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The Suns lost because they're still relying on a 37-year-old point guard to be their best player

Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards in the history of the NBA.

Chris Paul is also 37 years old and just 6-feet tall in a league where the average age is about 26 and the average height is 6-6. His ability to consistently carry teams deep in to the playoffs has been incredible, but it never should have been expected. And because his younger Phoenix Suns teammates never grabbed the reins of the team after last year’s surprise finals run is why their season came to a crashing end on Sunday.

In a game they were favored to win by 6.5 points over the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns trailed by as much as 46 and lost by 33. Through three quarters, Paul had three points on 1-of-5 shooting. He finished the game with 10. Like much of the series, he looked old and slow, and he rarely looked to shoot. He declined to acknowledge an injury in his postgame presser, but Andscape reported that his quad was hurt.

So how did the team’s 25-year-old ascending All-Star Devin Booker respond with Paul reportedly less than 100%? He scored 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. That’s one less made field goal (on six more attempts) than Paul, who actually tied Ish Wainwright (?) for the team lead.

And that right there is the Suns’ problem in a nutshell. Paul, at 37 years old, is still their best player and the person who sets the tone for the team. It’s not simply a luxury for them to have his experience and expertise on the floor. They NEED him to be good, and that shouldn’t be the case any more. Booker and Deandre Ayton have the talent to be the team’s best players, but they aren’t yet. Paul led the team in win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus and value over replacement player this season, and that’s while having just the fifth-highest usage percentage of Suns players with at least 50 games played.

Booker, who averaged nearly 27 points this season, finished fourth in MVP voting largely because of his ability to score. But his impact is minimal when his shot isn’t falling, and his scoring average dropped to 23 points in the playoffs. Luka Doncic, who finished one spot behind Booker on the MVP ballot, gave the Suns guard a front-row seat to what a team’s best player is supposed to look like. He scored 35 in Game 7 and his average has gone up from 28 points to nearly 32 in the postseason. Ayton, who was drafted two spots ahead of Doncic in 2018, also failed to increase his production in the playoffs. He finished Game 7 with five points in just 17 minutes. The Suns could have use more from Mikal Bridges, too.

This isn’t to absolve Paul from blame, because he has to be better than he was — just ask Patrick Beverley, who thinks Paul should’ve been benched. And this is just the latest in a string of playoff collapses in Paul’s career.

But his age makes this latest blown series a little different. Paul doesn’t appear capable of carrying a team deep into the postseason, nor should he be expected to. His body could barely hold up in the playoffs when he was younger.

As long as he’s Phoenix’s best player, their window to win a championship is incredibly narrow and might already be closed. Last year was likely their best chance unless and until Booker and Ayton become the team’s leading one-two punch.

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