What if I told you back in June that the Phoenix Suns would be the only team in the NBA through seven games ranking in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating? Honestly, your answer would have been to call me crazy, but the sudden shift to success has caught everyone in the Valley off guard including me.
At this point last season, the Suns were off to a discombobulated start plagued by a lack of overall talent and structure. This year under the guidance of Monty Williams, the swift turnaround has seen that narrative flip on its head.
The head-to-head comparison through the first seven games between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Suns is certainly eye-opening:— Evan Sidery (@esidery) November 5, 2019
- 18-19: 101.4 OffRtg (27th), 115.5 DefRtg (28th), -14.1 NetRtg (30th)
- 19-20: 108.8 OffRtg (10th), 100.9 DefRtg (T6th), +7.8 NetRtg (4th)
Not only has Williams helped reinvigorate the culture in Phoenix, which has been easily apparent with how the locker room has bought into his system, but Devin Booker has once again taken another leap forward.
Suns fans have known for years now that Booker is a primary franchise building block, but the losses and lack of direction from management led to team regression throughout his rookie contract. Some national media perceived giving Booker his 5-year, $158 million max extension a gamble, even going along the lines of comparing his value to someone like Andrew Wiggins.
Now, with stability on all levels of the Suns’ organization finally in place, Booker is shedding those preconceived labels at warp speed. It showed on Monday night in Talking Stick Resort Arena as Booker once again dominated the Philadelphia 76ers to the tune of 40 points on 19 shot attempts.
At one point, Booker was so hot in the second half he started pulling so many offensive moves out of his bag that Philadelphia didn’t know what was coming next. That’s what is so special about Booker. When he gets going, he’s one of the hardest scorers in the league to bottle up.
Devin Booker took Ben Simmons to school when he tried to defend him in crunch time: pic.twitter.com/rBuHH3fYyW— Evan Sidery (@esidery) November 5, 2019
It’s naive at this point to try to place limits on Booker’s game, because somehow he continues to vault up another rung on the star ladder. He’s now been the best player on the floor in games featuring De’Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and Ben Simmons. Booker is no longer a bottom-tier franchise player you rank in the 25-30 range, he’s arguably a top 20 player in the league now.
Booker is averaging 26.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 5 assists per game on 53.5/50/90.3 shooting splits right now. Couple that with an insanely high true shooting percentage of 65, which rises to an even more jaw-dropping 86.9 percent in clutch situations, and the Suns’ star is well on his way to finally breaking through nationally.
If Booker keeps this up, his first All-Star berth won’t be in question. The real debate will be if the 23-year-old scoring phenom sneaks onto an All-NBA list by season’s end.
Outside of Booker, who is proving he can be the No. 1 option on a winning team, the ancillary pieces of this Suns team can’t be overlooked. Aron Baynes is playing out of his mind right now as a top 30 player, according to multiple advanced metrics. Ricky Rubio was the point guard Phoenix has been missing for years. The overall depth now goes 11-12 deep on some nights.
That is what you call a sudden philosophical shift from every angle. No more betting on inexperience and praying to hit again in the draft lottery. Now it’s all about doing the little things right led by hungry veterans who are proving their worth after being discarded off other rosters.
Regression will come for the Suns soon, but who knows when exactly that will occur. Five players in their rotation are shooting at least 40 percent on three-pointers (Booker, Baynes, Rubio, Jevon Carter, Tyler Johnson), while the shot luck for the opposing team has gone Phoenix’s way almost every time. This doesn’t dismiss the fact that the Suns are showing all the makings of a team probably fighting tooth and nail to make the playoffs in March and April.
As Jim Mora once said, “Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs! You kidding me?”
Who would have thought this would be crossing people’s minds in Phoenix after a murder’s row of contenders they started the season against? Believe it.
If Booker continues to play like a superstar, plus the team identity and overall strong play maintains, the Phoenix Suns are going to be a team many won’t want to scrap with on most nights.