More often than not, top 100 rankings tend to create controversial conversations leading up to the season opener. However, for Suns fans, ESPN’s list shouldn’t give us many concerns as I believe the rankings were relatively fair. Unlike Sports Illustrated, which only featured two Suns players, Phoenix had a trio making the cut here.
Devin Booker - No. 30 overall
There’s no reason to believe Booker shouldn’t be higher, but the team itself has held him back from receiving proper recognition. Even if you watched Booker each game during the 2018-19 campaign, he was a true top 30 talent. After bumping up one spot from last season, Booker is ranked below primary ball handlers such as Trae Young (28), Jamal Murray (27), D’Angelo Russell (26), De’Aaron Fox (25), and Donovan Mitchell (20).
The main reasons for that is simple: national hype and winning environments. Young had a meteoric rise in the second half of last season while Murray, Russell, and Mitchell have the benefit of talented players around them. The real debate here is between Booker and Fox, which will be a very fun showdown on opening night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
If all goes well for Booker with the most talent surrounding him since he entered the league, he should vault into the top 25 for 2020-21. If you listen to Locked On Suns, my prediction for Booker this season is 27 points and 5 assists per game while reaching the +60 TS% threshold.
Will Booker find a way to make his teammates better and win? Phoenix’s struggles haven’t been all Booker’s fault. Far from it. In 2018-19, he averaged career highs of 26.6 points and 6.8 assists, and now he’s on his fifth head coach in as many seasons. However, at some point, if Booker is going to be a star, he will have to lift the Suns to more than 21 wins -- the number he has averaged over his first four seasons.
Deandre Ayton - No. 66
It’s still incredible how Ayton wasn’t even ranked in the top 100 by SI, how does that work? Anyways, Ayton was properly slotted here outside the top 50 but easily clearing the 70-80 range. The only bigs in this range ahead of Ayton are Domantas Sabonis, Marc Gasol, Jaren Jackson Jr., Clint Capela, and Andre Drummond. That’s fair, because Ayton showed inconsistencies on defense while not receiving enough usage during his rookie season.
If Ayton takes the Year 2 leap we all expect him to, there’s no reason to believe he shouldn’t cross into the top 50 ahead of those five players. Ayton as the clear 1B to Booker’s 1A should be the secondary focal point, which could lead to a season consisting of 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. That level of production will have Ayton knocking on the doorstep of All-Star berths by 2021 alongside Booker.
As expected, Ayton’s combination of size, skill and athleticism made him an efficient scorer. His .608 true shooting percentage ranked him second among rookies who played at least 500 minutes, behind Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks. As Phoenix finds more playmakers on offense, Ayton should be able to improve on the 21% of the team’s plays he used as a rookie, becoming more of an offensive force.
Ricky Rubio - No. 84
There is no player riding hotter momentum right now than Rubio, who just won the FIBA World Cup MVP for Spain. After winding up in Phoenix following a sudden switch by Indiana when Bojan Bogdanovic left for Utah, there’s a real chance for Minnesota Rubio to return. In Utah’s slow-plodding system, Rubio never had an opportunity to push the pace.
With all the offensive weapons around Rubio now — Booker, Ayton, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mikal Bridges — a jump in assists should happen immediately. How long has it been since the Suns had this type of point guard on their roster? Really, it’s been nonexistent since Steve Nash.
Rubio ranked below point guards like Patrick Beverley, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jamal Murray, Eric Bledsoe, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the pass-happy floor general finds strong synergy with his new teammates in the Valley, it wouldn’t shock me one bit if he vaulted up into the top 70-75 for next year’s rankings.
Now one of most experienced international players, Rubio played with a vision and aggression befitting his experience. Spain has a number of experienced players, but he drove it to the World Cup title, scoring 20 points in the championship game to cement MVP honors. He shot the 3-pointer better than in the past, at 38%. If he carries that to training camp, it will be a true boost for the Suns.
What are your thoughts on these rankings, Suns fans? There is certainly a debate to be had for Booker’s ranking because of who he was listed behind, but Ayton and Rubio’s positioning seem more than fair at the moment.
Until the Suns’ improvements prove to be legitimate, their top players will suffer in overall rankings because of it.
Where should Devin Booker rank in the NBA?
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