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Booker injury could open door for rookies Bridges, Melton or Okobo

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With Devin Booker likely to miss some time, the Suns’ other rookies besides Ayton may get a chance to shine.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The groin cost him nine games. The right hand cost him 17. A re-injury to the hand cost him all of preseason. Now the hamstring.

“I just took a bad step and felt it,” Booker said. “I’m going to sleep it off and [Thursday, October 26] I’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on.”

Booker slow-walked off the court late in the third quarter, limping badly, and would not return. Later, in the locker room, Booker looked despondent over not only the loss but also over yet another injury.

“I just saw the whole arena got quiet,” rookie center Deandre Ayton said. “I see him walk off and I just got a little worried. Hope it’s not too serious.”

Suns guard Devin Booker just can’t seem to stay healthy. Since pulling his groin last year, he’s missed 31 of 64 games across the various maladies.

It’s safe to say that the Suns won’t rush Booker back into action until he is healthy, which means he will likely miss a few games. The Suns are at the Grizzlies and the Thunder this weekend, then start a five game homestand next Wednesday.

That’s a chance for other young players to step up and show they are part of the Suns’ present as well as their future. Top overall pick Deandre Ayton is already established in that role, but the Suns need some big contributions around him.

Let’s take a look at the pups who are at Igor’s disposal. He is trying to bring rookies Bridges, Okobo and Melton along slowly, but with Booker out that will require them to step into the limelight just a little bit more.

  • Mikal Bridges: 14.9 minutes per game, 5.7/1.7/1.0 plus 1.3 steals
  • Elie Okobo: 15 total minutes
  • De’Anthony Melton: 3 total minutes

We asked coach about growing Bridges’ role and his answer could apply to all three rookies.

“Mikal is our future and he’s going to be a great player,” Kokoskov said of Bridges. “I don’t think at this moment he can change momentum of the game; I don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t want to put so much pressure on him.”

With Booker out, Kokoskov will likely increase the roles of Jamal Crawford, T.J. Warren and second year player Josh Jackson to compensate on the scoring end.

Without Booker in the preseason, the Suns had the slowest pace and lowest scoring total of all 30 teams. Maybe 19-year veteran Crawford can help on that end.

But that also opens a bit of time for one or more of Bridges, Okobo or Melton, with Bridges being the leading candidate. In his minutes on the court, Bridges looks solid and makes all the right plays when the ball finds him. Bridges is a shooter but not a ball handler, so he will rely on teammates to find him on offense.

“We’re going to keep giving him more and asking for more,” Kokoskov said of Bridges. “And he’s going to be ready for that, but in this moment I’m very pleased with what he brings to the team on both sides of the court.”

We can’t assume that playing time equals success.

Playing time can also just simply expose a player who’s not ready for primetime and potentially ruin their confidence going forward. Four prime picks from the last three drafts are already on their way out of the league entirely. Some of that is talent, and some is due to over-exposure at too young an age for the tanking Suns.

  • #4 pick in 2016 Dragan Bender (Suns): 2 games, 3 total minutes
  • #8 pick in 2016 Marquese Chriss (now with Houston): 0 games
  • #34 pick in 2016 Tyler Ulis (two-way with Bulls): 1 game, 1 minute
  • #32 pick in 2017 Davon Reed (two-way with Pacers): 0 games

We can hope upon hope that all this year’s non-Ayton picks Bridges, Okobo or Melton need is playing time to prove they belong in the regular rotation.

But let’s not assume that’s all they need. We really have rely on the coaching staff to know when is the right time to play a raw rookie.

Even Josh Jackson’s struggles last year and this year highlight the danger of giving too much too soon to a rookie.