Phoenix Suns star guard Devin Booker, who just turned 23 years old on October 30, has been getting some M-V-P chants in fourth quarters of big home wins lately, but Booker himself is more interested in finally winning games.
“It is nice to hear,” Booker replied. “I am more excited about the fans having something to cheer for, us playing winning basketball and competitive basketball every night. That has been the fun part.”
Booker has consistently and regularly said he wants to win IN PHOENIX. He loves the fans and wants the fans to experience joy again, in the form of lots of wins just like the old days.
On Sunday night, the fans got a LOT to cheer for. They watched Booker’s team blow out the Nets in a game that started with a 10-1 run, ballooned up to 33-13, had a 68-50 halftime lead and led by 30 in the third before garbage time began.
“Devin is Devin,” Nets center DeAndre Jordan said of Booker. “He can score the basketball pretty much at all three levels of the court. When he’s aggressive, they’re a great team.”
The Suns are 6-3 so far this season with the league’s 4th best scoring margin at 7.8 per game. They’ve won their six games by 88 points, while losing three by only 18 total points including a pair of one-point losses.
And Booker is at the head of that run, leading the Suns in scoring (25.8 points per game), three-point shooting (53%) while also being second in assists (5.4 per game). His +9 net rating (point differential per 100 possessions, which is roughly equivalent to a full game) is higher than the team’s overall net rating (+7.8).
With Booker leading the way, the Suns now have the league’s 3rd best offense and 11th best defense, per NBA.com, and are being discussed as a playoff team these days. This is heady stuff, considering the Suns haven’t made the playoffs in nearly a decade just came off a dismal 19-63 season that was second-worst in the whole league.
“When he and I talk about it,” coach Williams says of conversations with Booker. “He tells me, ‘coach, I’ve always wanted to play like this’. I hope and I think he’s just going to get better and more comfortable in this system.”
Their 6-3 record is the best nine-game run of Devin Booker’s four-plus year career after being taken 13th overall in 2015 and asked to preside over a complete rebuilding effort to get him fellow stars via the draft lottery.
In his first four years, Booker’s starting lineup brethren have consisted of recent high lottery picks, fellow teenagers, over-the-hill vets and G-League fill-ins. Booker has had to be both a scoring guard and the team’s point guard. His 6.8 assists per game last year were among the top half of the league’s best point guards, all while scoring 26.6 points per game too.
Indeed, Booker has consistently said throughout his career that he does not care about individual scoring totals — despite the criticism otherwise — and only scored so much in prior years to try to help his team win games. The Suns lost his 70-point game as well as his two 50+ games. He’s the eighth youngest player in league history to score 6,000 career points at the NBA level for a team with a collective 27% win rate since he was drafted.
Those good-stats-on-a-bad-team criticisms have always been lazy and utterly ridiculous. We tried to tell those casual observers the truth, but they wouldn’t listen. He’s done everything he possibly could on offense to will his team to victory, while understandably underwhelming on defensive effort in defeat.
The starting lineup when he scored 70 points at just 19 years old in a big loss? Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones Jr., Alex Len and Marquese Chriss. Three of them were rookies. The other was a disappointing top-5 first round pick. Two years later, one is out of the league. None got rookie extensions. None became NBA starters for good NBA teams.
The starting lineup when he got 59 points against Utah last spring and 50 against the Wizards, both losses? Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, De’Anthony Melton and Dragan Bender. Three of them were rookies. The other was a disappointing top-5 first round pick. That disappointing top-5 pick is now the 15th man in Milwaukee on a mostly non-guaranteed contract.
Sensing a pattern?
The starting lineup when Booker scored 40 last week as the Suns beat top-seeded and undefeated 76ers? Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric and Aron Baynes. No All-Star bids among them, but all are solid 4-8 year NBA veterans who have started for playoff teams.
What a difference a better supporting cast makes!
Now Booker doesn’t have to do everything. He can be himself, which is an incredible All-Star talent at the shooting guard position.
“I think Ricky [Rubio] has allowed him to be more efficient,” coach Williams said after the Sunday win. “He’s probably fresher, he doesn’t have to dribble the ball as much. Our guys are going to look for Devin, they know he’s our best player, that’s not something new.”
Now Booker, still scoring at a high clip with 25.8 points per game and still setting up teammates (5.4 assists per game), is the clear leader of a playoff-caliber team where he might be the only All-Star of the bunch.
Oh yeah, that All-Star thing. Folks in Phoenix have been talking about this for the past two years, but Booker needed a winning record to be considered.
Last week, he showed up on NBA.com MVP rankings for the first time ever at #9 on their list. He’s one of the league’s best guards on one of its best teams. This year, he might get all those accolades he’s deserved after all.
“I think they are getting ahead of themselves,” Booker said of the M-V-P chants from the crowd on Sunday night. “Just out there excited in the mix. At the same time, we just have to keep playing. The rest will figure itself out.”