Devin Booker is turning into an offensive juggernaut, but how will his defense translate entering his 5-year, $158 million extension? As I wrote last month outlining why the time is now for the Suns’ superstar to take the next step forward defensively, real progression finally needs to be seen on the court in this category.
Finishing off our best/worst-case scenario series here on Bright Side Of The Sun, let’s analyze what those likely outcomes would be for Booker.
Best Case Scenario
Again, if you read the piece linked above in August, I went in-depth on what really is the best scenario for the Suns’ star combo guard not only this season but long-term. Right now, Booker is a liability on defense but two examples show what could happen if more effort is simply put out on that side of the court.
James Harden and Damian Lillard have showed over the past few seasons what happens when an All-NBA scoring talent ups their effort to becoming a more all-around player. And it showed in the advanced metrics, too. Both Harden and Lillard saw their defensive box-plus minuses improve considerably after criticisms reach all-time highs.
With another offseason filled with unnecessary onslaught sent in Booker’s direction, is 2019-20 the season where he makes a similar change? I believe it’s definitely in the cards. If Booker can go from a true liability on defense to even below-average or passable, it will do wonders not only for his overall profile but also national perception.
There’s no doubting Booker at this point when it comes to making strides towards becoming an unstoppable scorer, but a slight leap in defensive production could be the difference between Phoenix taking their desired step forward.
Worst Case Scenario
Last season, during the Suns’ worst portion of the year losing an amazing 17-straight games, the defense Booker showed was dreadful. And who could really blame him for that? The roster talent around him was abysmal and more often than not Phoenix was losing by double-digits within the first 10 minutes of their games. At its peak, though, Booker was being targeted often by opposing teams where they would pick on him consistently through one-on-one matchups and pick-and-roll situations.
When Booker sat out some games last season due to nagging on-and-off injuries, their team defense actually improved. What happens if that occurs again next season with the best roster around Booker since he was drafted? It will say a lot, because this could mean the leap on defense might never occur for him.
Right now, Booker’s defense resembles Michael Redd and Kevin Martin more than Harden and Lillard. That’s not good, because Redd and Martin showed their one-sided acts didn’t lead to team success.
One player Booker is often compared to by some is Zach LaVine. The Bulls’ guard is a very gifted scorer, but a zero on defense. Booker is even worse than that when you compare their DBPM’s head-to-head. Last season, LaVine carried a minus-1.7 DBPM while Booker checked in at minus-3.0.
Simply put, some sort of progress needs to be seen from the Suns’ star to reach a level where he’s not hurting the team on one end of the floor. He’s a very gifted scorer, no doubt about that, but what would his ceiling look like if he put in more effort defensively? That type of player is an MVP candidate, as Harden and Lillard have shown already.
It’s a storyline going under the radar right now with all the new additions on the Suns’ roster, but Booker’s progress on defense needs to happen in his fifth season. If there’s stagnation, or even regression, it could stunt the true long-term ceiling of an organization starved for sustained success once more.