The NBA's trade season got underway with a bang early Monday afternoon as the Phoenix Suns acquired Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder for a package centered around Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, and a protected 2022 first-round pick.
The deal set the NBA Twitter world on fire, but it didn't exactly materialize out of nowhere. Paul-to-the-Suns rumors had been floating around for the better part of the last week, though it was unclear just how close the two sides were to striking a deal.
Paul now joins his third team in as many seasons, having made a two-year stop in Houston before a brief-but-memorable detour in Oklahoma City. Much has been made about Paul's contract, which pays him north of $41 million next season and nearly $45 million in 2021-21. But a deal that was once deemed "untradeable" has now been dealt in each of the last two offseasons. The primary reason for that? Paul's game – and his body – haven't deteriorated at the rate most expected.
In his final year with the Clippers, Paul missed 21 games. He missed 24 games in each of his two seasons in Houston, the first of which ended with an untimely hamstring injury in the Western Conference Finals. But as a member of the Thunder last season, Paul missed just two contests, playing in 70 games (in a shortened season, no less) for the first time since 2015-16.
Paul's track record implies that last season is the exception, rather than the rule. But Phoenix is betting on the 35-year-old bucking the trend once again. To obtain Paul's services, the Suns surrendered a fairly valuable package, but it's worth noting that Phoenix kept its three most valuable assets in Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, while also hanging on to the No. 10 pick in Wednesday night's draft. The Suns are all-in on Paul, but they didn't have to mortgage their future to get there.
Rubio was a solid starter who fit well with Booker and Ayton, but even with the age difference, there's no debate that Paul is a significant upgrade. And while Oubre is coming off of the best season of his career, he's in the final year of his contract, and it was unclear if the Suns were going to be willing to pay up for an extension. Lecque and Jerome are two very different prospects who each carry some intrigue, but neither projected to help the Suns any time soon.
So for as risky as placing your franchise in the hands of a 35-year-old point guard may be, Phoenix will still be in a good place, asset-wise, if Paul's body does begin to fail him this season.
From the Thunder's perspective, getting off of Paul's contract was the impetus, and OKC was able to do so while also netting a few assets. Rubio could start next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or he could be re-routed to a point-guard-needy team closer to contention.
Oubre steps in as perhaps the Thunder's best pure scorer, and he'll have a great opportunity to audition for what could be a lucrative contract extension. In the ultra-competitive West, the Thunder likely won't be a good team, but Oubre could easily be a 20-plus-points-per-game scorer.
Draft-wise, the Thunder's war chest of picks has become almost laughable. Over the next six drafts, the Thunder project to hold 16 first-round picks.
Chris Paul: Paul's value will likely hold steady in Phoenix, where he'll have a better supporting cast but a more ball-dominant player alongside him in Booker. Paul meshed well with Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City, but Booker is a far more accomplished scorer and creator who will command his fair share of possessions. As was the case last season, Paul's assists numbers will probably remain well below his career average, but he should make up for it with efficient scoring and his usual defensive production. The question is whether Phoenix will continue the recent trend of keeping Paul in the 30-32 minute range on most nights. Given the injury risk, I would bet on a conservative approach.
Ricky Rubio: Understandably, Rubio wasn't pleased to be headed to what might be the worst team in the Western Conference next season. Again, it's possible the Thunder could re-route the 30-year-old, but it's unclear how robust the market would be as Rubio enters Year 2 of a three-year, $51 million deal. Assuming he remains in Oklahoma City, Rubio should be entrusted with a larger role, but for a pass-first point guard, that might not mean much. Rubio has never averaged more than 13.1 points per game in his career. Whether his fantasy value ultimately takes a hit may depend on how aggressively the Thunder shop Steven Adams. Without a reliable pick-and-roll partner, Rubio's assists numbers (8.8 per game last season) could be in jeopardy.
Kelly Oubre: A fan favorite in Phoenix, Oubre is a difficult piece to part with, but he'll have a major opportunity with the rebuilding Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is still the franchise keystone, but Oubre will step in as perhaps the better pure scorer. After putting up 18.7 points per game last season as sometimes the third or fourth option, he'll rank no lower than No. 2 on the Thunder's current hierarchy. Oubre has improved his true shooting percentage in each of his five NBA seasons, topping out at 56.0% in 2019-20.
Devin Booker: With the addition of Paul, it's hard to see a path to Booker's value making a dramatic leap. But at the same time, I don't foresee Paul being a significant drag on Booker's value. Yes, Paul is a higher-usage player than Rubio, but the gap in usage rate wasn't huge last season (about three percentage points). Paul will likely play around the same minutes-load as Rubio (31.0 MPG), leaving Booker plenty of possessions to operate as the primary ball-handler. It's possible that Booker could see a slight drop in assists, but he posted 6.5 per game last season, even with Rubio averaging 8.8 per game – 2.1 more than Paul averaged in Oklahoma City. For fantasy managers, the hope is that Paul's penetration and passing abilities lead to more efficient spot-up looks for Booker, who's hit just 34.0 percent of his three-point attempts over the last two seasons.
Deandre Ayton: It's hard not to see this as a positive for Ayton, who was assisted on 75 percent of his field goals last season. Rubio is a great passer, but Paul is the Point God.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Playing alongside one of the best point guards in NBA history carries some intangible benefits, but replacing Paul with Rubio should result in more opportunity for Gilgeous-Alexander. After averaging 19.0 points per game last season, he'll have a good chance to top 20 per game. At some point, though, the Thunder will have to decide if he's their point guard or two-guard of the future.