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Vol.2, Iss.12: The Playoff Cam Payne
Could the Suns backup Point Guard be the key to their success in the Post-Season?
Firstly, I owe you an apology…..
It has been over a month since the last Issue. And well, that’s kind of an issue. Some life things have recently got in the way and I don’t like to put out average content, so I just haven’t been able to find the required time. Sorry about that. But I am here to make it up to you with an exciting Newsletter on the eve of the Playoffs. And there might hopefully even be some more to come soon.
Are You Ready For This…..
Cameron Payne is ready.
70 months ago - Payne was drafted into the NBA.
50 months ago - Payne was traded for the first and only time in his career, by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
48 months ago - Payne played in his last NBA Playoff game, logging 4 mins for the Chicago Bulls.
28 months ago - Payne played his last meaningful NBA game, for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
19 months ago - Payne lasted just one pre-season NBA game, after signing with the Toronto Raptors.
16 months ago - Payne was suiting up for the Shanxi Loongs, in the Chinese Basketball Association.
14 months ago - Payne was named the G League Player of the Week, while with the Texas Legends.
11 months ago - Payne answered the call from the Phoenix Suns.
If you are a Suns fan reading this and think you’ve had it tough waiting for the franchise to return to the Playoffs, then spare a thought for Cam Payne. And while you are at it, you may as well thank him for helping Phoenix get there too. What Payne has done ever since picking up the phone and accepting the challenge from James Jones and Monty Williams, has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Just like his redemption story.
Payne entered the NBA Bubble wearing purple and orange for the first time and I wrote: “Can the Suns get enough out of 10-15 minutes of a 2-man game between Cam and the likes of Frank Kaminsky? Honestly, it might be the difference between winning and losing a couple of bubble games.”
Cam averaged 10.9 PPG and 3.0 APG on 48/51/85 shooting splits, in just under 23 MPG. The Suns went 8-0.
Fast forward to Season 20/21 and those averages are now 8.2 PPG and 3.5 APG on 48/43/89 shooting splits, in just 17.8 MPG. The Suns are 49-21 and Payne is again another big reason why. But does it have to stop there?
Payne is fresh off playing the most minutes in a game this season. The win over Portland, making it 7 out of the last 8 games where he has logged over 20 MPG. In those 8 games, Payne is averaging 13.4 PPG and 3.4 APG on 53/56/100 shooting splits. Not bad, huh?
By the way, Phoenix is 15-4 when Payne plays over 20 minutes and 18-2 when he scores 10+ points. Now is there some blowout game noise in those stats? For sure. But I think there’s something worth exploring (and the Suns most definitely have been lately) when you couple it with another interesting stat.
The Suns are currently 11-3 when deploying #TheFullStagger of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Actually 11-1 if you are willing to throw out the recent losses to the Lakers and Warriors. Hint: I am. In those games, the magic formula seems to be Book and CP3 playing 22 minutes together while logging 15 and 11 alone respectively.
What’s interesting about that? Well, it leaves up to 26 minutes for Payne to fill in the backcourt. Hell, even more if you play all 3 guys together and Monty has even trialled that in recent games. If staggering the Suns two stars is the magic formula, is increasing Payne’s minutes at the same time the special sauce?
I’d like to explore this idea a little further for the remainder of the Newsletter. Using Payne’s recent game film from the last 8 games, let’s look at how he might have a similar impact on the Suns Playoff run as he did in the Bubble.
Pulling Up To The Spot
Among likely Suns rotation players, Cam Payne is the team’s best three point shooter at 43.6% on 2.7 attempts per game. So it makes perfect sense to start with the skill that is proving to be the most valuable this season.
By far his favorite spot is the top of the key, where he is currently making 45% of all attempts. Drilling down a little further, you will find that Payne shoots a respectable 37.1% on pullup threes too. Respect being the operative word. Because if you don’t respect him, he’s going to nail it in your grill.
Film Note: Check out the box out on the big from Payne at the beginning. Becoming a real feature of his overall game.
This skill goes a long way to Payne’s production in transition. Currently he ranks in the 81st percentile as a transition threat. The shooting opens up so much of his game and is a huge reason why he has been able to anchor second units this season.
Film Note: Self explantory here. Payne freezes Caruso with the threat of his pull up and goes right by him.
A Bit Of Magic
Categorizing Payne as simply a spark plug off the bench though, doesn’t do justice to how far he has come during his return to the NBA. On a nightly basis this season, he has brought energy AND composure to his role as backup PG.
Often in the right spot defensively, Payne creates a lot of the Suns fastbreak opportunities well before finishing them. When adding in assists to his overall transition profile, Payne creates a staggering 1.75 points per possession (PPP). That’s 96th %ile in the NBA.
Film Note: The combination of being a pullup threat and shooting lights out from the top of the arc, creates the attention needed to open up the driving lane for Mikal.
His 0.9 combined steals and blocks per game, hardly do him any justice either. Payne hanging out at the nail on defense and digging at opposition drives, has become a regular occurence for the Suns. Maybe this stat does him a better service - per 36, Payne is Top 5 on the Suns in deflections, charges drawn and loose balls recovered.
Film Note: Payne is always watching the play and pounces all the opportunity to dig down for the steal on the drive.
But again, it’s not all just heart and hustle. That’s what has been so surprising this season and why Payne can be a key contributor to the Suns Playoff run. Cam has brought a steadiness to the backup PG role, that Phoenix fans haven’t seen in years.
Film Note: Look at the clock. Payne did. With 37 seconds to go, he knows there is a chance at a 2 for 1.
2 for 1? How about 3 for 1?
When you take that steady hand and maintain the relentless effort that got you back into the NBA, you get a REALLY special player. There’s 0.8 seconds left on the clock. I don’t want to single out Book here because he has every right to believe the quarter is over. Payne had other ideas though.
