Devin Booker continues to break through ceilings each month as far as his potential goes, posting absolutely absurd numbers since his return from a hip pointer. To the tune of averaging 33 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists over his last six games, Booker has consistently flashed superstar-like characteristics throughout his third season.
Last night was no different as he went to battle with last year’s Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook. Phoenix’s young star finished his night with 39 points (a new career-high inside Talking Stick Resort Arena), 6 rebounds, and 8 assists.
However, what has been different for the Suns over the last few weeks has been the emergence of Josh Jackson.
He has absolutely looked the part of a top-five pick out of this 2017 class while also making a late push for NBA All-Rookie teams. At points, Jackson looks like the best player on the floor from a two-way perspective. From where we were in December, that’s a huge turnaround many did not see coming so suddenly.
Over their last three games, this duo is starting to form chemistry together even further.
Booker: 37.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists
Jackson: 22.7 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks
Super small sample size there, obviously, but the proof is in the pudding as far as how they are forming this rather potent combo, especially when they are able to get out in transition together.
Jackson knew this was a formality, it just took time for this to begin to show itself through.
Jackson on how he and Booker are starting to develop chemistry together and feed off one another:— Evan Sidery (@esidery) March 3, 2018
“We knew what would happen. It was only a matter of time.” pic.twitter.com/nQUEjTa5t9
An underrated aspect in all of this, though, is how having a legitimate starting caliber point guard changes this roster. Elfrid Payton was acquired for only a second-round pick via Orlando right at the buzzer of this year’s trade deadline.
Compared to other options they have rolled out thus far, Payton has been a huge breath of fresh air. His aggressiveness going at the rim coupled with his pass-first mentality to get easier looks for the likes of Booker, Jackson, and others, has been a surprisingly smooth fit.
Sure, it could definitely be smoother as far as defensively and shooting — two critical areas Payton will need to improve on if he wants to be around next season — but he’s fit well into his role as a secondary scorer with plus creation ability for a team who desperately needed one.
“I think it’s coming along well. I’m feeding off him, he’s feeding off me,” Payton said of how he and Booker are meshing. “I think there’s a lot of things we can still grow at together, but I think we’re moving in the right direction for sure.”
Since Payton arrived in Phoenix, he and Russell Westbrook are the only guards league-wide tallying up at least 17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.5 steals on a nightly basis. It hasn’t translated over to the win column, but he’s continuing to prove his worth for what general manager Ryan McDonough ultimately gave up for him last month.
Speaking of Westbrook, his up-close meeting with Booker didn’t go unnoticed. After they put on a show, Westbrook went up to Booker and quickly chatted with him as the clock hit 0.0.
From a player with such mentality like Westbrook, for him to tell Booker to demand greatness out of his team moving forward shows how much respect he’s earning from today’s biggest names on the court.
“He just told me to demand greatness out of your team and it meant a lot coming from him. I spoke on it earlier, somebody I have much respect for,” Booker said. “Before I was in the NBA, he was a player I didn’t like. But now since my rookie year (when) we exchanged words, we were talking trash a little bit and ever since then, he’s somebody I watch and his passion, his energy that he brings every night is unbelievable.”
While the on-court product for Phoenix continues to improve from a competitive standpoint, their off-court value continues to balloon towards the best-case scenario unfolding.
After shipping off Goran Dragic a few years ago to Miami and then Eric Bledsoe after three games this season, the Suns are in a position to have three picks in the top 16. For each of those picks to convey, Miami would need to finish anywhere but top seven while Milwaukee’s is right on the borderline as it needs to hit anywhere between 11-16.
Currently, the Suns have picks No. 2, 15, and 16. If the Blake Griffin-led Pistons are somehow able to catch Miami after losing to the downtrodden Magic, their pick could slip into the late lottery selections.
Not only could that allow McDonough to pull off a similar maneuver to what he did in 2016 for Marquese Chriss — trading back up to No. 8 with Sacramento, with the main sweetener being the rights to Bogan Bogdanovic — but he could finally push all of his chips into the table and move all-in for a superstar to pair alongside Booker and Jackson.
Either way, adding two top-notch prospects or one big name (ex: Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, etc.) could go a long way towards a paradigm shift out west. Right now, Golden State, Houston, and Oklahoma City are battling for the present but Phoenix is setting themselves up for long-term success if they hit this summer out of the park.
And if McDonough wants to keep his job past his contract or even before that runs out, he will have to.
It’s become even clearer since 2018 began, but Phoenix now has their first two pillars firmly entrenched with Booker and Jackson. Now, it’s up to management to take advantage of their litany of assets they have patiently stocked up, which doesn’t even include their all-important unprotected 2021 pick sent their way as well in the Dragic deal.
As interim head coach Jay Triano has known all season, Booker has singlehandedly willed their offense to stay competitive on most nights. The 21-year-old is starting to find a groove, and Triano has no doubts anymore about him being an elite scorer.
After another stellar performance on Friday against Oklahoma City, there’s no denying that statement in league circles any longer. Booker is an offensive weapon who’s creeping up towards his national breakout in Year 4.
“He showed tonight, he’s got an ability to score. He’s got an ability to score short clocks and from the perimeter,” Triano said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a shot at the end, but he’s carrying us. He’s proven that he’s an elite scorer in this league.”