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Center of the Sun: Devin Booker has many critics. Can he silence them this season?

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“Overrated”, “Empty stats”, “Can’t carry his team”, yada, yada, yada.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

For some reason, Devin Booker seems to draw a lot of criticism especially from non-local media and non-Suns fans. He also gets some from the Phoenix faithful but that tends to be more measured and grounded in fact rather than hyperbole and a lack of familiarity with the Suns as a whole in my opinion.

Booker’s lack of defensive prowess is well known and entirely deserving of criticism but pretty much everything else is overblown, often due to a lack of familiarity with the Suns in general. The one that I have the biggest issue with is that he hasn’t been able to carry the Suns to more wins and/or on to the playoffs.

Serious Phoenix fans know what bad teams he’s played on during his time in the Valley and the parade of poor/inexperienced head coaches that he’s also had during that time. When you put those two things together, it’s no surprise that his teams have won only 23, 24, 21 and 19 games in those four seasons.

First off, let’s throw out Booker’s rookie season. No one was expecting much from a player that was selected late in the lottery and then considered just a three-point shooter... and one that didn’t even start for his college team. His true level of talent wasn’t discovered until he was pretty much pressed into service after injuries (Bledsoe, Warren, Knight) started to bring that team down. Plus there was the Markieff Morris drama following his brother Marcus’ being traded to Detroit during the offseason that resulted in him getting traded at midseason. That was an injury and drama plagued season in which Booker turned out to be the single bright spot.

In his second season, the Suns had realized he could become something special but had a weak roster and an even weaker head coach (Earl Watson). This was also the season that GM Ryan McDonough decided to tank in earnest by sitting healthy players following the All-Star break. Trading the team’s best defender (P.J. Tucker) for basically nothing at the break didn’t help matters either.

The last two seasons, Booker had to play with no starting caliber point guard OR power forward (which you could argue that the Suns hadn’t had since the Suns traded Morris to Washington in 2016) and no quality/experienced head coach. Without much of a team around him, Booker often had to not only act as the de facto point guard but was constantly forced to deal with double-teams whenever he touched the ball.

Yeah, the lack of wins and not making it to the playoffs surely falls squarely on Devin Booker’s shoulders during all that time.

For those who might not recognize it immediately, that was sarcasm.

After last season started, then interim-GM James Jones slowly started to add some young but experienced talent to the team while also trimming away at the dead weight. By the end of the season, the new additions (Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson) plus the first quality rookies (Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges) added to the team since Booker was drafted were starting to gel into something resembling an NBA team until a string of injuries put most of the starters on the bench for the final few games.

With even more talent added during this offseason, the coming season Booker will be playing with the best supporting cast he’s ever had, the best head coach he’s ever had and possibly the least dysfunctional situation he’s been in since he was drafted. Unless something completely unexpected occurs, we will finally get an idea of just how good he can be playing on a real NBA team.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Build the best team possible around Devin Booker using ONLY the players that were formerly on the Suns during Booker’s first four years in the NBA. (Players currently with the Suns - other than Booker - can not be chosen for this team.)

GuarGuar: PG: Eric Bledsoe - Elfrid Payton

SG: Devin Booker - Danuel House - Brandon Knight

SF: P.J. Tucker - T.J. Warren - Trevor Ariza

PF: Markieff Morris - Marquese Chriss - Dragan Bender

C: Alex Len - Tyson Chandler

Sun-Arc: Starters - Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Alex Len

Bench - Elfrid Payton, Danuel House, T.J. Warren, Jon Leuer, Tyson Chandler

SDKyle: PG - Eric Bledsoe

SG - Devin Booker

SF - P.J. Tucker

PF - Markieff Morris

C - Alex Len

Bench - T.J. Warren, Mirza Teletovic, Ronnie Price, Tyson Chandler, Jon Leuer

SouthernSun: PG - Eric Bledsoe / Elfrid Payton

SG - Devin Booker / Troy Daniels

SF - T.J. Warren / Derrick Jones Jr.

PF - P.J. Tucker / Markieff Morris

C - Richaun Holmes / Alex Len

If I get the somewhat healthy 19ppg 4rpg 5 apg 1.2spg Knight from 15/16 then I’d use him in place of Daniels.

