Ahh, the frustrations of youth.
Two years ago, it was 19-year old Devin Booker (first team All-Rookie) getting all the late-season rookie playing time he could handle and it was Brandon Knight who pointed out Booker’s numbers were inflated by the situation rather than earning it against focused teams.
Last year, it was 19-year old Marquese Chriss (January Rookie of the Month, second team All-Rookie), 20 year old Derrick Jones Jr. and 21 year old Tyler Ulis (April Rookie of the Month) getting all the late-season rookie playing time they could handle and it was Jared Dudley quietly telling us they should be thankful for that opportunity and not to expect it again.
Now this year, it’s 20 year olds Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender getting all the extra playing time and it’s third-year guard Devin Booker the one giving sage advice.
Life comes at you fast.
Rookie Jackson (on track for All-Rookie honors) said postgame that the Suns get down on themselves when they don’t see the ball go through the hoop, and how hard it is to focus on defense when you can’t score. Jackson began the game 0-5 from the floor as the Suns built a 20-point deficit.
Jackson said gamely, “We fought the whole game. We played as hard as we could, so I’m proud of us.”
“We have been babied a little bit and it shows,” Booker said. “I think our whole team has been spoiled enough, including myself, with playing time at a young to where you get to play through mistakes.
“We still have to learn basketball. A lot of one-and-dones on this team. Nineteen, twenty, 21-year-olds, including myself that are still learning the game.”
Five of the top seven players in minutes played this year include three 20 year olds (Jackson, Bender, Chriss), a 21-year old (Booker) and 22 year old (Ulis). All of them one-or-none-and-dones except Ulis who stayed a whopping two years at Kentucky.
Only one player has more minutes than most of these kids: T.J. Warren. Tony Buckets is the 24 year old grand pappy. He’s a gifted scorer, but he’s not a leader, not a guy who is going to hold anyone accountable and certainly isn’t going to impact the game outside of banking his nightly 20 points.
Remember when I said the combination of Tyson Chandler, Warren and Booker started the season with a 13-17 record, while every other starting lineup combo went 5-27? Booker knows how important it is to have a guy like Chandler out there.
“He’s not as athletic as he used to be,” Booker said, “but from a leader standpoint, being vocal out there, being in the right spots and holding people accountable.”
Booker clearly is frustrated by the constant losing across his three NBA years. But don’t go away thinking Booker will ask out of Phoenix. He won’t, at least not until after he’s well into his rookie extension if things don’t turn around. But clearly, he wants to start winning more games. At the least, he wants to be proud of the effort they put out there.
Booker even commented how Shaquille Harrison went from a 10-day contract to multi-year deal just by hustling harder than anyone else on the team. The context of the comment is evident, I believe.
Speaking of hustle, I can’t wait to see Alan Williams back on the court this week. He’s another one that brings big effort on every play.
Watch the interviews here, with Booker and Jackson.
Now, listen to Jared Dudley talk about young teams growing up, but STAY for his comments on getting iso’d by LeBron. I wish we had a gif of that play!
“Yeah, already had in my mind ‘take a foul’,” Dudley said. “Get one to the ribs, take it out of bounds.”
A fan behind me noticed the iso first. My head was down typing, and suddenly I hear “oh god, SWITCH... SWIIIIIITCH!” and I looked up to see LeBron licking his chops over Dudley dropping into a defensive crouch, all alone on the island. After two seconds that felt like ten, Dudley sidled up to LeBron and gave him a hug. Side out. “He’s got kids, man. Grandkids probably!,” the fan lamented about Dudley.
Most fun I had all night. Thank you for making my night, buddy. As he left, wearing his Suns gear, I heard him reassuring his buddy “They’ll be good again some day.”
Listen to Jared talk about it.