The Western Conference just got a little more interesting on Monday afternoon. The Thunder continued to purge the roster, this time sending their other PG, All-Star Chris Paul, to the Phoenix Suns. The deal also sent Abdel Nader to the Suns, and Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque to OKC. The Thunder had just dealt Dennis Schroder to the Lakers, leaving Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the only PG left for OKC. So while it hurts Rubio and Oubre are gone in Phoenix, we have a new Big 3 in the West in the form of CP3, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
We’re going to break down the trade in terms of fantasy basketball impact for the 2020-21 season. Let’s start with the Suns side.
Chris Paul trade impact on Phoenix Suns
So starting out, let’s just look at the Suns depth chart a little bit after the chips fall:
PG: Chris Paul, Elie Okobo, Cameron Payne
SG: Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo, Abdel Nader
SF: Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Abdel Nader
PF: Cameron Johnson, Cheick Diallo, Frank Kaminsky
C: Deandre Ayton, Frank Kaminsky
The Suns have three free agents they’d need to sign in PG Jevon Carter, PF Dario Saric and C Aron Baynes. If all three are retained, the roster would have some added depth, but with CP3’s salary being so massive, it’s unlikely both Baynes and Saric return. The Suns have a lot of depth at guard, but Carter will likely get the qualifying offer, which is a $1.9 million salary. So chances are when the dust settles on free agency, the above is what the Suns roster and depth chart will look like. Let’s get into it.
It’s difficult to track down fantasy basketball stats with how nutty last season was, so we’re going to do our best. According to CBS Sports, Devin Booker finished 8th among guards in fantasy points with 40.5 per game. CP3 was 13th among point guards with 35.7 FPTS per game. Ayton was 8th among centers in FPTS per game at 34.9. So you’ve got two top 10 players at their positions and then Paul, who will likely be a fringe top 10 PG heading into 2020-21.
I think the CP3 deal will do wonders for Ayton. He was already a fantastic rebounder and inside scorer. Giving Ayton one of the best PGs of our generation to work with should only boost his offensive efficiency. The one big thing Ayton needs to work on before the season is his mid-range game. Coming off pick-and-rolls with Paul, Ayton will need that jump shot to keep defenders honest.
Ayton only played 38 games last season and saw his field goal percentage drop slightly as a result of more attempts (54.6% on 8.2-14.9 per game). His effective FG% was down to 54.8 percent, but Ayton was also dealing with injuries for most of the season. Paul should help in these departments, setting Ayton up for easier buckets than before. It helps a lot that Paul is a much better offensive player than Rubio.
It’s also worth noting again that Baynes and Saric may not be on the roster. The Suns will probably need to bring in another veteran big behind Ayton and Kaminsky, since Johnson isn’t a true PF. Even so, we can expect Ayton to take up the bulk of the minutes at center regardless. So with that, as long as Ayton can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe he can sniff 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, while shooting above 55 percent from the floor with around 1.5-2.0 blocks on average.
The Athletic’s Eric Wong ranked Ayton at No. 22 in a top 70 for 2020-21 back at the end of October. We can reasonable put Ayton into the top 20 with upside to finish in the top 15 if the Suns offense is as lethal as expected. I understand it’s a lot of mouths to feed with CP3 there, but Ayton will get his. Remember, this is his third season — and really he’s closing to a season and a half than two full seasons. I’m no season-long fantasy basketball expert, but Ayton seems like a decent pick toward the back end of the second round or early third round depending on if its 10 or 12 teams and the format.
The best way to picture things working out for Booker is by looking at how the Houston Rockets operated with CP3, James Harden and Clint Capela. Now, Ayton is a bit different from Capela, who is more of a pure, rim-running center. But Harden and Booker have a lot of similarities in how they play and score the ball. Harden is obviously more polished, but not by much. Booker has had some pretty insane ceiling games over the past few seasons.
The difference between CP3 with Booker instead of Harden is ego. Nothing against The Beard, but he and Paul clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye all the time. Booker should be much more receptive to tutoring and guidance from CP3. This could make for perfect chemistry on the Suns, plus Paul is familiar with coach Monty Williams from one season in New Orleans.