Alex Sylvester: Starters - Eric Bledsoe/Devin Booker/T.J. Warren/P.J. Tucker/Tyson Chandler

Bench - Elfrid Payton/Brandon Knight/_______*/Markieff Morris/Alex Len

Both Chandler and Knight would ideally be the 2015 version. Every other player can be the current version of themselves.

Guys that were on the edge of making the 10 man rotation were DJJ/Dudley/Teletovic/Williams.

* Note: Alex had Marcus Morris penciled in here. Marcus was traded to Detroit before Booker’s rookie season began and therefore was not eligible to be included.

Q2 - Do you think that the roster you assembled in Q1 would be better, worse or equal to the roster the Suns are likely to start this season with?

GuarGuar: I think our current roster is better than the one I constructed above. Rubio and Bledsoe are pretty even. Oubre/Mikal and PJ/TJ are pretty close, maybe PJ/TJ have a slight edge. Power forward and center we are much better currently. Saric is better than Markieff and Ayton/Baynes is much better than Len/Chandler. The former player roster has more depth, but our current roster has better talent and starting lineup. I’ll take the current roster as the better one.

Sun-Arc: My assembled team would probably suck because of the personalities. But if they were all motivated and happy to be here, maybe not so bad. Bledsoe, in particular, could be a good PG next to Devin with his decent defense/passing/shooting. I’d rather have Rubio, honestly - though that wasn’t in the rules.

SDKyle: I think the current Suns are better than this crew I assembled, though the gap might not be enormous depending on what versions of these guys showed up. The team I assembled can play a little defense and shoot a little bit, but isn’t very dynamic on offense outside of Bledsoe and Booker. I think this question does highlight that as much as the Suns still need work to get where we want them to be, the talent on the roster since Booker’s rookie season has been sorely lacking.

SouthernSun: I actually think the two teams would be pretty evenly matched. PJ Tucker provides similar defense to Mikal, though PJ is probably better and has veteran savvy and leadership. Bledsoe is a better scorer and shooter than Rubio, but lacks the playmaking skills. Both are good on defense. Dario Saric is better than Keef and might actually be a little better than Tucker, but Tucker’s intensity gives him a boost. Ayton is better than either Holmes or Len. Elfrid is probably even with Tyler Johnson. Kelly and Mikal as a SF rotation is probably a little better than TJ and DJJ.

I’d say they are pretty evenly matched, but I’m giving the slight edge to the 2019/20 Suns, mostly out of hope.

Alex Sylvester: Probably worse. For starters, I’ve liked Oubre more than I’ve liked Warren since he got here. In general, I like the combo of Oubre/Bridges better than Warren/_______*. Rubio fits better next to Devin than Bledsoe does, while both bring solid defense to the equation. Ayton > Chandler. Baynes > Len. The only thing I like better for the new team is the PF rotation, but even then it’s close.

* Note: Alex had Marcus Morris penciled in here. Marcus was traded to Detroit before Booker’s rookie season began and therefore was not eligible to be included.

Q3 - Do you think that exchanging Booker for ANY other NBA player could have carried the Suns to the playoffs in any of the past 4 seasons with the rest of those rosters remaining unchanged?

GuarGuar: I doubt it. We saw LeBron and AD have better rosters last season and both missed the playoffs. So that leaves Durant, Curry, Kawhi, and Harden. Maybe one of them could do it, but it seems pretty unlikely. It took Harden going on an insane run last year just to keep Houston afloat while CP3 and Capela were out. Curry didn’t make the playoffs in his early years when the Warriors were very bad. KD hasn’t had to carry a bad team since his rookie year. Kawhi needs to rest 20 games a year so I can’t see him doing it either. No NBA player could take any of the past 4 Suns teams to the playoffs.

Sun-Arc: If we could have traded Booker for LeBron James or Kevin Durant in 2015-16, when we had Bledsoe, Markieff, Teletovic, Leuer, P.J. Tucker, Knight, and Warren... yeah, we could have squeaked into the playoffs. That season the #8 seed was Houston with just 41 wins, with Memphis and Dallas with only 42 wins. One would have to think LeBron or Durant could get that team over .500 in 2016.

