Entering into his fourth season, Devin Booker not only has his new max contract extension already in hand, but the weight of the franchise grew on him at the same time. Even after drafting Deandre Ayton with Phoenix’s first No. 1 pick in franchise history, everyone knows this will be Booker’s team for the immediate and long term outlook. However many versions of this team goes down over the next five-plus years, it will all be worked around Booker.
Drafting Ayton and Mikal Bridges in a trade-up using Zhaire Smith and the 2021 Miami pick turned out to be their biggest moves of the summer outside of signing Trevor Ariza to a 1-year, $15 million deal. However, all three of these steps were in the direction of helping Booker take the next big step of his all-around development.
After averaging nearly 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists (24.9-4.5-4.7) with little to no help around him on most nights, the Suns’ front office has gone out of their way to truly make things easier for Booker on both ends. Not only will the floor be effectively spaced for Booker operating out of all three levels, but he will rarely see double or triple teams heading his way from here on out. The presences of Ayton down low flanked by Bridges and Ariza in drive-and-dish opportunities camping in the corners make it nearly impossible to throw the whole game plan at disrupting Booker’s rhythm.
Even though those three are big acquisitions, especially Ayton and Bridges throughout the Booker era, it still looks as if hope falls once more on Booker to take the bonafide leap forward to established star. And the Suns’ front office seems willing to bet on that as well with how they went about attacking this past summer after hype starting up right when the calendar turned into 2018 about becoming way more aggressive in amassing talent.
Pointing towards 2019, the Suns can create maximum cap space rather easily. It can come about in two of the most likely scenarios at this point: 1.) Simply trading Brandon Knight’s final year of his contract attached with the 2020 Milwaukee pick. 2.) Stretch Knight’s contract over next three years while also trading one of Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender. Either one of those avenues are what Phoenix would have to do in hopes of attracting either that one missing piece at point guard or power forward.
Four names who are expected to be unrestricted free agents next summer — Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson — have all thrown praise Booker’s ways over the past two seasons. When Jay Triano mentioned at the end of the season that players want to play with Booker, he might not be lying there. As noticed in the pure player voting for All-Star ballots, he got the most name drops on there.
The thing is, none of those names will be coming to the Valley unless Ayton is a legitimate force from Day 1 paired with Booker taking the leap as one of the best scorers in the NBA.
Diving deeper towards what Booker has to accomplish in order to attract big fish names always comes back to one area: improving his all-around scoring efficiency. Last season, Booker shot 43.2% from the floor equalling up to an effective field goal percentage of 50.1 eFG%.
At the moment, Booker is right next to Donovan Mitchell in that aspect. Going towards the James Harden level, which looks to be his best development curve over the next few years, requires Booker to jump his percentages up a minimum of 2%, probably closer 3-4%.
Another interesting number to gloss over is how dangerous Booker was on nights where his efficiency was on an above-average to elite level. In 23 games last season, Booker shot at or above 45% which resulted in him averaging 31.4 points per game. That right there is a sneak peek into how good of a scorer Booker could truly become.
Heading into Year 4, players who are expected to become stars usually go ahead and do it. The last four players to average at least 27 points per game in their age 22 season is an elite, Hall of Fame list: Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It’s fair to ask if Booker will be the next one on this list, because if that happens it means he also has become one of the five best scorers already league-wide.
Taking it another step further, the only ones in NBA history to average 27 points and 6 assists while shooting 40% on 3s are Stephen Curry (2015 when he was unanimous MVP) and Larry Bird (3x). With now eight above-average shooters littered on the roster and the potential of the Booker/Ayton inside-out combo in pick-and-roll plus lob situations, that required spacing to pull this off in Igor Kokoskov’s motion-heavy scheme definitely isn’t out of the question.
I actually expect Booker to achieve what Curry and Bird did this year, because his scoring ability from all areas of the floor is already one of the smoothest. Seeing Booker’s scoring and playmaking take another step in the right direction is actually one of the team-wide bold predictions I see coming to fruition easiest.
When Kokoskov mentioned at his introductory press conference that Booker would be one of the best scorers in the league, I’m taking his word for it in building the offense entirely around his dynamic strengths. Through this important offseason, the front office has been hinting at that being their main direction.
Heading full speed towards the final season where General Manager Ryan McDonough will have his final offseason to keep his job past his 2020 extension expiring, he’s going to be relying heavily upon his young star becoming one of the best shooting guards right away. If Booker is able to achieve the high goals this team has in store for him, especially this early in his career, it sets them up to get their foot in the door with bigger names who will attract plenty of max contract offers.
Booker is already on the path to future superstardom with his current trajectory, but he might have to hit the warp speed button on a few steps of his development to help lure in a franchise-changing established star.