Lakers-Suns preview, Pt. 4: Chris Paul’s chemistry with the reserves

May 22, 2021, 7:01 AM

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns drives the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second ...

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns drives the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on March 21, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

To get you ready for the Phoenix Suns’ first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kellan Olson of Empire of the Suns is rolling through some of his biggest keys to the series.

After reviewing Devin Booker’s potential impact, looking down low and at LeBron James, we close on where the Suns could capitalize the most.

Stealing little stretches of a game is the key for an underdog in basketball.

The Phoenix Suns are that against the Los Angeles Lakers, and they also have a group that is equipped to do that.

The Lakers cannot have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the floor for all 48 minutes. They will spend time resting, often separated, and some of that will be during the Point God’s time to attack.

When Chris Paul checks out around the six-minute mark of the first and third quarters, he will return to the game amongst the reserves, when Paul has been at his best this season.

Paul accumulates data on his first shift. He’s reading the opposition’s opening schemes, shifting it in certain directions to see how it moves and responds to certain tactics.

The floor general is also getting the gameplan started where he and Monty Williams want it, whether that’s touches for Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker or someone else.

It will not be looks for Paul himself. He averages 2.2 shots per first quarter this season, last among all starters.

But when Paul checks back in for his second go, that’s when he turns it on. He leads the team in shot attempts per second quarter, where he will often be joined by backup center Dario Saric and Cam Johnson, the first wing off the bench.

Looking at three-man lineups with Paul in them, the top-7 in net rating include one of Saric or Johnson, and the trio together has a 13.9 net rating in 185 minutes.

Paul’s three highest net ratings with another teammate in the rotation are with the Suns’ three top reserves. We’ll get to backup point guard Cam Payne in a minute, but it’s at a 10.2 with Saric and 8.3 for Johnson.

While Saric lost his spot to Frank Kaminsky just before the playoffs, it’s expected for him to get at least a look or two to start the series given what he does well.

A lot of that is with Paul, who Saric has great chemistry with in the two-man game.

They’ll improvise their own dribble handoffs, even with Paul screening for Saric to get himself a better matchup.

Johnson is pretty cut and dry. He’s got the best gravity of any shooter, and Paul still finds him.

Johnson has been assisted by Paul almost twice as much as any other Sun, a grand total of 59 times.

The wing is also an active body. He gets up and down in transition, moves off the ball and has also improved his game off the bounce.

You’re setting yourself up for success if you can do that stuff with Paul on the court.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s Payne.

In his last 10 games over 21.7 minutes a night, Payne is posting 13.7 points and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 54.9%.

A tweak from Williams in the last stretch of the regular season was keeping Payne in the game when Paul comes back from that initial breather.

That is a recent development, as the two have only played 84 total minutes together this season. But when they do, the Suns are plus-32, good for an 18.9 net rating.

Paul said it was actually something he had suggested to Williams to give them another ball-handling threat, and it has paid off.

Payne, the team’s best three-point shooter at 44.0%, is also the fastest. He can slash off the dribble if Paul’s primary action gets clogged up.

Paul and Williams will start throwing Payne in those actions as well to really muck it up.

Due to Payne’s recent inclusion alongside Paul, Johnson’s wrist injury and Saric’s role change, that foursome has not played together all season.

The Lakers do not have a better supporting cast than the Suns. The minutes for the Suns’ alongside Paul on the court are an advantage to Phoenix and the ones they must win to smoothen out the edges toward an upset.

All statistics via NBA.com/stats

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Lakers-Suns preview, Pt. 4: Chris Paul’s chemistry with the reserves