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Center of the Sun: Booker’s scoring spree couldn’t save the Suns from three more losses

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Can he keep it up and will it actually lead to any wins with so many other key players out due to injuries?

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

@ Utah Jazz L (125-92) Full Recap

vs Washington Wizards L (124-121) Full Recap

vs Memphis Grizzlies L (120-115) Full Recap


Weekly Book Report

This usually comes later in this article but it deserves to be the headliner this week and a bit more attention than usual. In case you’re somehow wondering why...

52.3 points per game.

Even though the Suns lost all three games, Devin Booker’s per game scoring average last week is still amazing. If you go back six games, Booker has averaged 40.0 points per game, also amazing. Only James Harden averaged more (42.8 ppg) over that stretch and Booker actually outdid Harden in the past five games (Book - 43 ppg, Harden - 40 ppg).

Booker has just been incredible lately.

Below are all of his stats for the past week.

40.2 mpg, 52.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, 62.0% FG, 47.8% 3PT, 91.4% FT, 67.9 EFG%, 73.1 TS%

It’s even more incredible when you realize that, not only have opposing teams placed their best defenders on him from the opening tip-off, he’s often been double- and sometimes even triple-teamed lately. Some might call his play selfish stat stuffing but those who care to take a closer look would see that there was little other choice if the Suns really wanted to compete with their opponents.

In the Suns’ last three games, only Booker, Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson (who played in only one of those three games) are averaging double figures in scoring for the season. No one else - other than those on the injured list - are averaging more than a fraction above 8 ppg.

Devin has been putting up those big numbers lately for two reasons:

  1. He has to in order to keep the Suns in games.
  2. He can.

If he had a better supporting cast, I don’t doubt that he would be flirting with averaging double-digit assists this season. With more shooters on the court with him, more of his passes would show up as assists in the box scores (the Suns are 16th in overall shooting percentage and dead last in three-point percentage). And with more offensive threats surrounding him, I also believe that he would become an even more efficient scorer himself as the double- and triple-teams would decrease. He’s already improved his efficiency this season with all the defensive attention that other teams have thrown at him so there’s no reason to believe he won’t improve further with less defensive pressure on him.

It’s a big understatement to say that this season has been a disappointment. Blaming Devin Booker for that would be an injustice though. This team was set up to fail from the beginning by bad planning and bad decisions made by the front office. Hopefully, those mistakes will be corrected before the 2019-20 season begins.

It’s time to build something really good around Devin Booker. That first step really involves settling the question of who will be in the driver’s seat in the Suns’ front office next season. Whoever that is will take on the huge burden of re-inventing this team during the off-season. The Suns have quite a few good pieces to build with, just not enough and/or some mismatching pieces that should be exchanged for better fits.

Winning the lottery and adding Zion Williamson would be a great step in that direction but it’s something that the Suns can’t count on.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. If the Suns don’t move up or down in the reverse standings before the lottery drawing, they could actually wind up drafting as low as 6th if the ping-pong balls fall the wrong way. Many want to trade the pick if it falls below 2 or 3 but it’s possible that the Suns might not be able to trade it (not in a good trade anyway). In case that happens, who would be the top 6 players on your personal draft board?

GuarGuar: Top 6 players for my personal draft board are:

  • 1. Zion Williamson-insane prospect and athletic freak. Generational talent.
  • Gigantic Gap
  • 2. Ja Morant- flashy point guard with great vision and raw scoring ability. I have shooting and defensive questions about him though.
  • 3. Brandon Clarke- Great all around experienced wing player from Gonzaga. Defense would be huge boost.
  • 4. Jarrett Culver- smooth SG/SF from Texas Tech. Projects to be a good scorer/shooter and decent defender.
  • 5. RJ Barrett- Hyped wing from Duke who is the definition of an inefficient volume scorer. Major questions regarding his ability to shoot and be an efficient offensive player.
  • 6. De’Andre Hunter- versatile sophomore forward from Virginia. Can be a really good 3&D player, perhaps even more.

Sun-Arc: My order:

  1. Zion Williamson
  2. Ja Morant
  3. Brandon Clarke
  4. Don’t know/care
  5. Ditto
  6. Ditto Jr.

SDKyle:

  1. Zion Williamson
  2. Ja Morant
  3. DeAndre Hunter
  4. Darius Garland
  5. Brandon Clarke
  6. Rui Hachimura

SouthernSun:

  1. Zion Williamson - This is a no Brainer
  2. Ja Morant - We need a point guard and he’s the best looking one in the draft.
  3. RJ Barrett - Passing ability interests me, as does his defensive upside
  4. Coby White - Because PG
  5. Nickeil Alexander-Walker - Because PG
  6. Brandon Clarke - Because we need a PF and you guys who watch more college basketball than me seem to really like him so yeah.

