Chris Paul Gives Phoenix Suns Hope in the Face of Devin Booker's Injury

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2022

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 19: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns talks with Chris Paul #3 against the New Orleans Pelicans during Round 1 Game 2 of the NBA 2022 Playoffs on April 19, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Phoenix Suns are on the verge of the first significant test of their 2021-22 campaign.

Devin Booker had a pair of short-lived absences earlier this season. Chris Paul missed 15 straight games with a broken thumb, but Phoenix had pretty much secured the West's top seed by that point.

But now, deadlocked with the energized New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, Booker is out with a hamstring injury. And it could cost him the rest of this series.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that Booker has a Grade 1 strain, which usually takes 14 to 21 days to recover from. That would put his return to the court in the first of second week of May. If the Suns-Pelicans series goes the distance, Game 7 would be April 30. 

The reasons why this loss is significant are obvious.

At 26.8 points per game, Booker led the Suns in scoring. Their net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) was 3.6 points better with him on the floor. And during the second half of Game 2 against New Orleans, of which Booker missed all but seven minutes, Phoenix seemingly had no one to counterpunch against Brandon Ingram, who dropped 26 points on 13 shots in the final two frames.

The Pelicans came from behind to win that game. And if they secure three more victories, this series will surely be added to the list of playoff failures and misfortunes that already haunt Booker's teammate, CP3.

Seven years ago, during the 2015 playoffs, a hamstring injury kept Paul out of two games against the Houston Rockets. His Los Angeles Clippers lost that series. A year later, he broke his hand during a series the Clippers lost to the Portland Trail Blazers. And in 2018, he helped the Houston Rockets take a 3-2 lead over Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the eventual champion Golden State Warriors before another hamstring injury cost him Games 6 and 7.

The difference between those injuries and this one, of course, is that Paul isn't the one who suffered it. In the past, he had to sit on the sidelines and watch his teams lose. He was helpless. Now, he can be the one to pull his team through.

And the last two seasons have provided plenty of evidence that he can pull it off.

Matt York/Associated Press

Since the start of 2020-21, CP3 has played 1,597 minutes (regular and postseason) without Booker. And in those minutes, he has averaged 20.7 points, 11.4 assists and 1.6 threes per 75 possessions, with a 58.8 true shooting percentage.

The Suns' net rating in those situations was plus-5.8 (the Memphis Grizzlies' fourth-place net rating this season was plus-6.2).

Even in what may be the twilight of his career, Paul has shown an ability to live up to his Point God moniker. But he won't be able to beat the Pelicans by himself.

As good as CP3 has been, he can't entirely make up for the loss of 25-plus points per game. That responsibility will have to be spread among everyone, but especially Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson.

All three have been solid when Booker isn't on the floor:

  • Ayton: 19.0 points per 75 possessions, 61.8 true shooting percentage
  • Bridges: 14.8 points and 1.4 threes per 75 possessions, 58.7 true shooting percentage
  • Johnson: 17.1 points and 3.1 threes per 75 possessions, 58.5 true shooting percentage

None of the above, though, has the ability to self-create from scratch the way Booker can. Ayton is a good post player (his post-up scoring efficiency ranks in the 76th percentile on 3.2 possessions per game). And Bridges has dabbled a bit in pick-and-roll ball-handling.

But the burden for creating shots, both for himself and others, will fall mostly on soon-to-be 37-year-old CP3.

And everyone around the league will surely be paying attention.

Before the playoffs started, Phoenix had the shortest odds to win the title. Now, the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics have leapfrogged them, per FanDuel Sportsbook, and the Miami Heat aren't far behind.

Before Booker's injury, the Suns didn't feel like an overwhelming favorite. After it, the contenders' tier feels as crowded as it has ever been.

If Paul leads his team through this storm and eventually tops that tier, he'll have the kind of legacy-sealing moment few superstars can claim.

And if you stack that on top of a nearly unparalleled statistical resume, CP3 will find himself in some lofty conversations.


Stats via NBA.com, Cleaning the Glass and PBP Stats.

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