Billions of years ago, our solar system was nothing more than a lifeless cloud of gas and dust occupying a dark and far-flung corner of the galaxy. But over millions of years, that cloud began to glow brighter and brighter until it had coalesced into the Sun we know today, and it was that Sun that illuminated our small patch of the galaxy and brought order to the rest of the celestial objects within its gravitational influence.
Here in the desert, the same process is playing itself out before our very eyes. This Phoenix Suns team is that gas cloud, and Devin Booker has rapidly become the pre-main sequence star born from that cloud, just beginning to shine its brilliant light in an otherwise dim patch of the NBA galaxy.
Stars are born in molecular clouds within nebulae, where all the necessary ingredients for stars to form are present. However, it usually takes some kind of outside impetus to force the cloud from its hydrostatic equilibrium and begin the clumping process that acts as the first step in star formation. In space, this can come from any number of sources, including the merger of gas clouds and shock waves from a nearby supernova. For the Suns, this impetus came from the spectacular implosion of the 2015-16 season.
The first death knell of the season came Dec. 26, when Eric Bledsoe was lost for the year with a torn meniscus. Through that game, Booker had been averaging 6 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 14.3 minutes per game and had only played in 26 of a possible 32 games. Basically, he looked the part of a rookie in every possible way outside of his maturity. The promise was there, but he was mostly just floating along. With Bledsoe out, though, Booker was inserted into the starting lineup and over the next 11 games averaged 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 31.4 minutes per game. Those 11 games culminated in a 32-point performance against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 19 that was then Booker's career high.
With the season already in ruins by this point, the Suns were struck by another wave of disruption with the loss of Brandon Knight to a sports hernia beginning on Jan. 21, leaving the Suns without a true veteran point guard to shoulder the burden in the backcourt. Booker was paired with Archie Goodwin in the starting lineup, but he did not falter. Rather, Booker further thrived under the new challenge, averaging 17.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in 36.2 minutes per game through Jan. 31 — all while defenses were starting to gear up for the 19-year-old rookie.
But the greatest moment of turbulence to strike the team came on Feb. 1, when the Suns fired Jeff Hornacek and replaced him with Earl Watson. Immediately, Watson set out to empower his players — especially the young players like Booker — but by this time, opposing teams were ready for Booker. They had scouted him as a No. 1 option on offense and were taking away his looks at the basket from 3-point range. As teams gave him the respect of a wily veteran, Booker's numbers took an expected hit. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 33.1 minutes during the month of February with shooting percentages in the mid-.300s, but Booker also racked up a career-high 10 assists against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 10 as he adjusted to the way teams were now playing him.
Through all the adversity that had befallen the Phoenix Suns to that point in the season, through all the losing and drama and injuries that had beset this franchise and plunged it into the depths of darkness, Devin Booker was growing, evolving, accreting the experience and lessons necessary to take the next step for his team. He was quietly becoming a star.
And as the calendar flipped to March, Booker did what all burgeoning stars do — began to shine under his own power. Through the first six games in March, Booker has averaged 25.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in 38.8 minutes per game. Those numbers include a career-high 35 points against the Denver Nuggets on Mar. 10 that gave him three games of 30 or more points this month, which are as many as the Rookie of the Year favorite Karl-Anthony Towns has had all season. His back-to-back 30-point games on Mar.9-10 made him just the second player younger than 20 to score 30 or more in consecutive games (LeBron James).
Even more impressive is how Booker has done it. He hasn't settled for launching 3-point shots; he has consistently attacked the basket, drawing fouls and putting overly aggressive defenses on their heels. That was the next step in his progression as a player, and Booker made it a resounding one.
With Booker shining as brightly as he has of late, even his peers have taken notice:
"He's already proven that he can be a great player for a long time if he just stays humble and keeps working, which he will."
—Klay Thompson, Golden State
"He's a heck of a player. It sounds crazy that he's only 19. ...It's nice to see those young players who are humble and working hard and to see them thriving in the NBA."
—Goran Dragic, Miami
"He is one of the future two-guards in this league. If he continues to take steps, he's going to be very, very good."
—Dwyane Wade, Miami
"He's not afraid of the moment and the challenge and the opportunity that's been given to him. He can play."
—Mike Malone, Denver head coach
According to NASA, it took our Sun approximately 50 million years to reach solar maturity and become a main sequence star; at the pace he's on, Booker should become an All Star much sooner than that. And if he should attain stardom as a Sun, he would join a short but prestigious list of day-one Suns to have done so. Like Alvan Adams, Walter Davis, Dan Majerle, Shawn Marion, and Amar'e Stoudemire before him, Booker is giving fans reason to cheer and providing hope of better things to come.
Maybe, just maybe, he has also helped the Suns shed the irony of being named after the one thing they lack — a star.