When a team discovers a supreme talent on its roster, it starts to allocate its assets to build around said player. It’s happened for the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and most recently James Harden but we could be approaching that time for Devin Booker now as well.
As I mentioned earlier this week, expanding a team’s offense by allowing its primary option to go to work with floor spacers is the way to attack in today’s modern NBA. However, for a team dearth of perimeter shooting like Phoenix is, there aren’t many options at their disposal. With the Suns’ current roster construction, allowing Booker to have the ball in his hands while having extra lanes to attack via Troy Daniels is something that should be put under the microscope as we inch further into this season.
And it now seems that will be the case after seeing this duo continue to see increased minutes together.
After interim head coach Jay Triano went back to it for the third straight game since Booker’s return from his left adductor injury — second consecutive as their closing backcourt flanked by T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, and Tyson Chandler — he said following Sunday’s 123-110 loss at home to Philadelphia that it will be looked at moving forward at other times throughout future contests.
This is not saying that Booker will be moving into the point guard role exclusively, but I would be hard-pressed to not imagine seeing an uptick in minutes there leading into February’s All-Star break. As Triano mentioned, they need to figure out how to score and the Booker-Daniels backcourt could be it.
“We’ll try it at different times, we’ll see how things go,” Triano said. “I thought Tyler gave us a good lift in the second half too. He didn’t shoot the ball well, 1-6, but there comes a point where we have to figure out how to score points when we’re down in games and I got to put the best offensive guys out there.”
When having the luxury of using two nearly 40-plus percent shooters from beyond the arc, it has to be used in short spurts. As we have seen since Booker’s return on Dec. 26 against Memphis, the Booker-Daniels-Warren-Chriss-Chandler lineup has only been used for 7 minutes but its on-court success is hard to ignore.
In 5-man units used five minutes or more over the last week by Triano, the Point Book lineup leads them in offensive rating (126.0) and overall net rating (61.5). Plus, this unit ranks second in defensive rating as well behind only the starting unit when replacing Chandler for Alex Len.
It’s a small sample size, that’s for sure, but if this continues over the next few weeks, we could be in line for seeing Harden-type numbers from Booker. In his last three games since missing the previous nine, the 21-year-old shooting guard is averaging 30 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5 assists per game — and when including shots that should have been made off of Booker feeds, he would be averaging 6.3 apg (19 total adjusted assists) since Christmas.
Over his past 20 games anyways, Booker is averaging career highs across the board: 26.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on 44-37-87 shooting splits. The only names from November - December that eclipsed those numbers and shot more efficiently were LeBron, Kevin Durant, Curry, and Harden.
Safe to say, the jump to elite on offense has happened for Booker in Year 3 and the Suns are now starting to realize his underrated playmaking potential from the 1 spot, too, with only Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Canaan as the team’s only other options at point guard.
When I asked Booker following last night’s loss about how Daniels allows him to go to work from the point guard spot, he elaborated on the extra space that an elite scorer thrives off of.
“It opens up the floor for me a lot. I missed a couple layups that I should’ve made because his man bumps the big rolling down the middle,” Booker said. “He’s wide-open and they know he can make that shot, so a lot of teams aren’t going to leave him.”
ICYMI: Robert Covington proved his worth as a lockdown defender
The Sixers were right to extend Robert Covington right when they had the opportunity this fall. After inking a 4-year, $62 million deal, Covington has proven his worth as one of the best on-ball wing defenders in this league.
Case in point, he put the clamps on Booker before he got into foul trouble himself, alongside many others in last night’s whistle-happy contest on Sunday. Covington held Booker to 4-14 while matched up one-on-one, which saw head coach Brett Brown create some variance of traps we have never seen thrown on the Suns’ star before.
However, when Covington reached his fourth foul in the third quarter, that’s when Booker started heating back up. After being held to 4 points in the first half, Booker dropped 28 (23 on revolving door of Jerryd Bayless, JJ Redick) and was 50-percent (4-8 FGA) when not guarded by RoCo.
When placing Covington alongside their young core led by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz, the future is shining bright for Philadelphia.
Suns try Hack-A-Simmons late, including icing the rookie
Late in the fourth quarter, when Chriss fouled out and Triano took the entire 30-second period to make a substitution, he did so to try and ice Simmons at the free throw line as they attempted another rally.
Over the last 2 or so minutes, the Suns tried to get back in the game using Hack-a-Simmons, which the Wizards used to stage a double-digit comeback late against Philadelphia in November themselves.
When asked following the game about that moment when taking awhile to sub in Dragan Bender for Chriss, Triano admitted that was the exact strategy there.
Simmons, who is shooting an abysmal 54.4-percent from the free throw line, finished 7-11 on Sunday night.
After seeing Triano draw up ‘Rim’ to beat Memphis — a play that he kept in his back pocket for 15 years — it’s nice to see him use the rules to his advantage in some rather creative ways.