36 unbothered: Will Suns miss Chris Paul or Deandre Ayton more?

Oct 21, 2023, 8:27 AM

Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton...

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns talks with Deandre Ayton #22 during the first half of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Footprint Center on January 06, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Heat defeated the Suns 104-96. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.

He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.

Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.

To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is three days away from Saturday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will round out the last 12 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season after being joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby for the first 24.

Previously –

Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something
Day 31: How the Big 3 develop chemistry

Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as owner
Day 29: How does Suns’ place of play change without Chris Paul
Day 28: Suns can maximize Yuta Watanabe in proper role
Day 27: Deandre Ayton finally is traded
Day 26: Who is Suns’ biggest threat in Western Conference?
Day 25: Matrix and STAT in Ring of Honor
Day 24: Phoenix Suns’ most appetizing lineups combinations
Day 23: The importance of Kevin Young’s return to the Suns
Day 22: The revamped Suns sunburst jerseys

Day 21: TV antennas and Phoenix Suns basketball for all
Day 20: Is there room on the Suns to unlock Bol Bol?
Day 19: What Grayson Allen brings to Suns
Day 18: Suns’ championship expectations
Day 17: Drew Eubanks could bring pop to Suns’ center group
Day 16: Olympic implications
Day 15: Jusuf Nurkic changes the Suns in the middle
Day 14: Jon Bloom takes over for Al McCoy on the airwaves
Day 13: Eric Gordon was the Suns’ biggest offseason signing
Day 12: Do the Suns need to trade for a point guard?
Day 11: The Suns need Josh Okogie

Day 10: How Phoenix Suns can build a championship defense
Day 9: How Suns can lose the Deandre Ayton trade
Day 8: Who is the Suns’ most important player outside Big 3?
Day 7: Is there a way for the Chris Paul trade to come back to bite the Suns?
Day 6: Do the Suns still have the best star duo in the NBA?
Day 5: Multiple ways Suns benefit from elite spacing

Day 3: Will Suns miss Chris Paul or Deandre Ayton more?

Kellan Olson: So I think if I start with what the Suns look like without them, they can be a much faster team without Paul offensively and also generate far more rim pressure with his replacement. No Ayton, however, allows the offense to flow easier without his inconsistent engagement.

Defensively, though, it’s not close. Even if Ayton is floating around, he’s still providing a presence and threat the Suns were never going to be capable of replacing. Paul’s vocal role in this regard was a bit underrated and I was higher on how well he was still defending compared to my podcast co-host.

With what it looked like with them here, Ayton’s near-automatic finishing on offense will be missed. So will Paul’s floor general acumen that bests just about everyone in the history of the game.

Part of this answer is hard because Paul got replaced by Bradley freaking Beal. If it was Terry Rozier, different conversation!

I think it’s Ayton rather decisively based off his traits but I’d be very curious to hear what people within the organization think. I’m guessing it’s more split than we’d be led to believe.

Kevin Zimmerman: I am sure the comments to this post will either accuse us of creating clickbait or laugh at the concept of this discussion entirely. Paul was a foundation and a focal point as a personality on the past Suns teams, but here is where we get into considering how tied at the hip they were.

As Paul showed his age last year, it was actually Ayton’s presence that propped up the point guard, allowing both of them to pick their spots to keep Booker and Durant somewhat rested. Remember they for spurts taking over games in the playoffs just this past year?

Both of them were defensive liabilities, though Paul’s genius allowed him to make up for a lot of his physical limitations at this point.

At the end of the day, Ayton’s ups and downs make me favor Paul to answer this one. But I have to think twice about what Phoenix will miss without Ayton, a true 35-minute-per-game center who was the found piece that helped the Suns to an NBA Finals run and then went missing the past two playoffs runs.

What more does Ayton have to give as an NBA player, and would it have come out under Frank Vogel or any new coach? Does Chauncey Billups get more in Portland?

Even though it makes sense for Booker to take his rightful place as the true leading voice for the Suns, Paul was still someone to lean on. Ayton on the other hand was someone the team just couldn’t trust enough to lean on. But I do think there will be moments where Ayton’s absence in the middle will stick out like a sore thumb, and I’m not sure we’ll feel the same with Booker, Beal and Durant filling in the gaps left by Paul.

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36 unbothered: Will Suns miss Chris Paul or Deandre Ayton more?