Chris Paul's time with the Oklahoma City Thunder appears to be over.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Thunder have agreed to trade Paul to the Phoenix Suns for Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and draft compensation.
Sources: Suns' future first to the Thunder is protected 1-12 in 2022, 1-10 in 2023, 1-8 in 2024 and unprotected in 2025. https://t.co/e4AFUN3OfD- Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 16, 2020
The Suns aren't expected to compete for the title this season, but Paul makes for a fascinating addition, one that could separate them from the middle of the pack in the Western Conference and help end their decade-long playoff drought.
How? Let's take a closer look.
A new Big Three
Every move the Suns make moving forward should be viewed through the lens of how it impacts Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Paul doesn't fit the same development timeline as either of them - Booker and Ayton are both in their early 20s, Paul is in his mid-30s - but he complements both of them well on the court.
Let's start with Booker.
First and foremost, Paul is much more of a 3-point threat than Rubio, who started at point guard for the Suns last season. While Rubio converted 41.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, making him one of the most efficient catch-and-shoot threats in the league, he's still someone teams aren't afraid to help off of. Of the 76 3-pointers Rubio made, 55 were "wide open." An additional 18 were "open," meaning his closest defender was between 4-6 feet away.
Catch-and-shoot 3s have never been a big part of Paul's game, but he's combined to make 40.6 percent of those opportunities over the last five seasons. Teams are more reluctant to help off of him when he doesn't have the ball in his hands, which should give Booker even more room to operate in the halfcourt.
Secondly, Paul is a far superior shooter off the dribble. Whereas Rubio made 20.8 percent of his pull-up 3s last season, Paul made 35.8 percent of his.
Paul also made 54.8 percent of his midrange pull-ups compared to 40.6 percent for Rubio.
Being the elite pull-up shooter that he is, Paul was one of the league's best pick-and-roll and isolation scorers last season, ranking in the 92nd percentile in pick-and-roll efficiency and the 75th percentile in isolation efficiency. (Paul might not be as quick and athletic as he once was, but he's still incredibly crafty, knowing how to get his shot off against all types of defenders). The combination will take some of the playmaking burden off of Booker, who had the 16th-highest usage rate in the league last season, and give the Suns someone they can run their offence through whenever Booker isn't on the court.
The second point is important because Phoenix's offence fell off a cliff whenever Booker was on the bench last season. According to NBA.com, the Suns went from averaging 114.9 points per 100 possessions to 99.7 points per 100 possessions when Booker wasn't on the court. For perspective, that was the difference between them having the second-best offence in the league and the worst by a mile.
With Paul, the Suns will have a much better shot at winning those non-Booker minutes.
|Situation||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|Booker on court||114.9||112.2||+2.7|
|Booker off court||99.7||103.5||-3.8|
As for Ayton, he'll have a field day playing next to Paul. Paul has plenty of experience playing with talented big men, from David West and Tyson Chandler in New Orleans early in his career to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles. Paul and Ayton make for a dynamic pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop pairing, especially if Ayton continues to expand his range.
An encouraging sign: Rubio assisted Ayton more than anyone else on the Suns last season. Rubio (8.8) finished the season averaging more assists than Paul (6.7), but the Suns won't lose much - if anything - in terms of passing by going from Rubio to Paul. Even at the age of 35, Paul is still one of the best passers in the league.
Paul should be able to replace a lot of Rubio brought last season on the other end of the court. Again, Paul isn't as quick as he once was, but he's still a genius defender, one who defends much bigger than his size.
So ... what's the risk?
Every trade comes with risk.
In regards to Paul, there are two main concerns:
- His age and injury history. Paul was healthy last season, but he was limited to 58 games in both 2017-18 and 2018-19 because of injuries. Considering the Suns parted ways with two rotational players to get Paul in Rubio and Oubre, they will have a hard time replacing Paul if he were to miss an extended period with an injury.
- His contract. Paul has two more years remaining on his contract. He's guaranteed $41.4 million in 2020-21 and has a player option worth $44.2 million in 2021-22 that he's expected to pick up. Not only would it be difficult for the Suns to trade him if things did go sideways for whatever reason, but trading for Paul also limits the amount of cap space the Suns will have in each of the next two offseasons.
Additionally, there are no guarantees in the Western Conference. Paul raises Phoenix's ceiling, there's no doubt about that, but to what degree? Assuming they stay healthy, it's hard to imagine the Suns being better than the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets or Golden State Warriors this season. There's also the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers, each of whom made the playoffs last season, not to mention the likes of the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans.
As good as Paul is and as well as he should fit with Booker and Ayton, he alone doesn't guarantee a playoff spot for the Suns.
Does all of that outweigh the potential upside of trading for Paul? We'll soon find out.
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