Cam Payne will have a largely increased role with his new team, the Phoenix Suns. So, what kind of performance can they expect from him?
Major Payne has accompanied the Phoenix Suns to Orlando for the NBA’s newly-designated “bubble” area that will house the resumption of basketball in an ongoing COVID-plagued environment.
And no, I’m not referring to the beloved movie drill sergeant, nor any stress or pain that could possibly weigh on players’ bodies or brains (that was a Kendrick Lamar reference for all you avid hip-hop connoisseurs out there).
“Payne” here refers to NBA journeyman point guard Cam Payne, whom, once known for jovial pre-game dance renditions with fellow Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook during his tenure with the blue and orange, has reclused to a much more dormant back-up role towards the end of NBA team benches in recent years.
In fact, the contract Payne signed with the Suns on June 30 marked the first time his name appeared on an NBA roster in nearly a year.
But struggles to find work in the league have not always been the status quo for the 25-year old.
He was a consistent supplement to Westbrook’s fiery offensive style of play in OKC after being drafted 14th overall by the team in 2015, providing a smooth change of pace and easy transition offense off the bench to quintessentially complement Westbrook’s pedal-to-the-medal approach to the hardwood. Payne averaged 5.1 points per contest and just under 2.0 assists as a member of the team.
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The two established an ideal backcourt pairing for head coach Billy Donovan during Payne’s two-year stint there, and fans had ample reason to believe that his quick-strike scoring ability could be the flashy lightning to Westbrook’s mighty thunder for years to come.
Business endeavors though, (as they usually do in the association) reigned supreme for general manager Sam Presti despite Payne’s consistent production, and after missing significant time due to an operation on his fifth metatarsal bone at the inception of the 2016-17 campaign, he was dealt to Chicago along with teammates Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne for Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson and a second-round pick.
Another surgery to the same foot kept him sidelined for the start of the second consecutive year during his first few months as a Bull, and although spotted outbursts showcased the scoring flair he was able to bring to Oklahoma City, including a 17 point, six assist night Mar. 23, 2018, and a career-high 21 points on 7-of-11 from 3-point land Oct. 23 of that same year, Payne was unable (both literally and figuratively) to find his footing in the Windy City.
Two short-lived stints with Cleveland and Toronto followed his departure from Chicago, and shortly thereafter Payne found himself in unequivocal unbeknownst territory for him: the G-League.
So, how does Payne help brighten the Suns’ outlook after a full year away from the game’s highest-ranking level of professional basketball?
Well, that answer is simple. He takes over ball-dominant duties as a heady facilitating backup one-guard while providing a seamless scoring threat as a crafty lefty that can get to his spots and elevate from all levels of the floor.
Phoenix has employed a guard-heavy style of play ever since the prophetic arrival of their hopeful savior Devin Booker, and the addition of Ricky Rubio during the 2019 offseason only solidified their backline as they ramped up their small-ball efforts, exploring several different lineups with big man Deandre Ayton out due to suspension at the beginning of the season.
With Rubio now hampered by the coronavirus, young gun Jalen Lecque battling injury, and Jevon Carter the only other active point guard on the squad’s roster, Payne’s role in the Phoenix Suns playoff push will increase ten-fold.
And he’s hoping the tremendous momentum from his hot streak prior to the season’s stoppage with the G-League’s Texas Legends will have the utmost carrying power – a run that included a Player of the Week tabbing after averaging 23.3 ppg to go with 10 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals a night.
Payne has long established himself as one of the NBA’s premier dancing talents, but with Phoenix slotting in as the Western Conference’s bottom seed and considerable hopes of usurping several foes in light of the looming postseason, he’ll play a huge on-court role in their possible ascent to the top eight.
Only time will tell if he can rediscover his once lost groove, but one thing’s for certain: there will be a major pain infliction on the rest of the league when the Phoenix Suns resume basketball action.