The Phoenix Suns have a “future point guard” problem. If just the fact that Chris Paul turned 37 three months ago isn’t enough to wake you up, Bright Side’s Tom Aizenberg like to remind me that Paul fell off the proverbial cliff as soon as that birthday arrived.
Paul turned 37 on the day of Game 3 against Dallas in the second round, and here are his stats from Games 3-7:
9.4 points (7.2 FGA), 3.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.6 turnovers in 32.3 minutes per game; The team was 1-4 and -49 through the five games – even in the lone win, Paul was only +7 in a 30-point win.
The individual stats are respectable enough in a vacuum, but not when you consider the context, like how he’s one of two roster focal points and is projected to earn $28.4 million in 2022-23.
Walk in Duane Washington Jr.who at 22 is the youngest player Phoenix has acquired (beyond a 10-day contract) since Jalen Smith was drafted in 2020. He also happens to play combo guard and showed flashes of true point guard potential dating back to his three years at Ohio State and a year with the Indiana Pacers.
I use “per 70 possession” numbers, which vaguely resemble the sample size of an average starter in an average NBA contest. I’ve found that in my lead scouting work, it helps normalize the difference between college and pro.
- ohio state first season: 2.6 assists for 2.6 turnovers; 600 total minutes
- second season: 2.4 AST to 2.2 TB; 698 minutes
- junior season: 3.7 AST to 2.8 TB; 997 minutes
- Indiana Pacers rookie season: 3.0 AST to 2.0 TO; 968 min (85 total assists with 52 more potential assists – assists leading to shot attempts which, in this case, weren’t converted)
- Fort Wayne Mad Ants Rookie Season (G League) (per 36 min; no per 100 data available for G League): 4.8 AST to 2.6 TB; 358 minutes
There’s a pretty clear upward trend from season to season, and as Washington moves from a bad NBA setting to a divisive one, it might even see another jump.
Washington has a knack for landing cool bouncing passes, especially when he’s going downhill and the defense is hot on his heels:
I like plays like this where Washington hits Domantas Sabonis from a dribble pass (DHO) because it gives a different look to the more traditional pick-and-roll. Defenses need to be prepared for all the moving pieces around the big, like any perimeter pieces before the transfer, as well as the downhill aspect of a big after.
It’s worth pointing out that Phoenix was one of eight NBA teams to run transfer plays less than 4% of the time with just 3.9% possessions; Washington’s former team, Indiana, tied for the 8th highest frequency at 5.8%, and that has a lot to do with Sabonis’ presence (he was traded to Sacramento at the trade deadline, and they ended up being the Indiana team tied for 8th).
If Deandre Ayton wants to be more actively involved in offense, he could embrace more of a DHO game himself, for what it’s worth.
Here’s another example of DHO, Washington hitting an even harder passing angle, having to wrap around the defender to get the ball in the lane to Sabonis. He does it without even thinking twice and gets the look as soon as Sabonis is in place…almost like 0.5 seconds… *eyeball emoji and such*
He also has a solid passing touch inside. Here he takes Myles Turner to the edge on a possession that seems oddly translatable to playing with Ayton:
And another downhill example where Washington pushes the pace hard enough for Oshae Brissett to be able to sneak past Mitchell Robinson for the finish.
The Suns have struggled as a team to create for others through penetration, and Washington will help in that department. He drives hard when he drives, and that immediately helps playing, as evidenced here:
…as well as this pass from a blitz, another area where Suns guards struggled last year:
There are obvious obstacles to any leap Washington would make, and the most important of them is volume.
For example, 3.0 assists for 2.0 turnovers per 70 possessions seems pretty good for a combo guard who just finished his rookie season. But even someone like Cam Payne had more than three times as many assists during the season (282 for Payne, 85 for Washington).
I’m going to steal a word from that ESPN article about James Jones and the Suns “ignoring” the draft by saying it’s not that Washington doesn’t have the ability for a jump; it’s more like there are barriers that prevent him from getting that volume of opportunities, let alone being effective in the opportunities.
It’s no secret that there are four or five guards ahead of Washington on the depth chart as things stand, and we know Monty Williams isn’t the most liberal coach when it comes to he gives development minutes, but it’s that same context that can force Washington’s best play, who spoke in an interview with PHNX Suns about what it can mean to go from a bad team to a great team:
And now, going from a bottom-five team to a top-five team in the NBA is like a switch, a snap. I’m super, super excited to see how the guys perform, to see how the guys move, follow directions, listen, learn – love, improve and also be who I am. Just be who I can be, and whatever they ask of me, I’ll make sure to give my 110% and learn.
A lot of “ifs” go into Washington’s future with the Suns and the NBA in general, but there are enough flashes and enough good indicators to believe that in the right context and the right circumstances, it can happen. flourish.