you can expect at a Bright Side of the Sun near you hopefully this weekend.