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Devin Booker is realizing competitive drive can’t outrun the injury bug

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Booker’s nagging hamstring injury has re-aggravated, leaving him with no timetable yet to return.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Booker is starting to have these small injuries pile up on him over the past year. Not only did Booker suffer a strained adductor muscle last December, but he also missed games due to a rib injury and the finger issue that sat him out the rest of the season soon thereafter.

Now, heading into his fourth season, Booker has had to battle the injury bug once more and now has no timetable for return from his latest hamstring injury.

Phoenix decided to wait until Booker re-aggravated his finger injury in offseason workouts before giving him a preseason procedure. The Suns’ star didn’t miss any time outside of training camp, but he played with buddy tape on the area. And only three games into the 2018-19 season did Booker hit his first true road block as he pulled up and called for the coaches in the second half on Oct. 24 versus the Lakers.

Turns out, it was a strained hamstring for Booker. Once he returned to the starting lineup only nine days later, everyone thought it was on the back burner. Well, as Booker stepped on the floor, it was obvious he wasn’t. Not only was Booker missing the explosiveness to create separation on his jumper, but his effectiveness around the rim was hampered by a gimpy hamstring.

Since Booker’s return at the beginning of November, his shooting numbers indicate a player who isn’t close to being 100 percent. Especially when it comes to Booker’s ability to lift up and launch deep three-pointers in transition, that became a moot point as he tried to adjust to his body. On pull up three-pointers alone since he entered back into the Suns’ starting lineup, Booker registered a ghastly 23.1 percent conversion rate. Last season, that number was up at 36 percent on 200 attempts.

When Booker arrived back in Phoenix following this latest mishap involving his left hamstring, he admitted it wasn’t as bad as the initial injury on Oct. 24 against those same Lakers.

“It wasn’t as bad as the first time,” Booker said at practice on Monday. “It was just a light little pull on it. Just a discomfort. Just chasing after the ball. That’s all I know.”

Booker has yet to receive a timetable, but he’s one of the most competitive people I’ve come across. Countless times over the past few years covering the team have I noticed Booker not being close to a complete player, in terms of health, but still go out there and let adrenaline take over on his way to dropping 25-plus points again.

The Suns’ 22-year-old combo guard will be going off how he feels, but he’s also being more cautious this time around after re-aggravating a sensitive injury.

“No, I have not, but it’s probably just going to go off feeling how I feel,” Booker mentioned of a possible timetable. “Like I said, just make sure it’s ready to go before I get back out there.”

Even though he’s only missed four games this season, Booker admitted to Bright Side Of The Sun that he hasn’t played a game fully healthy yet.

The ultra-competitive Booker is realizing his 75-80 percent isn’t enough to get it done, while his long term health should move to the front of his priorities. Hamstrings are nothing to blow off, and Booker was wearing what looked like an electric stimulator on it when speaking with the local media.

“Yeah, make sure it’s right. Make sure it’s fully a go,” Booker said. “I don’t think I’ve played a healthy game this season, so just make sure my body gets right before I get back out there. If I can’t give 100 percent out there, then I’m letting my team down in that way. So, just make sure it’s right before I get back out there.”

Another question that’s fair to ask is why the Suns didn’t realize this step back could occur with Booker if they didn’t ease him back. Aggravating an injury isn’t a surprise when it comes to lower extremities, especially hamstrings that can get tweaked with one misstep a different direction.

For reference, Booker averaged 36.8 minutes per game heading into Sunday’s matchup in Los Angeles since his original return. And over this month span, Booker ranked sixth in minutes per game trailing only Jrue Holiday, James Harden, Marc Gasol, Zach LaVine, and Anthony Davis.

When it comes to usage rate as well, Booker held a 31 USG% during the month of November. The only others to average over 35 minutes with a plus-30 usage alongside Booker were LaVine, Harden, and Kevin Durant.

So, the Suns obviously need Booker to win games, but this could have been avoided if the front office addressed their long-running issue of point guards. If the Suns had a starting-caliber point guard during this stretch, Booker would have way less of the burden on him while also seeing his usage dip to slightly more sustainable levels.

It’s hard to throw blame on Igor Kokoskov, because he has literally no other quality ball handlers on his roster outside Booker who can do it consistently while making less mistakes.

When Kokoskov was asked after practice about Booker admitting he hasn’t played a game yet this season to his full capabilities, he found it interesting but also wanted to point out this team isn’t like Gregg Popovich’s old San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. This young roster isn’t going to have scheduled rest days for games. If Booker and others are available, Kokoskov will play them.

“If Book can play, he’ll play,” Kokoskov said. “Any player, if he’s available, until we get there, we’re going to play everything we have. So, there is no plans, no strategy when it comes to resting guys. We’re not resting guys for the playoffs, we chase the playoffs. .. There is no such thing as resting Booker or any other player. That’s not in our vocabulary.”

With the Suns sitting at 4-19, tied for the worst record in the league more than 25 percent of the way through the season, it’s time to take a step back for the greater good. Booker needs to sit out until he is legitimately 100 percent healthy. Going out trying to win these games at anything less than that level would be malpractice.

Phoenix’s face of the franchise has a Mamba-like mentality similar to one of his idols, Kobe Bryant, but when it comes to serious injuries, that can only get you so far before the bug bites back.