SDKyle: It might be the most extreme possible example, but I’d say that LeBron James could’ve gotten the 15/16 Suns (23-59) to the playoffs. I suggest this for three reasons:

A. That was the weakest version of Booker, when he was technically a negative on both sides of the court and not just on defense. Subtracting him would not realistically have cost the Suns a lot, as impressive as he was for a teenage rookie.

B. The LeBron of that era was still a force rarely seen in NBA history... one who had not just made the playoffs but made deep runs in them with supporting casts not any more impressive than Bledsoe, Kieff, Chandler, P.J.Tucker, etc.

C. The Rockets were the 8th seed that season at 41-41, so the playoffs are rarely more attainable than that.

Again, that’s a pretty extreme example, but it seems plausible that a LeBron-led squad eeks out 41 wins.

SouthernSun: I believe LeBron could have maybe carried the 15/16 team that had Bledsoe, PJ, TJ, Keef, Knight, Teletovic, Len, and Chandler. LeBron was at the height of his powers and that team, if healthy, might have been just enough talent around him to eek into the 8th seed in a tough west. But it would have been close, and I’m not sure he could have done it.

Knight wasn’t completely done in by injuries at that point.

  • Bledsoe
  • Knight
  • PJ
  • LeBron
  • Chandler

Perhaps, if Bledsoe was healthy.

Alex Sylvester: Now THAT is tough... I think the only option I can think of would be if you placed 2017-18 LeBron in the lineup from last year. You’re then looking a lineup potentially of Bridges/Warren/Jackson/LeBron/Ayton to start the year and Bridges/Oubre/Warren/LeBron/Ayton to end. I don’t think that’s quite enough to get it done though.

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


2018-19 Season Highlights

SUNS vs HEAT | Phoenix and Miami Go Down To The Wire | February 25, 2019

Devin Booker Full Highlights 2019.02.25 Suns vs Heat - 20 Pts, 9 Assists!


Quote of the Week


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Devin Booker is one of the NBA’s best scorers, but when will he start winning games for the Phoenix Suns? Micah Adams/NBA.com

Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome were ‘itching’ to play during Summer League. Rookie Wire

This season will reveal if Devin Booker can ever reach his All-NBA potential. Franchise Sports

Cam Johnson & Ty Jerome Featured on 2019 NBA Rookie Survey. Suns.com

Nets star Kevin Durant fires back, defends Suns’ Devin Booker, HawksTrae Young on open-run double-teams. Clutch Points

Phoenix Suns Roster Count: 2019 Training Camp. SLAM Online


Suns History in Video

NBA Stories Phoenix Suns 2007

(A long video but worth the time.)


Suns Trivia

Last season, the Suns were 10-26 (.278) when wearing their white “Association” uniforms, 6-17 (.261) when wearing their black “Statement” uniforms, 1-4 (.200) when wearing their purple Los Suns “City Edition” uniforms and 2-16 (.111) when wearing their purple “Icon” uniforms.


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2019/20 salaries.

September 5 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks (those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered).

September 28 - Training camps open for all teams that are participating in the preseason NBA Global Games.

September 30 - For all other teams, players are allowed to report to their teams after 11 a.m. local time.

October 1 - Training camps open.

October 8 - Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves (preseason), 7:00 pm AZT

October 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Sacramento Kings (preseason), 7:00 pm AZT

October 12 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers (preseason), 5:00 pm AZT

October 14 - Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets (preseason), 7:00 pm AZT

October 19 - Last day to waive a player on a non-guaranteed contract and not incur a cap hit.

October 21 - Regular season rosters must be set (17 players maximum including 2 two-way contract players).

October 22 - NBA 2019-20 regular season begins.

October 31 - Last day that teams can exercise team options on the rookie scale contracts of former first-round picks.

Looking way ahead toward this year’s trade deadline...

The Suns cannot trade Frank Kaminsky, Cheick Diallo, Ricky Rubio or Jalen Lecque until 12/15/19 and Kelly Oubre Jr. cannot be traded until 1/15/20.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Which will we see more of in the first 18 games this season?”

14% - Blowout losses.

86% - Surprising wins.

There were 200 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Would you like to see the Suns bring back orange uniforms this season?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Yes.
    (129 votes)
  • 21%
    No.
    (50 votes)
  • 23%
    I don’t care about uniform colors.
    (55 votes)
234 votes total Vote Now