While the Phoenix Suns are floundering as the worst team in the Western Conference at 15-32, their starting back court continues to play well enough to spark hope for the future.
Eric Bledsoe has turned on the jets, especially in the past month, while second-year guard Devin Booker has become a consistent scoring threat rarely seen from such a young player.
Bledsoe and Booker together
The pairing of Bledsoe and Booker for 28-31 minutes per night has rated better than the team average all season. For the season, the pairing is -2.1 points per 100 possessions (which roughly equates to a full game). That’s a lot better than the team’s overall -5.9 per 100 possessions on the season.
Over the past month - since 12/29 - they are killing it.
The two guards are a sublime +5.3 (per 100 possessions) together in 31 minutes per game since 12/29, compared to the team’s overall -1.9 per 100 possessions. That means the other 17 minutes per game are a cesspool of disaster, some of which include one of Booker or Bledsoe but not both, netting a -7.2 points over that span to get to the -1.9 total.
Over the past month, the two have contributed greatly to the Suns improvement on the floor as a team. Since December 29, the 6-9 Suns as a team are 11th in the league in offense (points per 100 possessions) and 20th in defense, with a net rating of -1.9. While that doesn’t seem like much, it’s an improvement over the -5.9 rating they posted over the season’s first two months.
Bledsoe’s big month
Eric Bledsoe came into the season with only eight 30+ point games on his resume, and not more than three in a season.
He’s already got NINE such games this season, with four coming in the past month including his first two 40+ point games of his career.
Bledsoe joins James Harden (6), Russell Westbrook (3) and Damian Lillard (2) as the only players with multiple 40/8 games this season.
In addition to scoring, Bledsoe is also posting a career high 6.3 assists per game this season (15th overall), popping up to 8.1 per game over the past month (since 12/29) which ranks him 9th in the league in that span.
(This is a weird combo, but shows Bledsoe’s versatility on offense: among guards who take 5+ three point attempts per game, Bledsoe is 3rd in assists over the past month, behind only Russ and the Beard.)
Bledsoe can also play good defense (though he’s regressed a bit on that end this year) and rebounds better than most point guards.
Bledsoe, who just turned 27 last month, is a bit older than the Suns’ best prospects but is just entering his prime and still might fit into a future core because every young team needs a veteran leader.
Watch Bledsoe’s career high 41 point last night, when he also dished 8 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Booker’s big month
Since January 1, Devin Booker is the league’s second-best high-volume long range shooters. Among players with more than 5 three-point attempts per game, Booker ranks second overall, making 46.4% of his 5.3 per game.
Booker has also now scored 20+ points in 12 consecutive games. That’s the third-longest current streak going right now across the whole league (behind two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas’ 31 straight and MVP Stephen Curry’s 13).
Only 8 NBA players of any age or experience level have posted 12+ straight 20+ point games in this 2016-17 season. Booker is one of them. The other seven are All-Stars.
Booker might be an All-Star one day, but for now he’s only 20 years old and in his second NBA campaign.
The last first or second-year player to post 12+ consecutive 20+ point games was All-Star Blake Griffin in 2010-11 as a 21-year old rookie.
The last 20 year old to post 12+ consecutive 20+ point games was (I think, because I did this with my eyeballs) Kevin Durant in the 2008-09 season for the 23-59 Thunder.
Watch his 12th consecutive 20+ point game here.
The Suns might be a really bad team, but their starting back court looks like it has a solid future together. Booker will only get better.