With training camp underway, the acquisition of star point guard Chris Paul is changing the culture of a Phoenix Suns team that is looking to take the next step in becoming a competitive presence in the Western Conference.
Paul is a 10-time All-Star and averages 18.5 points per game in his career, but his contributions extend beyond his offensive abilities. He said he is ready to embrace a role where he can serve as a mentor to the younger players on the roster.
“I’m an open book,” Paul said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Whatever they wanna know, I’ma tell them. I’m always learning day in and day out.”
Paul, 35, is now the oldest player on the Suns roster, followed by newly acquired E’Twaun Moore and Jae Crowder. The trio are the only players over 30 and were all acquired this offseason.
Suns coach Monty Williams is thrilled for the addition of these veterans, including Paul, whom he coached 10 years ago in New Orleans. Williams said that he witnessed substantial growth in Paul and is ready for a second shot at coaching his new point guard.
“I have a responsibility to develop and help these guys become the best version of themselves and I think Chris has always felt that,” Williams said Tuesday. “He feels the responsibility to make guys better.”
Williams emphasized the impact that Paul would have on the team’s defense. The Suns ranked 20th in total points allowed and 22nd in opponent field goal percentage last season, according to Basketball-Reference.
Paul led the league in steals six times and made an All-NBA defensive team nine times in his 15-year career. Third-year guard Mikal Bridges acknowledged the impact Paul will have on the defensive side of the ball.
“Everyone is going to learn a ton of things just from him teaching In practice or film,” Bridges said Tuesday. “Things that we wouldn’t see, that he’s just so used to.”
Leadership is one of the main benefits from the acquisition of Paul, Bridges said. He added that Paul is chasing his first championship ring so his hunger to win will be infectious for the rest of the Suns.
Williams is looking forward to this change in culture as the Suns failed to qualify for the playoffs 10 straight years.
“If you look at his heart and his intention you will see a guy that might be one of the most competitive people you will ever, ever be around,” Williams said. “I’ve witnessed it for myself. I’d rather be around that than guys who don’t want to win.”
Paul’s tenacity caused a few issues with teammates in the past, but the young faces of the Suns are also ready for the culture shift in Phoenix basketball. Sophomore guard Cam Johnson is not only prepared for Paul’s level of basketball intensity, but for the work ethic Paul exhibits off the court.
“That’s invaluable, you can’t put a value to that,” Johnson said. “With his body of work, it’s really cool to have someone like that in the gym, on our team and able to lead us.”
However, Paul said this process is reciprocated and that he does not know every possible thing about the game of basketball.
“Everyone always talks about what I can teach Book or what I can teach some of these other guys, but they’re teaching me, too,” Paul said. “We’re here to hoop, we’re here to compete and I think that’s the way I approach this.”
Paul also said he watched Johnson and Bridges play during their college careers and maintained a good sense of how they play. With a strong young core and two All-Stars for the first time since Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, the Phoenix Suns are highly expected to be successful.
However, the coaching staff and players are looking forward to this type of pressure.
“We understand that the expectations of this team have gone up exponentially,” Williams said. “Why would you want to play without pressure?”
With NBA training camps beginning just Tuesday, the Suns will now have three weeks before they take the court with these unfamiliar expectations.