Alex Sylvester:

  1. Zion Williamson
  2. Ja Morant
  3. Jarrett Culver
  4. De’Andre Hunter
  5. Brandon Clarke
  6. RJ Barrett

2. Devin Booker’s max contract extension begins next season and he won’t be a free agent until 2024. He can’t leave Phoenix until then but he can still ask out early. If the Suns don’t start winning soon, how long do you think it will take before Booker sours on the Suns and wants to leave?

GuarGuar: We’ve said it the past few offseasons, but it’s 100% true this time when we say this is a “make or break” offseason. If we fail to acquire enough NBA level players this offseason conducive to winning, there will be dire consequences. If we flop again this offseason, I expect Booker to ask for a trade at this upcoming February deadline or the following summer similar to a Jimmy Butler situation. If we flop again this summer, I will vouch for us to free Book. He deserves better. The “talent” we’ve put around him the past 3 years has been completely dreadful. It’s time for us to be a winning team again. We need to acquire winning players this offseason.

Sun-Arc: I think Booker could start to sour on the team as soon as next season - though, perhaps, more likely the following summer. And then additionally more likely each successive sucking season thereafter.

I think he’s partially there already, actually. Just looking at his attitude on and off the court, he seems really, and very, frustrated. A year ago he said he was ‘done with not making the playoffs’. It’s a year later, they got the first pick in the draft, and they lost MORE games than last year after firing the GM and half the support staff just before the season started. Rumors about dysfunction and the team has become the laughing stock of the league. That has to weigh on his mind like crazy.

SDKyle: I think this season is huge for Booker’s relationship with the Suns. His frustration showed a lot this year, and he has definitely given the impression he’s sick of being just that guy who scores s bunch of points for an awful team.

I think that if we’re still talking about how we need to get Booker some help, he cant do it alone, etc. after 30 games this next season and the Suns are 9-21 or something, he is going to request a trade.

SouthernSun: I think the Suns have one or maybe two more off-seasons left before Booker takes a trip to the hair salon.

That said, I think the Suns will make some moves this summer that will result in winning more games next season. Hopefully a considerable amount.

Alex Sylvester: It really depends on this summer. If we let Oubre walk and have a terrible summer, I could see it as early as next season. If we do our part to get a point guard, keep Oubre, and upgrade our power forward, I would guess a couple more years at worst case!

3. Other than making it to the playoffs, what would you call acceptable progress for the Suns next season?

GuarGuar: We need to be competitive consistently next season. Not for brief 2-3 week stretches. From October until April, we need to consistently be competitive and win games. No major losing streaks. It’s hard to project what this team will look like come October, so it’s hard exactly to say what will define a successful season. But no matter what we must be consistently competitive like the Kings/Timberwolves this year.

Sun-Arc: The Suns would have to be in the position the Kings are in this season to call it acceptable progress at this point. By that I mean winning 30-something games and being in the playoff hunt until about the last 15-20 games of the season.

Its been too many years of total suckitude to simply win 25 games next season and feel good about it. It’ll take more of that.

SDKyle: The Suns need to win more than 35 games next season. It’s time. Booker is ready. All this young talent we’ve accumulated should be seasoned. We know what the weaknesses are and have discussed them to death. If this club can’t approach .500 next year then it’s time to admit this isn’t working and explore some more radical overhaul strategies.

SouthernSun: Oh man. Maybe 35 wins? That’s my bottom line for acceptable progress. I believe the Suns will pull off some moves this summer that result in at least that big a jump. At least that’s what I’m telling myself so I don’t cry myself to sleep at night.

Whether that is drafting Zion or Ja and then signing a veteran PG and decent PF in free agency, or trading for a star or fringe-star PF or PG and signing the other position in free agency, I truly believe the Suns will address the issue of lack of veteran talent on this team.

Alex Sylvester: Again, depends on the summer. We can’t set expectations without knowing with the front office does this summer. If we upgrade the positions of need at a good standard… 35+ wins would be what I would consider success. If we manage to screw this summer up, closer to 30.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their extra effort every week!


Key Stats

52.3 ppg vs 57.0 ppg

I’m sure most will recognize the first number as Booker’s average for last week. The second number is the combined average for the rest of the team during that same period. Booker hit on 62% of his field goal attempts while the rest of the team connected on only 39.5% their shots from the field.

Random Stats: The Suns’ defensive rating for the season is 113.7, 29th in the NBA. During there recent six-game losing streak it dropped to 119.2.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and/or Basketball-Reference.com.


