Chris Paul Injury: How CP3’s Likely Absence Will Test Devin Booker

The Phoenix Suns have been living a charmed life for the last two seasons. Superstar guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker helped guide the Suns to a 51-21 record and an NBA Finals berth in 2020-21. Since then, they’ve nearly matched that win total by going 48-10 heading into the All-Star break.

However, a dark cloud has recently been cast over Phoenix’s bright season. Paul, the team’s fearless floor general, might be on the shelf for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, Booker will face tremendous pressure to keep the Suns atop the West.

Chris Paul revealed he might have to miss some time due to a hand injury

Among the reasons the Suns have the NBA’s best record is the fact Paul has played in all 58 games. Though that might change very soon.

CP3 is in Cleveland this weekend for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. Paul, who was an All-Star selection for the 12th time, placed some doubt on his status for Sunday’s exhibition due to a right-hand injury suffered earlier this week. Additionally, the veteran mentioned the possibility of missing time after the break.

“We’re 48-10 and if we do miss some time I know the guys are going to hold it down,” Paul, whose hand was wrapped in a cast, told ESPN on Saturday. “There’s always going to be a frustration with injury. My hand surgeon is part of my family now.”

The 36-year-old whacked his right hand on the arm of Houston Rockets forward Jae’Sean Tate while attempting a pass on Wednesday night. He underwent an MRI the following day, though the results have yet to be released.

“I always want to play. When I felt that in my hand, I was mad for all types of reasons,” Paul said. “Obviously we’re not going to [rush it]. I’m going to try to heal as fast as physically possible. The second I’m able to play, I guarantee you I will be playing.”

Considering Paul’s history with hand/wrist injuries, the Suns should anticipate their star guard missing time. The 10-time All-NBA selection has undergone four surgeries for either his hand or wrist over his 17-year career. His latest procedure was last summer, where CP3 underwent surgery on his left wrist after playing through the injury all postseason.

Devin Booker will face added pressure if Paul misses an extended amount of time

Before Paul arrived in the desert, the Suns were in the midst of a franchise-worst 10-year playoff drought. Booker, Phoenix’s first-round pick in 2015, was on half of those teams, including one that went a putrid 19-63 just three seasons ago.

The Suns are not suddenly going to become an abomination if Paul misses time. If that’s the case, give CP3 his first MVP. But Booker will have to amp up his game in order to keep Phoenix at its current pace.

The 25-year-old is averaging 25.5 points with 4.5 assists through 51 games. With no Paul and backup guards Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet still out with injuries, Booker should take on more of a distributing role in the short term. He’s done so in the past, averaging 6.5+ assists from 2018-2020.

Whether it’s by facilitating or taking more shots, Booker will hope to keep Phoenix’s fourth-rated offense moving along the way Paul does. Though that’s easier said than done, as the Suns’ offensive rating is nine points worse without Paul on the court than with him. For context, that’s a greater difference than when MVP candidates Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are on and off the court for their respective clubs.

Booker is still a great offensive talent, but he’s not able to get the best out of his teammates the way Paul can. It will be fascinating to see how Phoenix’s superior supporting cast is also affected by the loss of its leader.

The Suns have time to withstand CP3’s potentially-lengthy absence

As of writing, there’s currently no timetable set for Paul’s recovery. But considering his surgery record, secret MRI results, and casted hand, it’s fair to assume the future Hall of Famer might sit for a while.

However, even if Booker can’t sufficiently replace his backcourt partner, the Suns have plenty of time to wait until CP3 is A-OK.

Phoenix holds a commanding 6.5-game lead over the two-seed Golden State Warriors and an eight-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. It also helps that four of its first five games after the break are against sub-.500 teams.

The Suns have also proven they’re more than a team that desperately relies on its All-Stars. Six regulars are averaging double-digit points, including the 2018 first-overall pick Deandre Ayton and lockdown defender Mikal Bridges. Their roster as a whole is why the Suns rank an impressive fourth in offensive rating and third in defensive rating.

Will that change with Paul out? Certainly a little bit. But Booker and the Suns should still be viewed as title threats until proven otherwise.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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