About a week after the All-Star break, the Phoenix Suns were hit with back-to-back blows to their line-up. On the day of the All-Star game, word broke that All-Star point guard Chris Paul was going to miss six to eight weeks recovering from a right thumb avulsion fracture.
One week later, the Suns announced that Devin Booker was placed in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19.
This was a big blow to Phoenix. Now, they were going to have to play without their two best players while trying to run away with the number one seed in the West. Also, in the few games that Booker played without Paul before testing positive, he was the starting point guard. This meant that the Suns would have to find playmaking and scoring from one of their point guards off the bench.
However, the same day Booker was ruled out, the Suns received the good news that Cam Payne was ready to return. Payne, who had been sidelined with a wrist sprain for 12 games, knew the role that he had to play in order for the Suns to continue their success.
In his first four games back, Payne’s looked like he had not missed any time. He averaged 15 points and an impressive 11 assists per game. This includes his last game against the Orlando Magic where Payne finished with 18 points, 12 assists and six rebounds for a Suns win.
“We’ve been talking to Cam about letting the play develop,” head coach Monty Williams said after the win. “He has the ability to score, which we want him to score, but there are times where you have to let the offense breathe a little and let the offense develop.”
In the game of basketball, Payne’s role is a spark plug. This means that Payne comes off the bench and provides the Sun’s with a punch. This is due to the energy he brings when he enters the game, his quick, aggressive playstyle, and his ability to create open looks for himself and his teammates.
“I just think the way our gym moved, the way our team moved, we just play point five and play unselfish,” Payne said, “I just try to keep that up and kind of keep my pace.”
With only Paul out, the Suns are still in a comfortable position to remain the one seed by playoff time. As of right now, Phoenix is up eight games over the surprising Memphis Grizzlies. This also comes with only 17 games left in the regular season.
With Booker’s return to the line-up against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, the Suns are in the driver’s seat for the number one seed in the Western Conference.