The Devin Booker who’s taken the court for the Suns the past month since the calendar flipped to February is not the player Suns fans are used to seeing. Booker started the season mountains above the vaunted 50-50-90 shooting efficiency threshold, but a bad few weeks brought him closer to his typical career marks in every category.
In bad losses early in March against the Pistons and Warriors, Booker went a combined 16-33 from the field and turned the ball over 12 times compared with just seven assists. After the loss to Golden State, Booker was critical of his own play:
Booker on what he needs to do better: “Stop turning the ball over so much and just value every possession. And lead this team to where we need to go. Knowing that can be hard sometimes, just keep moving on to the next play.” #Suns— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) March 2, 2020
Turnovers have plagued Booker throughout his entire career, and even in wins, they will pile up because of the overwhelming attention he faces every night from the opposing defense. Head coach Monty Williams has said he will accept somewhere around a dozen turnovers per night but is wary when the team gets closer to 20. They typically lose those games.
The way Booker usually overcomes mistakes is to make ridiculous shots. When those aren’t going in and he’s coughing the ball up, the Suns’ go-to scorer lets his team down. That pattern played out in precisely the wrong way for the Suns as they fell to two cellar-dwellers. Even in a win over Portland, Booker shot just 8-20, but consistently found open teammates as the Suns generated 42 threes and made 19.
The real breakout came Sunday night against the Bucks, as Booker scored 20 points in the first quarter, 28 in the first half, and 36 overall to lead Phoenix to a big win. In his fifth season now, Booker has learned to stick with what works and find other ways to impact the game when his shot isn’t falling.
“It’s just part of the game,” Booker said. “I always say when I go through a rough shooting stretch that I’ve been here before. I’ve been playing this game for a very long time, and I understand how it works.
“I had many nights as a young kid where I’d ask myself how come I can’t make every single shot, then I grew up and kept playing and realized, that’s probably humanly impossible. I just gotta keep going, keep playing the right way, keep being a play-maker and making the right plays regardless (of) if my shots are falling or not.”
The Suns’s offense scores 12.3 points more per 100 possessions when Booker is on the floor, by far the highest impact of his career. In memorable victories against the Celtics, Rockets, and 76ers this year, Booker has scored with volume and efficiency. The Suns’ halfcourt offense is built around getting Booker open shots, and he is the only consistent self-creator on the team.
That might change down the line, after another summer of roster additions, but for now, the Suns can’t afford slumps like the one Booker went through earlier in the month. It may be humanly impossible to make every shot, but the Suns need Booker to get really close.