Not many will think of what the Suns pulled off as going all-in around their 21-year-old guard, but that’s exactly what happened on draft night when they added Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and even Elie Okobo into the mix.
Last season, with little to no help around him on a consistent basis, Booker still averaged 24.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists while also seeing a slight jump in all-around offensive efficiency.
And after Thursday where they not only secured Booker’s vital 1-2, inside-out combo with Ayton but also added in the necessary length and floor spacing needed for Booker to continue to rise towards the NBA’s elite at warp speed.
It was an issue crippling the Suns’ offense at many points when teams would send two or three help defenders on Booker once he passed halfcourt, because they knew nobody else was an actual three-level threat on the roster. With the additions of Ayton and Bridges alongside another bouncy two-way wing in Josh Jackson who can continuously feast off open cutting lanes, Booker will now have hopefully ample amount of room to operate.
Allowing Booker to hide out on the worst perimeter defender to conserve energy and focus his attention squarely on scoring was a long term outlook for Phoenix. All of the sudden, they did it one fell swoop on draft night, as Jackson and Bridges will now be able to cover up for Booker’s defensive deficiencies.
In many different situations, Booker will now be able to create pick your poison opportunities for opposing defenses when Ayton, Jackson and Bridges are out on the floor with him. Add in a veteran point guard and then they are really cooking with fire for potentially high-powered, optimally spaced-out lineup combinations that are tough to handle.
Lets focus in specifically on Bridges for a moment, because his addition metaphorically even pushes the chips further into the circle for what Phoenix expects out of Booker in his fourth year. The reason why is due to how efficient Bridges is in the areas the Suns desperately lacked for Booker a few months ago.
According to The Stepien shot charts, Bridges looks to be the perfect weapon for Booker to read off defenders with due to his elite perimeter shooting prowess. Bridges shot 57.1% (!!!) on corner 3s, including +70% finishing rate at the rim. Not only that, but Bridges shot 40% for his college career at Villanova after non-stop work on his shot release.
The 6’7” wing with an eye-popping 7’2” wingspan likely fills the T.J. Warren role, but in an even more suitable fashion. Unlike Warren, Bridges can already step into being a plus shooter and defender from the get-go.
This type of player wasn’t flanked by Booker at all last year, and his addition will do wonders for Booker’s inside-out scoring attack. Imagine Booker now getting a full head of steam and collapsing defenders in all around him driving towards the paint, which was a regular occurrence in 2017-18. Now, place Bridges in the corner and it will put defenses in a bind.
Someone who has sharpshooter equity (I see plenty of Khris Middleton in Bridges’s profile after diving in and watching five full games over the past few days) alongside Booker will quickly create mismatches across the board. Compared to other wings in the 2017 draft class, Bridges truly is the one who does more with less.
And that’s not even including Ayton’s gigantic frame in the middle who can be utilized in pick-and-pops with Booker until teams throw in the white flag.
When Mikal Bridges caught fire from behind the arc this past season, it was a sight to behold. In this clip against Xavier, he hit back-to-back-to-back 3s with hands right in his face. That quick trigger and high release point give him sharpshooter upside. pic.twitter.com/M31QdSJ5K7— Evan Sidery (@esidery) June 25, 2018
That was far from the case last year where Booker could have finished in the NBA’s top 20 in assists per game if it wasn’t for Alex Len consistently bungling away chances in the post and Phoenix having more than one other player with floor spacing equity outside of Troy Daniels. Insert Ayton instead of Len and Booker’s assist percentage should now creep up towards the upper-echelon for secondary and even primary initiators.
Booker’s assist percentage vaulted up from 16.3% to 24.4% without any real help around him. Add in what Phoenix pulled on draft night, and I have a hard time seeing how Booker isn’t comfortably inside the +30 AST% club.
What’s interesting is that only three players listed at 6’6” or above averaged above 7 assists this past season. Those names were LeBron James, Ben Simmons and Draymond Green. Booker could truly be in such a unique spot if his development goes as planned with the necessary weapons flanked around him.
After witnessing Booker’s rapid growth already, we could be in for his national breakout leap in the 2018-19 campaign.
Last season, Bridges and Ayton ranked atop the board in terms of overall offensive efficiency via points per possession (PPP). If Warren still stays around in a sixth man type of role, the Suns now have the possibility of running out 5-man lineups with five above-average scorers in that category, which includes an expected jump from Jackson as well.
Ideally, head coach Igor Kokoskov would utilize this combination often: Booker-Jackson-Bridges-Bender-Ayton. That right there is the ideal modern lineup based around two-way versatility and switch-heavy defensive schemes. With Ayton and Bender’s foot speed for their size, they should in the long run be able to check and hang with guards when they are targeted in switches themselves. Also, with everyone being 6’6” or above, that’s a unit that wouldn’t be picked on one bit in the size department.
The aforementioned lineup also does huge benefits for Booker, if Phoenix expects him to continue down the James Harden-like playmaking development heading into the 2020s. Instead of waiting a few more years on that, it could be happening right now.
Even though Kokoskov said he won’t have Booker bring the ball up much in halfcourt settings, he will still get the ball swung over in his direction on almost every possession. Long term, though, Kokoskov has the ingredients simmering with Ayton, Bridges, Jackson and Okobo to run out lineup combinations where Booker can absolutely abuse his matchups in 1-on-1 setting constantly.
Before Booker even receives his 5-year, $156 million extension later this summer, Phoenix is already showing him complete faith in orchestrating the perfect nucleus of talent to surround him where his strengths will be even more magnified.
The Suns are putting together the finishing touches on Booker heading into his second contract with extremely high offensive upside tagged by superstar equity continuing to increase. Many national media have had doubts about Booker being the No. 1 option on a future championship contender, but Phoenix is throwing together the necessary pieces to quickly make that notion a mute point.
Booker now has his dynamic rolling big man, two defensive-minded wings (one who’s an above-average shooter from beyond the arc) flanking him on the perimeter and Okobo as the ideal combo guard who can complement Booker with his shooting skill set and length that could bring sneaky defensive upside. All of this was accomplished before free agency even kicks off next week.
Phoenix still has work to do adding in more win-now talent to surround their young nucleus, but the right moves have been made so far to take Booker’s game to a whole new level. That’s a scary thought for all other NBA teams.