Film Note: My favorite part of this play is Payne running the lane. He gets Rose’s attention by doing so, which is what allows Craig to get the first putback.
Hitting The Books
Now let’s single out Book. This is where it gets really interesting come Playoff time. Payne isn’t just your regular old backup PG who will come in and keep the offense afloat for 10 minutes in a high stakes game. He’s more than that, and has been more than that all season long.
As a two man combo, Payne and Booker have logged an impressive 651 minutes together this season. Their net rating in that time is +7.0. The reason it works so well is because Payne knows how to play off Booker and is a fantastic secondary creator when called upon too.
Film Note: It’s Payne’s flare screen for Johnson that gets him switched onto a big and creates the feed to Kaminsky.
Payne doesn’t just stand around while Booker isolates either. He MOVES!
It’s one thing to be a spacing threat for Book. It’s a whole different ball game if you are taking your defender away from him. Or in the case below, punishing your defender for being too concerned with Book.
Film Note: Not only does Cam never stop moving, he’s basically already driving on that final catch. That’s what catches everyone off guard.
That’s the special stuff that makes this combination great. What underpins it all though, is a healthy staple of being ultra efficient from eachother’s creation. Payne is 95th %ile off the catch this season, shooting 48.3%. Want to know a big reason for that? CP15 shoots 54% off passes from Booker and is 16/30 (53.3%) on threes.
Film Note: Payne hangs back for the outlet from Ayton. As soon as it goes Booker’s way, he gets to his spot instead. Why? Look at the attention Book draws in transition.
However, this isn’t a one way relationship. The back scratching goes both ways. While Devin is a disappointing 34% from three this season, that number rises to 41.9% when the pass comes from the Suns backup PG.
Film Note: In the Elbow set, Payne never takes his eyes off Booker. So when Book audibles, Payne already knows where to throw the pass.
Partnering With Paul
If the Booker pairing is the proven commodity, then partnering with Paul is the tantalising unknown. Payne and Paul have only shared the court for 78 minutes so far this season, but have an Offensive Rating of 128.4 and a Defensive Rating of 106.5. That’s uhhhh, pretty good!
In those minutes, CP15 has only taken 7 shots off passes from CP3. However, two of those shots (and another nice extra pass) came in the last game against Portland. On three seperate occassions over just 4 minutes, this rare pairing built a lead that ended up settling the result over the Blazers. Could it be something we are about to see much more of?
Film Note: Look at the attention Paul draws and the release valve Payne provides as both a passer and shooter.
It doesn’t just have to be off direct passes either. With Payne playing mostly with Booker, it leaves Paul to run units with little to no secondary creation. By sprinkling in some of this new combo, the Suns find someone who can attack off all the attention Paul draws.
And who knows, maybe that will mean more open looks for Paul too? Currently, he’s only taken 5 total shots off passes from Payne this season. The Suns might look to shock teams with this new look in the post-season.
Film Note: Mikal’s pass is a little off target, so Payne fakes with his eyes by looking down at the three point line and then taking off.
Dropping The Elbow
You know the Elbow by now, I know the Elbow by now, if you don’t know the Elbow by now and want to - then here’s how.
The unique difference Payne brings when running this Suns staple, is how often the ball comes back after the initial action. And they are safe hands to find yourself in. Take Deandre Ayton for example - the drop off is minimal in his efficiency when receiving passes from Paul (61.7%), to Booker (61.5%), to Payne (59.3%).
Film Note: Ayton’s roll draws the help. Payne’s man has to rotate, so he attacks Love off the dribble and makes sure he rewards DA with the lob.
It’s the playmaking that might be overlooked, due to the incredible shooting numbers. Payne is ranked 66%ile in the half court as a scorer, generating a serviceable 1.003 PPP. His extremely impressive Isolation and Pick & Roll stats, are somewhat dragged down by poor runner and rim efficiency.
However when you factor in assists, that rank skyrockets to above 95%. Largely thanks to a 3.6 assist to turnover ratio, resulting in 1.455 PPP.
Film Note: Payne picks up his dribble but realises there’s still a lane to attack. Quick 1-2 with Kaminsky and he draws all the help. Easy pop out.
Again, Payne is never out of the play after running the Suns initial action. Over 70th %ile as a spot up shooter. When he isn’t moving after giving the ball up - he’s spacing. Usually both.
Film Note: A pass to Mikal is the initial read. The counter is for Mikal to come back to Payne, where Cam runs his man right into the screen. Punishes the confusion.
Finally, Payne sports a 77%ile rank in the Pick & Roll. Managing to be a little more efficient around the basket when he can manipulate off the screen. Overall, he shoots well below league average inside at just over 50%. But his ability to draw defenses as an outside shooter and often faciliator, can get him better looks at the rim.
Film Note: Small miscommunication here as Book expects the pass on the cut. Just the slightest hesitation freezes Lillard and he waits for Booker to take his man away.
Time to update that Pre-Bubble question in time for this Phoenix Playoff run.
Can the Suns get enough out of 20-25 minutes of Cam? Can he lift the likes of Frank Kaminsky AND work off Book/CP3? Honestly, it might be the difference between winning and losing a couple of Playoff games.
Can’t wait to find out.
Just a few extra notes on Mr. Payne to end:
A lot of Suns fans are wondering what the team can pay Cam to return next season. Because of his stint in the Bubble, he qualifies for the Early Bird Exception. Which means the Suns can offer up to 105% of the average NBA salary. This season that is roughly $10mil and change, plus 5%. Not bad.
Zach Lowe named Cam in his annual Luke Walton All Stars team.
Chris Herring wrote this great feature on Cam recently too.
Finally, this video from The Timeline was featured last Issue but it makes sense to include it again.