Booker was basically a top 10 asset in season-long fantasy last season and Wong has the SG ranked inside the top 10 heading into 2020-21. The ceiling for Booker this season? Scoring champion. He’s that good and is full capable of leading the NBA in scoring after finishing 9th overall in 2019-20. Will that happen? It isn’t very likely, mostly because Paul will eat up some more usage and Ayton is there as well. It isn’t necessarily a negative for Booker, but he is going to have to play off the ball more than he has in the past. There will be times when CP3 takes over in crunch time and there will be times in which he cedes to Booker. We should expect at times for Williams to rest Paul to keep him fresh for the playoffs and let Booker run rampant.
In the two seasons Harden and Paul played together in Houston, The Beard won MVP in the first season in 2017-18 and had one of the best regular-season performances ever in 2018-19, leading the League in scoring at 36.1 PPG. This was all while Paul maintained a usage rate about 22.5% in both seasons. Harden led the NBA in usage in both seasons with Paul at his side. So really, CP3 eating into Booker’s usage has been debunked. I debunked myself in a matter of minutes. The flip side of the argument is that was D’Antoni’s offense. The Suns won’t launch 3-pointers at an alarming rate but they will be able to run teams off the court.
As for season-long formats, I’d be perfectly fine looking at Booker as a late-round option in the first round. He’s a good get with the quick turnaround in snake drafts. If it’s a head-to-head categories league, you shore up scoring and 3-pointers pretty easily with Book. If it’s ROTO, he should help with FG% and 3P%. Booker shot a career high 48.9 percent from the floor last season and CP3 should help improve efficiency. I’d expect Booker’s assist numbers to drop a bit as well as his rebounding numbers since CP3 is a great rebounder for his size at PG.
Ahhhh, finally we’re at CP3! So my only real concern about Paul heading into this season is the wear and tear on his body from playing a ton of basketball. Paul is 35 years old and isn’t exactly the player he once was — at least not as consistently. That’s the thing, we may not see Paul play as much during the regular season, especially under the circumstances with the quick turnaround for 2020-21. The Suns will want CP3 ready for when games matter in the playoffs.
Wong had CP3 at No. 44 overall in his top 70 rankings for 2020-21. I think we can give him a slight bump up but not by much. I think the offense he’s in now will mirror that of the Rockets more so than in OKC. That is a positive factor alone. Paul played 70 games plus the postseason for the Thunder in 2019-20, though he did have a long layoff between March and the season restart in July to get his body right. Maybe that will help Paul stay fresh early on in 2020-21.
The biggest thing — and I know I’ll get some eye rolls from you — is that Paul is incredibly motivated. He’s one of the top leaders in the NBA, whether you like him or not. At this point in the twilight of his career, Paul is championship or bust. That’s all he cares about right now. The new setting in Phoenix, out from under some of the scrutiny from his days in Houston, another fresh start. I think all these things will be great for his mindset. Last season, when everyone counted out the Thunder, Paul went on to average 17.6 points and 6.7 assists per game, a big jump up from his numbers with the Rockets the season before.
I think a reasonable projection for Paul heading into his first season with the Suns is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-5-5 with good shooting splits. The assist numbers should be higher than that, but I’m going to temper my expectations. CP3 will have games in which he lets Booker and Ayton do most of the heavy lifting, and then there will be times when Paul posts a triple-double and hits a game-winner. That’s just where he’s at in his career. He can’t do it every night, but once in a while he’ll remind you why he’s one of the best PGs in our generation.
In season-long, I’d peg Paul as a decent sleeper pick if you can get him later than the 5th or 6th round in your draft. I’d anticipate he goes a bit higher with the hype train in Phoenix, so in a 10-team league he could go in the 4th or 5th round. Best case scenario, Paul finishes inside the top 50 in scoring. Worst case, his stats take a hit and he sits out games to prepare for the postseason.