NBA All-Star Weekend has come and gone, leaving the 30 teams to focus on what’s left of the regular season. While some organizations will look at the remaining schedule with optimum, the Phoenix Suns could be in for a rough next two months.
The Suns were the recipients of bad news over the weekend when it was revealed that superstar point guard Chris Paul had been diagnosed with a right thumb injury. The NBA’s leading assist man will be out of Phoenix’s lineup for the next six-to-eight weeks and will be re-evaluated at the end of that timetable.
Paul has been an integral part of Phoenix’s success this season, which has led to the Suns leading the Western Conference with a 48-10 record. The 36-year-old is currently averaging 14.9 points on .487/.330/.843 shooting splits, while also putting up 4.5 rebounds and an NBA-leading 10.7 assists per game. He also leads all Suns players with 8.7 win shares. Needless to say, his presence will be missed for the foreseeable future.
With that being said, here’s a look at what the Suns’ future looks like without Paul, as well as how his injury could affect their NBA Championship odds.
Phoenix’s Remaining Schedule
The Suns have a total of 24 games remaining on their 2021-22 NBA regular-season schedule. The good news is that Phoenix has the sixth-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon. The organization’s remaining opponents have an average winning percentage of .486, which will go a long way in helping them keep a stranglehold over the Western Conference’s top spots.
When it comes to the Western Conference standings, the only two teams that have the best shot at catching Phoenix are the Golden State Warriors (6.5 games back) and the Memphis Grizzlies (8.0 GB). Fortunately, the Suns only play each of those teams once apiece down the stretch, leaving them in control of their own destiny. Barring a major collapse, Phoenix should finish the season as a top-three seed.
Who Will the Suns Replace Paul with in the Lineup?
With Paul likely missing the rest of the 2021-22 regular season, fans are wondering who’ll replace him as Phoenix’s starting point guard. It’ll be tough to fill his shoes after the 12-time NBA All-Star has started in each of the Suns’ 58 games this season.
The good news is that the Suns have options, even if they have to fill Paul’s shoes by committee. The most likely candidate to see time as the starting point guard is Cameron Payne. The 27-year-old is set to return from an injury on Thursday, so it’ll be against the Oklahoma City Thunder, so it’ll be interesting to see how he performs.
Payne has averaged 10.5 PTS/2.8 REB/3.6 AST in 40 games so far this season with a true shooting percentage (TS%) of .498. The important thing to point out, though, is his 6.4 assists per 36 minutes is fairly decent and should help replace some of Paul’s playmaking.
Another player who could help out is Elfrid Payton. While he’s seen a lesser role in Phoenix than he did with the New York Knicks, he brings experience as a starter, having started in 394 of his 488 career games. He’s also averaging 6.6 assists per 36, so it’s entirely possible that the Suns split the starting point guard minutes between him and Payne to make up for Paul’s absence.
There’s also Aaron Holiday, who the Suns acquired from the Washington Wizards at the NBA Trade Deadline for cash considerations. He’s only played three games with Phoenix so far, averaging 13.3 minutes of playing time in that span, so head coach Monty Williams may want to evaluate Holiday more before giving him a significant role.
Will the Suns Make a New Addition?
There’s also the buyout market, with guards like John Wall and Dennis Schroder being potential candidates to be released. However, that’s far from a guarantee.
Having said that, even if the aforementioned Phoenix trio can’t replicate Paul’s presence both on offense and defense, Suns fans should feel confident in their team’s point guard depth.
How Does Paul’s Injury Affect NBA Title Hopes for the Suns?
Anytime a player of Paul’s magnitude is injured for up to two months, it’s only natural that his team’s future betting odds could take a hit.
The Suns currently have +450 odds to go on an NBA Championship run this season, according to BetMGM’s latest odds. Those odds are currently second-best across the league, only trailing the Warriors at +425.
Assuming his recovery goes as planned, Paul could be back in time for the playoffs. If he’s fully healed, it’s hard to bet against the Suns making their second straight NBA Finals appearance and winning it all this time around.
On the other hand, there’s a real possibility that the Suns could re-evaluate Paul in six-to-eight weeks, only to find out that he needs more time to heal. The path to a championship is already hard as it is, but it’ll be even more difficult if Phoenix is without one of the best point guards in NBA history.
If that’s the case, the Western Conference is essentially the Golden State’s race to lose — especially if Stephen Curry can build on his 50-point NBA All-Star Game performance down the stretch. The Grizzlies are up there too, but as exciting and talented as they are, the Warriors have championship DNA and could take over the conference if Phoenix can’t overcome Paul’s absence.
Nevertheless, the Suns have a bit more than 25% of the regular season left to go. Assuming they can go at least .500 (12-12) down the stretch, they should still open the playoffs with some sort of home-court advantage. If they can then get a healthy Paul back in the mix, an NBA Championship run could still be a realistic expectation.