Anyone who has followed the Phoenix Suns closely during the Monty Williams era knows well just how coy the organization can be about injuries.
That’s why a “day-to-day” listing for Chris Paul, who strained his left groin with 4:32 in the third quarter of game 2 of the Conference Semifinals versus the Denver Nuggets, feels a little hollow, especially considering how long he was listed as “day-to-day” during the regular season despite riding the pine for long stretches. I’m more inclined to believe the three-game absence that was reported via The Athletic’s Shams Charania and confirmed by local brea writer Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic.
With Cam Payne, Landry Shamet, and Damion Lee offering what looks like spotty at best production in replacing Paul, the Suns ought to turn to Devin Booker to do what he’s been trained to do pre-dating Coach Williams’s tenure: play lead guard for the purple and orange.
Booker did a lot of play initiating in the 16 minutes left in the game after Paul was injured, and I took the liberty of cataloguing each one:
4:10 — Booker/Bismack Biyombo pick-and-roll; Bruce Brown tries to jump the screen, fouling Booker as he pulls up for three. Ends in 3 FTA.
3:15 — Booker over Damion Lee/Deandre Ayton double-drag; Brown and Nikola Jokic blitz Booker, leaving Ayton with a mismatch (Christian Braun) under the basket; Booker fakes a pass with his eyes to a wide open Kevin Durant in the weakside corner, prompting Braun to leave Ayton for Durant, allowing an easy finish for Ayton. +2 points.
2:55 — Brown fouls Booker at halfcourt, trying to apply ball pressure. Sideline out of bounds, Suns ball.
2:50 — Booker over Lee/Biyombo double-drag to right; swing pass to a wide open Durant in the weakside corner for a three. Miss.
2:15 — Booker/Biyombo pick-and-roll; Jokic switches onto Booker but plays too high, so Booker snakes inside, turning the corner for runner. +2 points.
1:45 — Booker/Biyombo pick-and-roll; Booker rejects screen and drives to Jeff Green who walls him up, so Booker backs out and finds Lee for open three on right wing. Miss.
1:00 — Biyombo brings Booker the switch from Green, so Booker pulls up for three over him. +3 points.
0:25 — Payne brings Booker the switch from Jokic, so Booker turns the corner and gets to the rim. +2 points.
10:45 — Booker catches the sideline out of bounds (SLOB) pass going downhill, kicks from paint-to-great to Torrey Craig in the left corner, open for the three. Miss (Denver foul on the rebound, Suns ball).
10:40 — Booker passes to Durant, who gets downhill for a floater. Miss (Denver foul on the rebound, Suns ball).
10:35 — Booker finds Jock Landale in the paint with Braun mismatched on him; Braun fouls Landale. SLOB, Suns ball.
9:45 — Landale brings Booker the switch from Jamal Murray; Booker sidesteps downhill to get around the corner and get to his runner. Miss (Landale offensive rebound).
7:45 — Booker gets the offensive rebound, passes it ahead to streaking Durant, who finishes in transition. +2 points.
7:05 — Ayton grabs offensive rebound and kicks out to Booker, who drives on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to get to his middy. +2 points.
5:35 — Booker breaks down Caldwell-Pope all the way down to the low post, fades away. Miss.
5:05 — Josh Okogie comes up to set the screen but he slips and Denver blitzes Booker; Booker feeds Okogie on the short roll and Okogie finds Ayton for the easy finish. +2 points.
4:20 — Okogie comes up to slip again, bringing Booker the switch from Murray; Booker pulls up for three over Murray. Miss.
3:20 — Booker gives to Durant on right wing; Durant works into a double-contested middy. Miss.
2:35 — Booker/Ayton pick-and-roll; Jokic hedges so Booker works the ball around the perimeter to an open corner three from Payne. Miss.
1:30 — SLOB to Booker, who drives right before swinging across to Durant in the left corner. Miss.
For those not counting, the Suns shot 7-17 for 18 points over 20 possessions of Point Book post-Paul injury. Almost every single miss during that stretch came on what I would consider to be a good shot too, including three missed corner threes that were all considerably uncontested.
Among offensive packages that the Suns are left with now that Paul is out and they don’t have a reliable bench playmaker, they should stick to what little they can trust. I trust Point Book enough for it to be their base package and build out your offensive gameplan from that.
Plus, there’s a lot of evidence to the idea that Booker has been just straight-up better at running the pick-and-roll than Paul has during these playoffs. Per Synergy, Booker is scoring 0.975 points per possession (75th percentile) running those possessions compared with 0.854 (37th) for Paul. So in some ways, it could be a blessing in disguise altogether.