Have no fear. Cam Payne is here!
With starting point guard Chris Paul expected to miss out on the Phoenix Suns only chance to save their playoff lives — they are down 0-2 in their series against the Denver Nuggets— due to a groin strain, understudy Cam Payne is once again needed to save the day.
Yes, that Cam Payne who four years ago had washed completely out of the league while Chris Paul was delivering his 9th All-NBA season of a certain Hall of Fame career.
That Cam Payne who couldn’t even survive his rookie contract after being taken just one spot behind Devin Booker in the 2015 Draft.
That Cam Payne who spent a year in China and the G-League just to get back onto an American roster, before finding new NBA life with the Phoenix Suns amid a worldwide pandemic.
That Cam Payne who’s been up and down since signing a $19 million contract, played himself all the way out of the Suns rotation in the 2022 playoffs, and now is barely healthy from a back contusion suffered just before the 2023 playoffs began.
Grab yer butts and hold on, Suns fans.
On the bright side, Cam Payne has succeeded in doing this before.
In the 2021 Playoffs, he got big minutes in the first round against the Lakers when Paul suffered that stinger. Payne played at least 18 minutes in each of games 2-6, averaging 14 points, 3.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks in 25 minutes a night, and was a +16 on the scoreboard across the 5 games. The Suns went 4-1 in those games. If Cam had not delivered, the Suns might not have made it out of the first round.
Later in that same 2021 Playoffs, Payne stepped in again. This time it was the Western Conference Finals, as CP got COVID and missed the first two games and big chunks of the rest of the series too. Payne memorably had 29 points, 9 assists and 0 turnovers in the Game 2 win, after putting up 11 points, 9 assists and 1 turnover in Game 1. The Suns went 2-0 with Payne as the starter in that series. If they’d lost one or both of those games, the Suns might not have made the Finals.
Another stretch to note is Payne’s 14-consecutive-game run as a starter this season when CP went down with a mysterious heel injury. From 11/9 to 12/5, Payne averaged 15 points and 7.3 assists on 41/39/75 shooting splits. The Suns went 9-5 in those 14 games.
And that was without both Paul and Cam Johnson. Payne started alongside Booker, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig and Deandre Ayton. The 9-5 record included going 5-1 against eventual playoff teams. They beat the fully healthy Wolves, Warriors, Kings and Knicks, plus the Lakers. Their only loss to a playoff team in that stretch was the one-pointer to the Heat in Miami.
Payne is nothing like Chris Paul, but puts up reasonable numbers on bigger minutes. As a starter, knowing he has to play 25+ minutes, he’s also been good at toning down his over-aggressive turnovers and fouls.
Silver linings, folks. The Suns are down 0-2 in this series already, and might be off for the summer before Paul is healthy enough to play again...
That is, unless Cam Payne comes to the rescue.
The Suns will talk about series and Chris Paul’s injury after practice today in Phoenix, and will play Game 3 on Friday night at Footprint Center.