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Devin Booker continues to thrive as a primary ball handler since his return

Booker is blossoming into an all-around threat at warp speed, now mimicking a James Harden/Russell Westbrook style of play over his last 11.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Suns just stumble into something that’s a possible road they could go to build around their 21-year-old star guard? Since his return on Dec. 26, Devin Booker has taken on a similar role that many see James Harden and Russell Westbrook play as a primary ball handler.

Turns out, this is working very well so far. A promising development from a player who continues to shatter through his ceiling many draft pundits predicted back in 2015.

After his 9-game absence due to a strained adductor, Booker is averaging 27.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. Those are elite, All-Star numbers right alongside Stephen Curry and Westbrook for players who meet or exceed it.

In Booker’s latest stellar performance — this time dropping 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists on the Denver Nuggets — he displayed a lot more minutes as the initiator of the offense. I can’t remember a time I saw Tyler Ulis go more off-ball than last night.

It shows in the statistics, too, as Ulis over his last 6 games has seen his increase in catch-and-shoot 3-pointers double since Booker took over more of the reigns. This is why Isaiah Canaan’s 16-point outburst, including 4-6 on 3s, is notable. Adding a plus catch-and-shoot asset alongside Booker could really open it up even more in this type of role moving forward.

Over his past 11 games, Booker has carried a Westbrook/Harden-like 33.9% of the offense. The difference in this span between these three, though, are Booker is more efficient. Booker’s true shooting percentage of 58.6% leads them both, as Westbrook sits at only 53.7% himself.

The Suns plan to experiment with this moving forward, allowing Booker more freedom offensively to control it all.

I was curious about some numbers so after some digging on Basketball Reference, Booker could be in line to continue this path next season depending on how they attack this offseason. For players age 25 and under with advanced stats of the following: 55TS%, 30AST%, 7REB%, and 33USG%. The only ones to fit into that category are LeBron James (4x), Tracy McGrady, and Dwyane Wade.

This definitely paints a picture of how elite Booker could be entering his fourth year if the Suns can construct a team properly around him. If he continues as the primary initiator, that could really be his best path.

As we didn’t see while under John Calipari at Kentucky, Booker has more all-around parts to his game that many failed to realize.

Bringing Booker’s latest stretch back into focus, he’s continuing to expand and make crisper reads out of certain defensive looks. After another 30-5-5 performance Friday night in Denver, Booker has five such occurrences over his past 11 games. Westbrook sits behind him with four, while LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bradley Beal are all tied for third with two.

Historically, Booker now only trails LeBron for most before turning 22-years-old with 8 at the moment. (Note: Sorry, there’s no way he catches LBJ’s absurd 36 instances of this.)

Meanwhile, as mentioned, Booker is still shooting as efficiently as ever. The increase in usage doesn’t bother him one bit, whatever Jay Triano needs out of him he will do. Triano also seems to be allowing Booker more freedom within the offense over these past few weeks, especially the last few.

Why not just have the ball stay in your best player’s hands and let him run the show if he’s proven capable of becoming an average to above-average playmaker?

Over the last three games, Booker has 20 assists compared to just 9 turnovers. That equates to a 2.22 assist/turnover ratio. Not the best, but he continues to make strides and adjust to looks after seeing Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer, and Mike Malone all threw tough schemes his way previously.

Not only do opposing teams now have to worry about Booker as an elite scoring weapon, but he can now open it up as a playmaker as he settles into over this season’s second half. As many are realizing, Booker could lead this Suns roster to wins even if he has to carry even more of a heavier workload.

These types of performances from Booker continue to drive home my idea of Point Book long-term.

Possibly allowing Booker to become a primary ball handler moving forward while adding another above-average combo guard and even greater spacing alongside him this summer could lead to his official national breakout in Year 4.

As the All-Star player ballots prove — finished tied for fourth among guards — Booker is starting to gain a ton of respect league-wide. That matters when wanting to attract free agents. Luckily for the Suns, their franchise pillar is in place now they have to find a correct path to build around him.

Week-by-week, the possibilities of what Booker could be as a player continue to grow. He’s not just a sharpshooter, Booker has become an all-around offensive juggernaut who can score from anywhere on the floor.

Over these last 36 games, let's sit back and see what Booker can transform into because these last three weeks have proven he has a limitless potential of his overall game.

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