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Chris Paul’s worst games should throw up big red flags to Suns front office

With the NBA trade deadline less than a week away, the Suns have a real Chris Paul problem to consider

Atlanta Hawks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

For a range of reasons, the Phoenix Suns don’t have any All-Stars for the first time since the dark decade ended.

Three-time All-Star Devin Booker was an MVP-caliber player through end of November, but hasn’t played at full strength in almost two months. His 58-point outburst against the Pelicans in mid-December was a blip. Since December 2 — yes, two months ago — Booker has appeared in only 5 games and scored over 17 points only the once. Ankle. Hamstring. Groin. Let’s hope he gets over this injury thing for the stretch run.

Twelve-time All-Star Chris Paul (the last two with Suns) has had his own injuries. He’s appeared in barely more than half the Suns games this season, and is putting up the worst scoring numbers of his career. More on Chris later.

In their absence, you’d think one or more of the Suns younger players might have stepped up to fill the void. Yet, neither Deandre Ayton nor Mikal Bridges even cracked 20 a night in a scoring void since mid-December that saw the Suns plummet from one of the league’s top offenses to one of its worst. Bridges’ recent 10-game leap was too little too late after a much longer dip in production. Ayton’s early stat jump merely plateaued into stagnation.

So the Suns have no All-Stars this year, but the All-Star game is merely a mid-season award anyway. The best rewards come much later. Individually, it’s making an ‘All-’ team. Collectively, it’s tasting playoff success.

Booker and Bridges, especially, have inside tracks to making an ‘All-’ team, and it’s easy to imagine Bridges delivering his best-ever playoff performance this summer (though that’s a low bar). Ayton is a proven playoff performer, besting his regular season numbers in both ‘21 and ‘22.

Those are the positives in this up and down season, once Booker comes back into the fold — reportedly as early as Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets.

Unfortunately for the Suns, 37-year old ‘Point God’ Chris Paul is heading in a downward direction.

Of course you remember his negative impact after game two of the second round series against the Mavericks, so deafening in his silence that we forget he literally carried the Suns through the first round and to a 2-0 lead in the second round. In the first 8 games of the ‘22 playoffs, Paul averaged 22.3 points and 9.9 assists as the Suns went 6-2. But over the final 5, that production cratered to 9.4 points and 5.8 assists as the Suns went 1-4.

The sudden disappearing act has carried over to the 2022-23 season, where he still has more highs (including three 20/10 games in his last five) than lows, but the lows are complete stinkers like 3 points and 3 assists in 26 minutes against the Hawks the other night. In that game, the Suns were better off with 10-day-to-2-way Saben Lee, who posted 6 points, 3 assists and 3 steals in five fewer minutes.

While Paul’s general production this season has dipped this season to career lows in scoring (14.1 points per game) and steals (1.3) Suns-lows in most every other category, it’s the extremes that stand out the most.

The Suns can go far in the playoffs with Chris Paul producing at a 2019 Ricky Rubio impact level with better shooting.

But they absolutely cannot survive with Paul tossing up complete stinkers — something he’s never done before, but now is becoming so common it’s not even a surprise anymore.

Just look at this:

2022-23 (32 games played)

  • 18 games with single-digit assists (56% of games played)
  • 9 games with single-digit points (28%)
  • 6 games with single-digit points AND assists (18%)
  • 4 games with 5 or less in BOTH points and assists (12%)

2021-22 (65 games played)

  • 24 games with single-digit assists (37%)
  • 10 games with single-digit points (15%)
  • 3 games with single-digit points AND assists (4%)
  • 0 games with 5 or less in BOTH (0%)

2020-21 (70 games played)

  • 41 games with single-digit assists (58%)
  • 11 games with single-digit points (15%)
  • 7 games with single-digit points AND assists (10%)
  • 0 games with 5 or less in BOTH (0%)

2019-20 (70 games played)

  • 57 games with single-digit assists (81%)
  • 8 games with single-digit points (11%)
  • 3 games with single-digit points AND assists (4%)
  • 0 games with 5 or less in BOTH (0%)

This season, more than 10% of Paul’s games have resulted in him not even posting as many as 5 assists or points in a whole game. That’s unbelievable actually. Do you even remember him in the Hawks game? I don’t.

While 12% may not seem like a lot, that could be the difference in winning or losing a playoff series.

The NBA trade deadline is coming up in less than a week, and what I think the Suns need more than anything else is an upgrade at third guard — someone who can score 20+ any night and hopefully one who is big enough to play next to Booker in Point Book lineups.

When I asked James Jones what he wants most this deadline, he did say they needed shooting — even inefficient shooting — over anything else.

Stay tuned, Suns fans.

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