Devin Booker playing point guard isn’t the main idea, but it might be a necessity in order for the Phoenix Suns to win basketball games on a regular basis.
Twice this week, head coach Igor Kokoskov started Booker as the primary ball handler in place of Isaiah Canaan. Those matchups featured two of the league’s longest teams, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, allowing Booker to play in the starting unit alongside the already-valuable Mikal Bridges.
This week alone, the Point Book lineup — Booker, Bridges, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, and Deandre Ayton — has played 32 minutes together. The results are magnificent, to say the least, as they tallied up the following advanced metrics: 121.3 OffRtg, 102.6 DefRtg = plus-18.7 NetRtg.
And if we extend it out league-wide over the same week-long timeframe, the Suns’ Point Book unit is the fourth-highest lineup by NetRtg. The other three are the Thunder, Clippers and Lakers. Again, another positive trend towards why Kokoskov should stick with Booker running the point until further notice.
Over his past five games, which the Suns are 2-3, Booker is averaging 23.6 points and 9 assists, including an above-average assist-to-turnover ratio of plus-2.4. Only Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday are putting up those numbers over the same timeframe, but each has a worse AST/TO than Booker. That says a lot about how the Suns’ star guard has developed his playmaking ability even further since former interim head coach Jay Triano experimented with it midway through last season.
Booker is still trying to pick and choose his spots wisely when it comes to scoring or facilitating, but he’s only registered five turnovers compared to 15 assist over his two starts this week in place of Canaan.
Another eye-popping stat as it relates to the potency of the Point Book lineup comes from when Booker doesn’t share the floor with any of the Suns’ other primary ball handlers. If Booker is out there without one of Canaan, Jamal Crawford, or Elie Okobo, the Suns carry an outstanding NetRtg of plus-17.5. That metric nosedives when Booker is out there with any of the three.
With that being said, what can Kokoskov and Co. do to retool their rotation around Booker playing the point guard position? Well, for starters, I would suggest having one of Okobo, De’Anthony Melton, or Troy Daniels usurping Canaan. Over his past four games, Canaan has easily been the worst player in the Suns’ nine-man rotation, converting his shots on only a 23.8 percent clip.
For a team in need of consistent three-point shooting surrounding Booker, Daniels makes the most sense in this situation. Daniels is a career 40.2 percent three-point shooter, and last season alone he hit on 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities. Canaan’s consistent clanking of shots off the rim as of late is a recipe for losing games, and Daniels is the same caliber on-ball defender as Canaan, which isn’t saying much for either of them.
Phoenix has deployed the Point Book lineup only against teams with immense length, but why stop there? In there loss to Chicago on Wednesday, arguably one of the Suns’ worst losses of the season, they could have exposed the Bulls’ shorter wingspans themselves as their backcourt featured Ryan Arcidiacono and Justin Holiday.
Next up on the docket for Phoenix throughout the rest of November are Detroit, Indiana, Los Angeles Clippers, and Orlando. Plenty more matchups coming up would be ideal matchups to run out Booker as the primary ball handler flanked by three plus shooters from beyond the arc in Bridges, Ariza, and Warren.
Using Point Book also helps out a player like Ayton ten fold, too. Whenever Canaan, Crawford, or Okobo don’t share the floor with Ayton, Phoenix’s NetRtg is plus-13.5 over 82 minutes this season, including a sub-100 DefRtg of 98.5. Whenever Booker isn’t in the game replaced by one of those other options, the offense falls off a cliff with Ayton still out there — resulting in a minus-13.2 difference in OffRtg when their 6’6” combo guard has sat on the bench.
Almost every possible scenario the Suns can throw out there outside of Booker as their primary facilitator has usually ended with disastrous results.
We also can’t ignore that fact that playing the Booker/Ayton/Bridges trio as much as possible is the best way to go — not only for future development but also in order to maintain competitiveness on most nights. The most effective way to do this, unless they moved Trevor Ariza for a point guard sometime before February’s trade deadline, is having Booker and Bridges together in the backcourt. Early results are showing that this three-man lineup is easily the Suns’ most effective trio, no ifs ands or buts about it.
So, with that being said, how does Phoenix tinker their rotation to not only keep the Point Book unit together, but also get more consistent shooting and defensive presence around their 22-year-old star?
Below, I’m going to go through how I would shuffle the Suns’ nine-man rotation, with minute allocations included:
Starters - Booker (37), Bridges (32), Ariza (33), Warren (35), Ayton (33)
Second Unit - Crawford (15), Daniels (10), Jackson (25), Holmes (20)
Not only does this solve some of their problems, at least in the short-term, but it allows them to get more consistent minutes for Josh Jackson, the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft. Even though Jackson has had his fair share of struggles recently, he still needs minutes to develop. Allowing him the most minutes off the bench — at least 20-25 minutes per game, like Bridges was earlier in the season — would be the best bet to give him more leeway. And depending on how Crawford is playing some nights as Booker’s backup, he could see his minutes rise like we saw on Friday in Milwaukee.
Booker needs to be on the floor as much as possible, because without him they tend to lose all control on the offensive end with no rhythm or flow. This new and improved lineup will go a long ways towards helping the Suns win games and not have to have discussions later in the season on whether they should do the usual tanking routine for prospects like Duke’s Zion Williamson.
Trust me, I don’t think they will tank at all this year. If they did, it would be way too reckless and possibly cause major harm within the locker room, but, right now, their current situation is bad enough where they could organically be one of the five worst teams in the league by season’s end.
It’s time for the Suns to quit playing around with Point Book and keep it, not depending on how the other team’s starting lineup matches up. Their first 5-man unit to kick off games is equally unique enough where it will cause the opposing team to adjust themselves.
How the Suns fared against the 76ers and Bucks this week proves that this is the way to go. If they go away from it once more on Sunday against the Pistons, then I’ll be at a loss of words. This team needs consistency, and Booker at point guard with wings and Ayton down in the post provides it.