What was Devin Booker thinking last March? He touched what is nearly his pinnacle as a scorer of the basketball, with back-to-back 50 point games followed by a 48-point onslaught. Surely, he was proud. But if we know anything about the 23-year-old soon starting his fifth season in Phoenix, it’s that he was devastated by the fact that those performances all came in losses. The noise swelled into an obnoxious crescendo after his second 50-point game such that Booker actually started over-passing in the third game, finishing with 48 points and 11 assists.
Shortly after, Booker said it was the best his body had ever felt, considering the point in the season he was at. The feat was impressive not only for the magnificence of the huge scoring numbers, but because of how he was able to get right physically in time to finish the season so strong after a frustrating year.
Hamstring injuries stung Booker throughout the 2018-19 season in addition to right hand surgery, a pinky sprain, a stubbed toe, and more. This summer, Booker sat out from the FIBA World Cup and spent his time in the gym, improving his game and trying to stay healthy.
“I’m very excited,” Booker said at media day on Monday. “Missing training camp last year was tough for me, not even just from a basketball conditioning standpoint, but finding that chemistry with the guys and actually being on the court with them.”
Booker is no stranger to change around him, and probably has learned that the best way to give his all with new teammates and coaches is soak up what they have to offer. Being hurt or away from the team only sets things back further. Statistically, the Suns were a 19-win team last year through and through, but there is a small part of these guys that must wonder what might have been if everyone was a little healthier.
As Booker noted, it’s not only important to be able to play basketball with his new teammates, but to be able to spend time with them rather than rehabbing injuries. Training camp went according to plan, allowing him that added level of comfort, Booker said Friday in Flagstaff.
“I just get a step ahead than I did last year,” he said, “learning the new concepts and the new actions. I got to learn it here in training camp instead of the first game of the season. That was my first time touching the floor last year, so I think I’m going to be in better (basketball) shape, reaction times will be better, everything should be better.”
In case anyone forgot, those March explosions weren’t the only impressive scoring nights of Booker’s 2018-19 season. Despite missing camp, he announced his arrival with a dominant 35-point, 7-assist game against the Mavericks on opening night. If that’s what an uncomfortable, below-his-peak version of Booker can do, this team could be in for a tremendous start from its healthy and locked-in leader.
Booker infamously has not played more than 64 games the past two seasons. Determining why he’s suffered from injuries after rarely doing so prior to 2017-18 is difficult, but operating less against double- and triple-teams with the ball in his hands should help, in addition to a fully healthy offseason. The man who will take the pressure off Booker is Ricky Rubio, acquired to share the ball with Booker and make the defense work harder to stop the Suns’ star scorer.
The two seem to have clicked so far, allowing their creativity and basketball instincts to flourish even as they learn one another on the court. They’re also developing a mutual respect that could allow them to grow together quickly, said head coach Monty Williams.
Said Williams: “If I was in his position, I would feel like I was freer to not have to do everything myself. Hopefully, he’s fresher in those moments where he has the ability to take over.”