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Assessing Cam Payne’s Time as Pick-and-Roll Maestro: Part Two

When Paul and Booker were both out, Payne was more than serviceable, so let’s take another look at how good he was.

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The time has come to dive into the third and fourth games of Phoenix Suns backup starting point guard Cam Payne’s time as primary pick-and-roll initiator. If you missed part one where I looked at the first two games, be sure to check that out here. Otherwise, I’ll just get right into the stipulations here:

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. 6 @ Milwaukee: 122-132 (L)

This is one of my favorites I’ve seen from Payne, simply because it displays such a level of patient and measured passing. The key here is that Serge Ibaka stays so deep in a drop, that Payne knows Ayton’s favorite little jump hook will be there. 10/10.

Ibaka is playing a little higher on this possession, so it takes away a lot of the room that would be there for a pass to Ayton, but the left side of the lane is open enough that he can get to a floater. 9/10.

Payne’s head fake on the drive forces Milwaukee’s defenders who aren’t in the P&R action to play closer to their responsibilities, and forces Middleton to help onto Ayton a bit. Payne probably should’ve chased that Middleton departure, firing to Bridges in the corner, but the shot he takes isn’t a bad one by any means. 7/10.

Probably my least favorite play of the batch, though I understand why Payne takes this shot. He thinks Grayson Allen fouls him getting over the screen, and maybe that does get called in a previous season, but that’s not a call that’s happened this season. 4/10.

This should be a lob to McGee, full stop. I understand if Payne is scared of Ibaka, who’s playing very close to the ball here, but that can be countered with a quick stop or a lob with his arm stretched away from Ibaka. 5/10.

This play has indecision written all over it. If floater is the move, then he should’ve gone to it closer to the free throw line. 5/10.

At this point, I’m kinda wishing the Suns would just run simultaneous actions away from the P&R itself, but on this play McGee is there to clean things up anyways. Not a fan of it in general though. 4/10.

Because of the wide angle Payne takes around Ayton, Ibaka is forced to help and leave Ayton, opening the jump hook. A thing of beauty. 9/10.

Truly a tragic possession here; game on the line, Payne lets the ball slip away, probably the final nail in the coffin in this game. Could be that he saw how wide open his lane was and got ahead of his own dribble. 2/10.

As if another nail in the coffin was needed, they don’t call him the Greek Freak for nothing. Just an incredible block by Giannis on this possession, but I think Payne has to know that he’s coming; I thought Payne took his foot off the gas a bit on the drive. 3/10.

Overall game score: 5.8/10 on 10 possessions

Mar. 8 @ Orlando: 102-99 (W)

I like that he probes the lane before realizing there’s nothing there and swinging it around the perimeter. The best thing an initiator can do is know his own limits and trust his teammates to make up for it. 8/10.

This was actually really well done by Payne; Ayton’s hands just weren’t ready, and that doesn’t happen often, so I wouldn’t consider it a trend. Crowder’s unable to clean up the mess unfortunately. 7/10.

Every time Payne shoots a floater, an angel loses its wings. At least that’s how it felt in this game. 4/10.

I like the decision to shoot it himself, but I really don’t know what this shot was by Payne. He should’ve scooped with the right. 3/10.

Excellent vision and decision-making to swing this out to Shamet, but the ball placement causes the miss. 7/10.

Payne takes the idea of “snake dribble” to a new level here before a wild pass out to an Ayton jumper. 8/10.

Timing is once again a little bit off between Payne and Shamet, but it’s a good baseline to build off of cutters in the P&R. 6/10.

This is a textbook rep. Payne gets RJ Hampton on his hip and it’s over. 8/10.

I love to see the patience from Payne, but even here he gets a little too tunnel-vision and doesn’t see Bridges wide open in the corner, or the dumpoff that Ayton is ready for. 5/10.

Looks like some more indecision happening here, he can’t quite figure out the timing on the floater. 4/10.

Meanwhile the floater is timed perfectly here, it just doesn’t fall 100% of the time. 8/10.

Snaking a whole lot once again, Bridges clogged things up a bit by cutting, so chalk that one up to a miscommunication. 5/10.

Floater timing was bad again, and if you pause it right before he gets into the shot, you’ll see there was a huge window out to a Crowder three, and I think he should’ve gone that direction. 5/10.

This was beautiful despite the shot rimming off. These simultaneous actions during a P&R are really hard to guard. 9/10.

Overall game score: 6.3/10 on 14 possessions

The big, sweeping conclusion I want to make here is one of gratitude.

Payne has proven to be so effective during his time as a starter that it really makes the contract he signed in the summer unquestionably the best value contract in the league in the first year of a 3-year, $19 million contract.

When including the two games since Devin Booker returned to the lineup, Payne is averaging 16.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.8 turnovers and is shooting 37.1% on 5.8 three’s per game as a starter. I don’t know about you, but those sound like bona fide starting point guard numbers to me.

The Suns are lucky enough to have a starting point guard as their backup behind one of the best point guards the game has ever seen, and that’s a reason for gratitude if I’ve ever heard one.

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