Game Highlights

Utah Jazz vs Phoenix Suns Full Game Highlights | March 25, 2018-19

Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards Full Game Highlights | March 27, 2018-19

Memphis Grizzlies vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | March 30, 2019


Quotes of the Week

”I think Coach (Kokoskov) drew up some great sets, so I thought it was a collective effort. But he (Booker) got in that zone and he’s a shark in the water. He really is. He has that mentality that you need to be a great scorer.” - Jamal Crawford

”Book is (22) years old and he cares about our team. He cares about us getting better as a group. We never have that conversation. At this point, we’re not going to limit his minutes.” - Igor Kokoskov


Rookie Report

Deandre Ayton - 30.7 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.8 TO, 2.9 PF

  • This week - 28.5 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.3 bpg, 3.0 TO, 2.7 PF

Mikal Bridges - 28.8 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.9 TO, 2.5 PF, 33.2% 3PT

  • This week - 32.4 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.3 TO, 2.3 PF, 18.2% 3PT

De’Anthony Melton - 19.5 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.5 TO, 2.3 PF, 30.8% 3PT

  • This week - 20.5 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.7 TO, 1.7 PF, 0.0% 3PT

Elie Okobo - 17.6 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.2 TO, 2.1 PF, 27.0% 3PT

  • This week - 14.5 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.7 TO, 2.0 PF, 20.0% 3PT

Ray Spalding - 8.0 mpg, 1.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.8 TO, 1.6 PF

  • This week - 7.3 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.3 PF

George King - 5.9 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF

  • This week - DNP

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


News & Notes

Deandre Ayton breaks Suns rookie record for most rebounds. Clutch Points

Devin Booker Keeps Climbing the Ladder. When Will the Suns Catch Up? The Ringer

Devin Booker’s Game Still Has Very Clear Peaks And Valleys. Dime Magazine

Massive Devin Booker Games and the Questions That Come With Them. The Crossover

Phoenix Suns talk their greatest individual scoring performances. Dana Scott/Arizona Republic

NBA Star Power Index: Give Devin Booker, Trae Young your full attention; give Giannis Antetokounmpo his MVP. CBS Sports

Deandre Ayton’s Retroactive Rookie of the Year Awards. Hashtag Basketball

Phoenix Suns: Setting the Devin Booker narrative straight. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit


This Week in Suns History

On April 6, 1993, after the Suns lost a 20 point lead on Lakers, Dan Majerle takes the inbound pass and makes a 33-foot three-point basket with 1.6 seconds to go for a 115-114 win and Suns’ first-ever season sweep of the Lakers. Majerle jumps on scorer’s table to celebrate as cheers last for several minutes.


Suns Trivia

With his 59 points at Utah on March 25, Devin Booker now holds the all-time scoring highs at both the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City and TD Garden in Boston (70 on March 24, 2017).


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, April 1 - Phoenix Suns vs Cleveland Cavaliers, 7:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, April 3 - Phoenix Suns vs Utah Jazz, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, April 5 - Phoenix Suns vs New Orleans Pelicans, 7:00 pm AZT

Sunday, April 7 - Phoenix Suns @ Houston Rockets, 5:00 pm AZT

Four of the Suns’ remaining five games are on the schedule this week. The first three will be at home with the fourth starting a final two-game road trip through Texas.

First up, the 19-58 Cleveland Cavaliers come to TSRA. The Suns lost their previous meeting with the Cavs in Cleveland even though Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson were still active in that game. With Ayton possibly out for the rematch, the path to a win becomes even more difficult. Maybe it’s pure homerism but I still think that the Suns can and will get their 18th win at home against the Cavs.

Next is the final matchup between the Suns and the Jazz. The Jazz are still battling for playoff position so I expect another loss to them on Wednesday night. If Ayton is still out, expect it to be a big loss.

On Friday, the Pelicans come to Phoenix. Like the Suns, New Orleans is out of the playoff picture and playing only for pride from here on. Don’t expect a bizarre ending that led to the Suns’ winning their last meeting to happen again. But this close to the end of the season, the entire game could be bizarre depending on individual player motivations and/or the lineups/rotations that each team chooses to use in a game that has little meaning for either. I’m calling this one a toss-up that could go either way.

And finally, the Suns head back out on the road for their final meeting with the Houston Rockets. Unless the playoff seeding is already set before this game, expect the Rockets to run out their A-game and run over the Suns. As the playoff seeding is still tight with Houston just a half game ahead of Portland for the 3rd seed, that is a strong possibility. But with just a handful of games left, things could possibly change between now and then. If and only if the Rockets’ playoff seed is set by then and they decide to rest up key players before the playoffs begin will the Suns have a shot in this game.

I predict that the Suns will go 1-3 this week, with a slight chance of going 2-2.

What’s your prediction?


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “In this year’s draft...”

23% - The Suns get Zion Williamson or they should trade the pick.

64% - The Suns get Zion Williamson or Ja Morant or they should trade the pick.

13% - The Suns shouldn’t trade the pick even if it falls out of the top 3.

There were 116 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Should the Suns limit Devin Booker’s minutes or ‘rest’ him for the remainder of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    No. Let him play and give him all the minutes he wants.
    (78 votes)
  • 25%
    Restrict his minutes but don’t shut him down.
    (29 votes)
  • 4%
    Shut him down completely. Don’t risk another injury in a few final meaningless games.
    (5 votes)
112 votes total Vote Now