Well, that was brutal, wasn’t it?
The Phoenix Suns continued to struggle on Monday afternoon against the New York Knicks as, after scoring the first four points of the game, the Suns only scored seven more the entire period. 11 points. 5-of-22 shooting. 1-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The last time we witnessed the Suns have such a dismal opening quarter was December 4, 2018, when the team managed to score just 9 points. Their 11-point performance on Monday was just the 8th time in franchise history that the team scored 11 or less points to open a game.
We know that the team is missing Devin Booker. Big time. Not having 27.1 points a game will be felt. What we didn’t account for was how vital Booker was to the success of the Phoenix Suns in the first quarter.
This season alone Booker has scored 22.9% of the Suns’ first quarter points, and that includes games he’s missed. He averages 8.2 first quarter points – 7th best in the NBA – on 44.8 FG%. He is a tone setter, the guy who carries his team and puts them in a position to win every night from the tip.
If you look at Booker’s scoring by quarter, you see his value whenever the team comes out of the locker room:
- Q1: 8.2 points
- Q2: 5.4 points
- Q3: 9.9 points
- Q4: 5.2 points
- OT: 4.0 points
Without that fire power in the first quarter, the Suns have been lost. Nobody consistently posts stats of that caliber. And no one can. Phoenix doesn’t need a replacement for Booker, but they do need production to try to match it.
The Suns were 18-11 with Devin Booker and are now 2-7 without him.— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) January 2, 2023
With Devin Booker in the lineup, Phoenix scores 28.1 points per first quarter. Without him, they’re scoring 25.4 points.
Monty Williams is attempting to piece together lineups that will put the Suns up early. Collectively, the team isn’t performing well in the first. And due to this, the team finds themselves digging themselves out of a hole nearly every game. It’s not winning basketball.
What can Monty do?
The Suns are a guard-centric offense, whether we like it or not. They don’t run it through the post. That leaves Chris Paul to run the show in Booker’s absence. In 8 games without Devin Booker, CP3 is averaging 2.3 points on 37.5 FG% in the first. He’s scored 18 total points, 14 of which came in their game against the Lakers.
It may seem drastic, and highly improbable, but giving Cameron Payne the start over Chris Paul could help with the first quarter offensive void. We’ve seen it in the time in which Paul was absent from the line of duty injury. Cam Payne plays with greater pace. He plays with a higher sense of urgency.
Chris Paul is last on the team relative to pace at 97.25. Cameron Payne is fifth at 99.99. Pace is calculated by estimating the number of possessions per 48 minutes. The 2.74 difference might not seem like much, but extrapolated over the course of the season, it’s significant.
One thing that we’ve seen from the Suns under Paul’s tutelage is a team that plays incredibly slow. They roll the ball up the court, sometimes he barely gets the ball across the timeline. When you’re starting every possession with 16 seconds left on the clock, you’re not maximizing your offense. In fact, you’re lulling yourself to sleep.
Conversely, the opposition sprints out to an early lead, displays energy, and imposes their will on the Suns. Bada-bing, bada-boom, Suns down in the first. There’s not a lot of imposition of will on the part of the Suns with their slow-paced, yawn worthy offense.
Chris Paul is the one who’s running that.
I doubt that Monty Williams would make the adjustment, asking Chris Paul to start the game on the bench. Nor do I believe he has the cojones to ask CP3. He’s a hall-of-famer. When you look at the Lakers, who’ve asked/directed Russell Westbrook to come off the bench, there is a case that this could increase his effectiveness.
Suns need to start Payne over Paul now that he is back. Not saying we will win games but the beginning of these games are killing us.— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) January 2, 2023
Starting Cameron Payne over Chris Paul in the first quarter would allow the Suns to match the energy and the frenetic pace displayed by the opposition. It would allow them to do something they don’t do without Booker: put pressure on the opposing team.
Bring Chris Paul in for the end of the game. But start Cameron Payne. It’s worth a shot. Cam Payne just returned form injury, so this may not be adjustment he is physically ready for.
The Suns aren’t winning games. Until Booker’s return, Monty must change his approach. This is a chance to do just that.