July 2019. Chris Paul has just completed the season with his smallest production in his career: only 58 games, barely 15 points and 41% success on penalties. All for over $ 35 million. The Rockets, out of the shot, came out in the second round of the playoffs, beaten by the Warriors for the second year in a row. James Harden can’t take it anymore. He refuses to rub shoulders with this loudspeaker of CP3 one more year. Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Texas franchise, is also tired. He does the accounts. “Paul’s contract is one of the worst in the history of sport”, even dares the billionaire. Executives have no choice but to send the 33-year-old, soon-to-be 34 point guard to the Thunder. He is then considered a superstar on the decline, too old and too tired to lead a team to the title, he who has never reached the NBA Finals anyway.
Chris Paul (Houston Rockets)
Credit: Getty Images
Devin Booker was not doing much better at the same time. The 22-year-old full-back blazes in Arizona. But his 26 points and almost 7 average assists are not even enough to convince the coaches to make him an All-Star. He is seen as this statistics player who shines in the void, without having an impact on his team’s results. An unnecessary superstar. His teammate Deandre Ayton then benefits from almost the same label. His first season in the league is quite satisfactory, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. But it is nothing compared to that of Luka Doncic, fantastic for his Mavericks debut and drafted two places after the pivot from the Bahamas. Above all, above all, above all … the Suns suck. Only 19 wins in 82 games. Good last in the West. The laughing stock of the championship.
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The Suns have found their “Big Three”
July 2021. Two later, this trio is bringing Phoenix to a historic coronation. They led the Suns in the playoffs, which is already a mini event after eleven years of waiting, before qualifying for the finals. A first since 1993 for the franchise, never awarded a title. To go to the end, it will therefore be necessary to beat the Bucks three more times. The series is far from over. For once, she does not oppose two armadas. Not Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving. But, as in previous editions, the finalists are once again guided by the “Big Three”. With Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, the Suns have found theirs. And he is perhaps the most efficient in the league this season.
It all starts with Paul. His arrival transformed this team. He made it into a winning machine in his image: intelligent, competitive, relentless and perfectionist. The Suns no longer balk at the effort. They pay attention to the small details. They constantly apply. The influence of the veteran on the group is very strong. And his teammates readily admit that they are inspired by him on a daily basis. “He’s the best leader in the NBA”, says Booker. “Chris has taught us a lot since he came here”, continues Cameron Payne.
CP3 has changed its approach
The group is united from the first to the fifteenth man and everyone has a say, as long as it is for the common good. But CP3 remains the head of the snake. Except that his message has not always gone so well during his career. There was a time when he couldn’t make himself heard with Blake Griffin at the Clippers or James Harden at the Rockets. Because he was content to shout his instructions, to moan every two minutes and to get frustrated when one of his comrades did not understand as quickly and easily as him. “You are not a leader if others are not following you. Otherwise, you are just talking to yourself.”, notes Monty Williams, coach and mentor of Paul.
Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Credit: Getty Images
For a long time, the “Point God”, one of the best players in history at his post, chattered in the wind. But he was able to challenge himself enough to change his approach by playing with younger athletes in the Thunder and Suns. He too has learned. “A few years ago, I would have disembarked during the time out to yell”, admits the concerned by evoking a moment of Match 6 against the Clippers in the previous round. The Suns led by 17 points before conceding a 10-0. “There I said to myself ‘OK, we stay cool.’ Because I’ve learned to deal with different characters and if you go wild it can make your teammates nervous and shy. ” Williams sees this development in his player’s leadership. And suddenly, it works.
There is no ego problem with us
It also works because Devin Booker, the second man of the trio, is mature enough to understand that it is in his best interests to leave Paul in charge. Unlike Griffin or Harden, he hasn’t been touted as a superstar since high school. He was not drafted in the top five (13th pick in 2015). We haven’t told him constantly since he was 12 that he will become a great player. This is a more important detail than it seems. Because suddenly, he does not feel obliged to be absolutely number one on his team. Even Kyrie Irving ended up leaving LeBron James to become her own boss… well, before playing with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker in NBA Finals Game 1 between Phoenix and Milwaukee, July 6, 2021
Credit: Getty Images
Booker knows full well that he will also have his share of the pie even if the ball is often in the hands of his partner. They managed to take turns perfectly in Match 1 on Tuesday night. Clumsy, Paul let Booker score 12 points in the first quarter. To then take over. Discreet for a moment, the young man resurfaced in the money time to plant two important baskets. “There is no ego problem with us”, Booker warns. “I think that’s the most important thing. We both want the team to win and we’re on the same page. I appreciate it a lot.”
Ayton, the revelation
Influenced by his elder brother, he himself becomes a better leader. And the two take pleasure in joining forces to pull up the third star of the Suns: Deandre Ayton. The first choice of the 2018 draft is clearly the revelation of these playoffs. He held on ahead of Anthony Davis (before his injury) and Nikola Jokic. He was one of the strong men in Match 1 with 22 points and 19 rebounds. Another building site in the racket for someone who strongly resembles the X factor of these NBA 2021 finals. The 22-year-old interior is gaining momentum. But that does not prevent his two comrades from constantly pushing him to do better. Sometimes scolding him. But rather than take offense or withdraw into himself, Ayton fully accepts this behavior.
“I know that whatever Chris tells me, or anything he tells me to do, comes from the heart. If you’re a competitor, you don’t just focus on how someone tells you something. . You focus on the message “. A rare attitude for a player of his age. This complementarity between their different personalities is the key to the success of the Suns. Everyone has their role. Each has its place. And each makes the other stronger. Ayton provides space for Booker and Paul by putting up beefy screens and constantly drawing the attention of the defense. Booker allows Paul to breathe creativity and scoring. Paul finds scoring opportunities for Booker and Ayton. The three go together. And as long as they stay in sync, it will be very difficult for the Bucks to beat the Suns.
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NBA: Paul – Booker – Ayton: how the Phoenix Suns built the League’s most complementary Big 3