If you keep setting a ceiling for Devin Booker’s potential, he will continually smash through it.
Heading into this season, I predicted Booker would average 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists on elite shooting efficiency. The Suns’ 22-year-old star is slightly below those thresholds at the moment (25 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists), but if you pay attention since his return from re-aggravating a hamstring injury, he’s turned into one of the best scorers in the league.
Over Booker’s last six games, he is averaging 30.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 8 assists, and 1 steal while showcasing his unique scoring blend getting to the free throw line and sinking deep treys.
However, that’s not what I wanted to focus on. Today, we are going to hone in on why Booker’s playmaking progression has opened up an entirely new avenue of his mouthwatering long-term potential as a dynamic combo guard.
If you glance around the league at large, Booker is putting himself into a category not many can even come close to placing themselves within.
The only players so far this season eclipsing 7 assists per game while standing 6’6” or above are Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Ben Simmons, and Booker. And if we want to throw in potential assists, Booker is joined by only LeBron, James Harden, and Blake Griffin as non-point guards to rack up at least 12.
What does that tell you? Well, it’s that Booker is forcing his way into the conversation alongside other notable “jumbo playmakers” like Harden, Simmons, and Luka Doncic. Having a size advantage in today’s NBA is a huge mismatch, and Phoenix was definitely trying to craft their way to achieving one of the longest lineups in the league after trading for Mikal Bridges on draft night.
Now, the Phoenix Suns can roll out lineups around “Point Book” and No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton that feature immense length and defensive versatility, which can interchange with wings like T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Bridges. Also, don’t forget about rookie De’Anthony Melton, who has Patrick Beverley-like upside at his disposal, can turn into a nice buffer next to Booker like Harden experienced a few years ago in Houston.
Speaking of Harden, former GM Ryan McDonough is looking more and more prophetic with the comments about Booker he made to Bright Side of the Sun in an exclusive interview on Media Day.
Before being fired two weeks later, McDonough told me he envisioned Harden as the prototype for Booker’s long-term development. And it’s fair to say that was their plan all offseason long when they acquired Bridges, Melton, and Ryan Anderson — three pieces who mimic how Harden was able to operate within Mike D’Antoni’s system to near perfection.
“Yeah, that’s the guy. If you look at an offensive guard with similar size, I think at the same stage of their career, I think Devin is a little bit better of a shooter, spot-up shooter.” McDonough said in September. “Harden is very physically imposing. Devin’s gotten stronger, he’s only 21 years old, but if you look at Harden up-close he’s strong and physical and I think that helps getting to the basket drawing fouls. That’s a guy we certainly look at.”
Former Assistant GM Pat Connelly also pointed out Booker’s underrated strength when we spoke during warmups before a game last season. It’s not easy to see from afar, but Booker is already one of the more physically imposing guards from a strength point of view. His ability to stop on a dime and fire up a shot or blow past his guy for an easy layup — maybe nowadays dunks after seeing an athleticism uptick this season — is one of Booker’s most underrated tools.
Booker, at the young age of 22, is already producing numbers near Harden’s level when it comes to drawing fouls and launching three-pointers with the best of them. Since his return to the starting lineup on Dec. 15, Booker is averaging 7.3 free throws and 7.5 threes attempted. Only Harden has done the same over this timeframe.
“I think, yeah, in terms of the efficiency that Harden plays with. How he scores so efficiently from the three-point line, at the rim and the free throw line. That should be the prototype for Devin offensively, in terms of offensive efficiency,” McDonough said. “Harden has become a guy too as he’s grown and matured his playmaking has developed. Maybe led the league or was one of the league leaders in assists two years ago before Chris Paul came in and alleviated some of the playmaking from him.”
The parallels between Booker and Harden in their fourth seasons are eerily similar at this stage. It shows McDonough and the rest of the front office were definitely onto something.
Booker - 25.2 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists (+1.8 AST/TO)
Harden - 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists (+1.5 AST/TO)
Before being canned, was McDonough’s plan to find Booker’s own version of Paul this upcoming offseason? Who knows, but that task now falls on the shoulders of Co-Interim GM James Jones.
The former NBPA Treasurer might decide to continue rolling with Point Book for the foreseeable future, if no right deal comes along for an above-average to elite point guard over the next seven months.
As currently constructed, the Suns’ roster has plenty of players who are multi-positional which means they can get creative with lineup combinations. They can go big with Booker at point guard or decide to trot out either Melton, Elie Okobo, or Jamal Crawford for more playmaking purposes allowing Booker to snake around screens where he’s shooting plus-40 percent. We have seen this happen early and often under head coach Igor Kokoskov, and it will be a trend that continues as they try to find their best 5-man combinations to play at the right moments.
When you see the early success of Doncic coupled with the stunning progress that bigger playmakers like Simmons and Harden have had on their respective franchises, I don’t see why the Suns shouldn’t continue exploring this interesting avenue for Booker’s offensive development. It’s a legitimate luxury to have available, and not many teams around the league can match it.
As Booker continues to blossom into this Harden-esque role, it proves that the Suns were 100 percent right to give the former Kentucky Wildcat sixth man his 5-year, $158 million max extension a year earlier than usual. Booker is continuously making leaps every season of his NBA career.
Now, he’s currently one of only three players to amass at least 25 points and 7 assists per game during the 2018-19 campaign. The others are LeBron and Harden.
Further exploration of Point Book, where he’s carrying a surprising plus-2 assist-to-turnover ratio since his return, could lead to even further success down the line for the Suns as they look to build a sustainable contender throughout the 2020s.