Since Devin Booker returned Dec. 26 from his strained left adductor, which caused him to miss 9 games in the process, he has seen not only an uptick in usage but also logging a ton more time playing point guard.
Sunday against Oklahoma City, Booker played almost half of his minutes playing the 1, and after the first sequence of it, he calmed down finishing with only a single turnover over his final three quarters while facing looks from the likes of Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook.
We knew this was coming after interim head coach Jay Triano said following Booker’s first game back that he and Troy Daniels would see a lot more time out there together if they needed an offensive spark. That still holds true, even though Daniels has hit a cold spell over his past few in terms of efficiency. This duo’s offensive rating ranks near the top for any Suns 2-man lineups thrown together.
As I have mentioned before, allowing Booker to have more spacing will only make things easier for him. That’s why him playing the role of the point could actually help his transition into a similar role James Harden plays for Houston further into the future.
When I asked Booker about his increase in minutes there, he mentioned that at points it’s actually easier to just bring the ball up than having to fight around defensive schemes as the No. 1 option to stop.
“It’s fine for me,” Booker said of carrying a heavier usage. “Actually, sometimes, it’s easier to bring the ball up than trying to get open versus a defensive scheme. It’s just different views, different looks that I’m looking at and learning.”
Since his return, Booker has actually allotted 35 assists alongside 6 secondary ones thus far. That puts him in some elite company, albeit in a small sample size: Chris Paul, John Wall, J.J. Barea, Dennis Smith Jr., Jerian Grant, DeMar DeRozan, and Westbrook.
When stretched out over the entire season, Booker tallied 107 and 22, respectively. And when adjusting for the 9 games he had to miss in December, the 21-year-old rising star is in the top 10. That list includes more big-time, franchise cornerstones: Westbrook, Ben Simmons, LeBron James, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, DeRozan, and Kyrie Irving.
With the path that Booker is on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him receive a lot more at point in the season’s second half. Safe to say, the numbers aren’t lying in terms of a possible Harden-like future because from Nov. 1 on, only Booker and Harden are averaging 7 or more 3s and free throw attempts per game.
Josh Jackson beginning to flash his unique skillset more frequently
Like most rookies, Josh Jackson has found his share of struggles in the first half of his rookie season. Whether it’s struggling offensively at all levels alongside poor shooting splits and wild, out of control moments, Jackson has had a rougher stretch compared to other rookie wings such as Jayson Tatum and OG Anunoby. The reason is not only due to the team outlooks, but Jackson trying to do too much at the moment.
Triano has touched on that multiple times, which led to Jackson receiving a DNP-CD against Atlanta last Tuesday due to his inability to space the floor and stay out of mistakes.
However, since then, the 20-year-old forward out of Kansas has started to show more consistent flashes of why general manager Ryan McDonough had him ranked No. 1 overall on his board.
“Josh is doing a little bit of everything and I’ve seen glimpses of this before," Booker said. “I don’t think the fans have seen it yet, so that was a good first coming out game for him.”
Against Oklahoma City on Sunday, Jackson finally put it all together. Not only did he stay out of foul trouble (2) and took care of the ball (0) but he also racked up a stat line of 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and a block on Westbrook. Jackson also posted the best plus-minus for any rookie so far this season with an absurd +34 in 31 minutes.
This is what made Jackson such a tantalizing prospect last year, and Booker believes he is the Suns’ X-factor when he’s locked in how he was last game. Jackson is a game-changer, simple as that.
“He can just do a little bit of everything. I think that’s what makes him special,” Booker said. “He’s not just known as a defender. He’s not just known as a scorer, not just a passer, but he does a little bit of everything so I’m feeling that’s the x-factor on the floor that can do a little bit of everything and change the game.”
One of the more insightful voices on the Suns is veteran forward Jared Dudley, which continues to pave the way for his future in coaching, broadcasting or whatever path he chooses eventually. It’s fun to listen to Dudley speak because he’s always dropping some knowledge on you.
Here’s what Dudley had to say on Jackson, and he brings up a lot of good points in his answer. Booker went through the same process early on, motivating him while not seeing consistent playing time, and the same could be in line for Jackson over the final 41 games for Phoenix.
As Dudley also mentions, having Jackson learn and go up against a wing like T.J. Warren will only help the development of him in the long-run.
“He’s slowly figuring it out. I always believe you never handing a young draft pick the keys unless they’re ready,” Dudley said. “What I mean by that is if you start a kid too early, they’ll feel entitled. Especially when you’re coming in younger, 19 years old, so you want to have that work ethic. I think the best thing for Booker in his career was sitting on the bench, getting mad. Feeling that disappointment of not playing, because if you ask him, he’ll tell you stories where he wore special shoes and coach didn’t put him in. He didn’t play him and that drove him. So Josh seeing someone like T.J., he’s our second best player, so for him learning behind him and then having to battle him in practice now when you go through your ups and downs and you start getting success you want more of it and your work ethic goes up.”
On the season, Jackson has averaged 9.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists but the switch has seemingly been flipped for him since his DNP.
Over his last three, he is tallying an average of 14 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3 assists, and nearly a steal + block per game, including a total plus-minus of +27.
If Jackson is able to turn the corner alongside possibly Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender — #TheTimeline’s main core of Booker, Warren, Chriss, Jackson, and Bender are their top five scorers over their past 7 — it could signal a lot more of these types of performances later on in the season for the league’s youngest rotation.
Devin Booker and Trae Young have actually shared the same backcourt before
Since Oklahoma point guard Trae Young has been absolutely tearing up the college basketball scene right now, I figured I would ask another sharpshooter his thoughts on how he’s looked.
Young has averaged 29.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 10.2 assists per game as a Sooner. That is ridiculous, especially for a true freshman. Young still leads the NCAA in points and assists per game, while also carrying Oklahoma to national relevancy they haven’t seen since Blake Griffin just under a decade ago.
Safe to say, Young has caught Booker’s eye thus far.
Their relationship is unique. They both actually met each other for the first time while hanging around AAU circuits before Booker was drafted by Phoenix a few months later. This was before Young began his senior year of high school.
Booker said they text back-and-forth a little bit, encouraging him to chase greatness. Young has answered the bell each time because he’s placing himself currently alongside names such as Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose, who captivated the minds of college basketball fans everywhere when each made their magical tourney run.
“He’s been playing unbelievable. He’s must-see TV right now,” Booker said of Young. “Everybody’s been tuning in and watching him. I know him a little bit personally. He’s texted me a little bit during the season so we’ve texted a little back-and-forth. Not saying, “I want you to be a Phoenix Sun,” but keep doing what you do, chase greatness. That’s what he’s doing. I’m really proud of him.
Just being around AAU circuits, things like that. Nike camps. I was on one of his teams at a Nike camp when I was entering the NBA, he was still in high school. I went back and played and I was on his team. So, ever since then, I’ve followed him through his senior year of high school. Obviously, he was a McDonald’s All-American and things like that. He ended up going to Oklahoma, wish he would've went to Kentucky, but I’m happy to see him doing what he’s doing.”
Could you imagine how much damage that backcourt duo of Booker and Young caused the opposition at that Nike camp? Good luck guarding those two then, and especially next season if Young ends up donning a Suns cap come draft night in June.