Cameron Payne’s form has posed a problem for the Phoenix Suns

Cameron Payne’s first year with the Phoenix Suns exceeded expectations and made valuable contributions as the team made an historic run to the NBA Finals.

After a stunning start to his NBA career, after which he played abroad, Cameron Payne signed with the Phoenix Suns ahead of the 2020 bubble in Orlando. He averaged 11 points (shooting 52% from three-point range) and three assists during the team’s eight-game winning streak.

This earned him a roster spot for the next season. He averaged eight points and four assists in 18 minutes per game in the 2021–22 season. His slashing, perimeter scoring and playmaking really helped the Suns bench and contributed to their great regular season.

His performance proved valuable, and his jerky style of play surprised teams throughout the year. During the postseason, he became a starter in Chris Paul’s absence to start the Western Conference Finals.

Payne performed incredibly well, delivering a monumental performance of 29 points and nine assists in game two against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But single games like this can often cloud our judgment of a player’s consistent contributions. His goalscoring efficiency peaked in the 2021 regular season before absolutely crashing in any future environment.

Here’s a comparison of Payne’s true shooting percentages, his field goal percentages on the rim, and his efficiency from across the arc.

True Shooting Percentages

2021 Regular Season: 60.2%
2021 postseason: 51.0% (-9.2)

2022 Regular Season: 50.0%
2022 postseason: 35.2% (-14.8)

Payne was the least efficient scorer of the entire 2022 playoffs.

Field goal percentages from three feet away

2021 Regular Season: 66.7%
2021 postseason: 55.1% (-11.6)

2022 Regular Season: 53.6%
2022 postseason: 37.5% (-16.1)

Three point percentages

2021 Regular Season: 44.0%, 37.3% on pull-up three-point attempts
2021 postseason: 36.2% (-7.8), 18.2% (-19.1) in pull-up attempts

2022 regular season: 33.6%, 29.9% on pull-up attempts
2022 postseason: 16.7% (-16.9), 28.6% (-1.3) in pull-up attempts

Phoenix Suns, Cameron Payne

Phoenix Suns, Cameron Payne. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Payne was played off the floor during the 2022 NBA playoffs, leaving Phoenix Suns fans very uneasy about their backup point guard situation.

Payne’s “playoff drop” against stronger defenses reduced his stat significantly. As teams began scouting and creating a game plan for him, he became a much less effective player last season.

He was helped with the new signings by Javale McGee and Landry Shamet. The former combined with Cameron Johnson to serve as perimeter options for him while McGee was an effective role man.

The two seemed to bond at the pick-and-roll, and McGee was particularly good at picking up Payne’s mistakes on the edge. In ball-screen action with the Suns’ big men, Payne was able to keep the offense alive to a degree. Below are the stats on these actions with him as the ball handler.

Cameron Payne x JaVale McGee: 8.4 screens per game, 1.23 points per possession

Cameron Payne x Deandre Ayton: 8.4 screens screens per game, 1.16 points per possession

Cameron Payne x Bismack Biyombo: 6.0 screens per game, 1.05 points per possession

Unfortunately, both Payne and McGee became less valuable in a playoff setting. Not only has Payne been a lot less efficient over the past year, he seemed to be forcing too many shots and not easing as much as before.

In the last five games against the Dallas Mavericks in their second-round series, Payne shot 3-on-20 from the field. He was also targeted on defense, often being chased on switches by Luka Doncic, with the Suns foolishly conceding every time.

Payne was effectively played from the ground, leaving the Suns in an awkward and vulnerable position when it came to their backup point guard situation (especially with Paul getting injured in back-to-back postseasons).

So can we expect Payne to bounce back from a bearish year if the team brings it back, or was his 2021 season just an outlier?

When bought on the trade market, the Suns have limited options. You need a replacement that can both stay grounded and maintain a balance between scoring and enabling tasks.

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