PHOENIX SUNS

Suns’ Elfrid Payton says Chris Paul reached out in free agency, excited to return

Aug 12, 2021, 7:12 PM
Elfrid Payton #6 of the New York Knicks heads for the net as Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns ...
Elfrid Payton #6 of the New York Knicks heads for the net as Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns defends in the first half at Madison Square Garden on April 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns prioritize depth on the roster, so while a player like point guard Elfrid Payton doesn’t look like a perfect stylistic fit for the team, it wasn’t surprising to see him added on a one-year deal in free agency.

That’s because Payton has started 87.5% of his career NBA games, giving head coach Monty Williams a wealth of experience to rely on for his third-string point guard.

Payton told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Thursday that Suns point guard Chris Paul recruited him in free agency.

“Obviously, being able to play with him, learn from him, was something at the start,” Payton said of being attracted to Phoenix because of Paul.

With the 36-year-old Paul on a contract that could run for up to four years, perhaps there will be a handful of games a year the Point God takes off to maintain himself through that deal. That’s something that especially has to be considered for the Suns and Paul coming off two straight short layoffs, with this last one following a grueling run to the NBA Finals.

In theory, backup point guard Cam Payne could slide into the starting lineup, where Payton fills in at the reserve role.

A struggling shooter on the perimeter is a rare acquisition for general manager James Jones, and that’s what Payton is. The 27-year-old is a career 28.9% three-point shooter, and that’s on just 1.4 attempts per game, as Payton will often pass up those shots.

Where he will make up for that is as a steady ball-handler. Payton’s biggest strengths are getting to the basket and providing for his teammates.

With the New York Knicks last season, Payton started to control the offense less and less, which diminished his ability to stay in rhythm and make an impact.

That’s the delicate balance of a player like Payton. He doesn’t provide much value without the ball, including as a defender, where he’s capable but also prone to making mistakes.

When he has the ball, Payton can make some things happen as a passer. He’s always been great at a variety of looks while playing at his own pace and seeing the right passing angles.

But along with the perimeter shooting issues, Payton has never been a proficient scorer in other areas to make up for that. Even though he’s generated almost half of his total career shots at the rim, Payton has shot 55% or less there each of the last three seasons, a below-average number, per Cleaning the Glass. His midrange numbers flutter under 40% as well, a poor mark.

With all that said, there were stretches of last season where the Suns were missing a ball-handler that could run the offense in a pinch. That’s the insurance and relief from the end of the bench that Payton can provide and why he’s a logical signing.

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