Something has been brewing in Phoenix over the past few months. Ever since the Mavericks blasted the Suns in an embarrassing game seven display, Phoenix hasn’t looked quite right. Jae Crowder demanded a trade, Deandre Ayton tried to leave in free agency, and Devin Booker, Cam Johnson, and Chris Paul have been sidelined for extended periods of time this season.
On top of this, the team is in the midst of an ownership change. Everything feels weird in Phoenix at this point. All of that being said, Paul made his long-awaited return to the court on Sunday, and he reminded everyone who the Phoenix Suns actually are: a winning basketball team.
Normally, a two-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies in game 48 of the regular season would not mean much. For the Suns, it may be a huge turning point for the season as a whole. Phoenix came into the contest 4-12 in their last 16 games. With role players Damion Lee and Dario Saric stepping into starting roles in recent games, the Suns were on a downward trajectory and losing games at an alarming rate.
In his return, Paul dropped a casual 22-point, 11-assist double-double. He also tacked on three steals for good measure. The future Hall of Famer looked as vintage as he could be. With the Suns adding Paul and Johnson back into the starting lineup, they should start getting back on a winning pace.
CP3 may not be the player he once was, but he is exactly what Phoenix needs right now. A mere two seasons ago Paul was going for a 50-40-90 season. Now, he is shooting 42.7 percent from the floor and 80.9 percent from the foul line. His scoring is also at a career-low 13.4 points per game. Despite this apparent dip in production, Paul has transitioned into the perfect floor general for the Suns.
This is especially prevalent in Mikal Bridges’ play this year. Bridges, who shot 62.8 percent on two-pointers and 53.4 percent from the field last season, has taken a massive hit in the efficiency department this season. He is down to 49.3 percent on two-pointers and 45.9 percent from the field.
This stark difference in shooting is a combination of two things. First, Booker has missed substantial time, which has forced Bridges to be the second-best player on the team (a role he is not suited for). Second, Paul has missed time as well, which caused Bridges to elevate to the number one option (a role he is definitely not suited for). With Paul’s elite playmaking return to the starting five, Bridges can shift back to a lesser role and increase his overall usefulness in the process.
CP3 is no longer going to blow people away with scoring outbursts at this point in his career, but he is still an extremely valuable asset to the Suns. His on-court presence shifts the entire tone of the offense from Bridges-centered to team-centered. With his all-world defense and playmaking, the Suns can survive for a little longer until Booker returns from injury. Once that happens, look out Western Conference. This team is dangerous.