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Bubble MVP or not, Devin Booker’s legacy grows

Devin Booker is one of the favorites to win MVP of the Bubble, but even if he doesn’t he’s cemented himself as one of the brightest young stars in the association.

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Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Rewind

Let’s quickly hit the rewind button and take ourselves back to the end of March 2019. Devin Booker scored 59, 50 and 48 points in three consecutive games while averaging 52.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 5.7 RPG on 62/48/91 shooting splits. Surely he won player of the week for that historically good 3 game stretch, correct?

Wrong. The Suns didn’t win any of the games, and the NBA opted to hand the award to Damian Lillard who averaged 26/7/6 during a 3-1 stretch for Portland. That made Devin Booker the first (and still the only) player in NBA History to average 50+ points per game and not win the Player of the Week award.

This league is all about winning. Totally fair. Now let’s see how much that weighs into their decision when they announce the Bubble MVP.


Fast Forward, Resume

Okay, back to the present.

There is no question that Devin Booker is right in the thick of things when it comes to the race for the newfound “Player of the Seeding Games” award and should be a virtual lock at the very least for the “All-Seeding Games Team”. He led his team to a perfect 8-0 record, after all.

It has been a remarkable 8-game run in Orlando for the Phoenix Suns, led by the All-Star guard out of Kentucky. It was a journey filled with many unforgettable moments throughout. Does it sting to miss the play-in game/playoffs? Absolutely. Does that take away from anything that was accomplished during this stretch? I’m going with a resounding no there.


The Numbers

  • 30.5 PPG - 6.0 APG - 4.9 RPG - 33.0 MPG - 62.7 TS%
  • +86 overall in 8 games

Team record: 8-0

He has the combination of statistics and wins to back up his claim to MVP of the Bubble, but there is certainly some steep competition that will be discussed below.


The Defense

One area I want to touch on briefly is his defense. He was by no means a “good” defender in Orlando, but he was passable which is a notable development. His engagement both on and off-ball has improved and I think there’s a direct correlation between winning games and trying on defense with him, which definitely matters for when this team eventually breaks through and makes a playoff run.


The Competition

Damian Lillard is no doubt the greatest threat to dethrone Booker in this race, as he led Portland to the 8th seed and he stole the show in some crucial moments for Portland when they needed him most.

Portland went 6-2 in the bubble and won their last 3 games by a combined 7 points thanks to some late game heroics from the Weber State product. Lillard averaged 37.6 PPG, 9.6 APG, 4.3 RPG, on an absurd 67.7 TS%.


T.J. Warren’s case is strong, but took a hit after Mikal Bridges and Jimmy Butler each got the best of him head-to-head, along with him sitting out the final two games due to plantar fasciitis. He is quite likely to wind up on the All-Seeding Games team, but at this point has no shot at MVP due to those two reasons despite his freakishly hot start.

In 6 games they went 4-2 and Warren averaged 31.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG on 57/52/89 shooting splits. The efficiency is downright eye-popping, but the two losses and missing the final two games should keep him well short of the two favorites in Devin Booker and Damian Lillard.


James Harden continued to do James Harden things in a ho-hum manner that is quite definitley not normal, yet he makes it look like it is.

Through 6 games he averaged (pre-Philly game) 35.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 8.7 APG, 3.0 SPG on 53/37/89 shooting splits. Typical bonkers numbers from the former Arizona State Sun Devil, but the team record with him in the lineup is 4-2 and he sat a game out in which they lost to San Antonio. Expect to see him on the All-Seeding Team, but nothing beyond that.


Honorable mentions: Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Porter Jr., Kristaps Porzingis.


The Highlights

Almost every game there was a memorable moment from Devin Booker.

Yes, this one was in a “preseason” scrimmage game, but it has to be shown because it was a nasty poster over Pascal Siakam.

The one moment that will be forever etched into Suns history from this bubble is without a doubt the game-winner over Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to lead the Suns to a 3-0 start and truly give them the necessary momentum to finish 8-0. Hands down the best moment from the entire bubble.

This shot was ridiculous. No forward momentum off the dribble, flat-footed from the logo. The audacity to even attempt this is unreal, and I don’t think folks understand the sheer strength this type of shot requires.

The 2nd poster of the Bubble from Book here. Every once in a while he surprises us with dunks like these. Do not sleep on his bounce.

Here he makes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist look silly as he toys with him after a series of quick jab steps only to blow by him with a quick first step to throw it down.

This is another moment I’m sure most Suns fans will forever cherish and never forget. These games mattered to them. It was their postseason regardless of whether or not they made it to the actual play-in game or playoffs, and this is momentum that the entire franchise can ride heading into next season, which isn’t too far away!

The Final Verdict

Look. Lillard gets the play-in game essentially because Portland played one more game than Phoenix, and his team lost two games in the bubble and were a Caris LeVert jumper away from conceding their playoff spot to Phoenix. If this is truly about the MVP of the Bubble, it’s hard to argue against this: The Suns were the best team in the bubble, and Devin Booker was the best player on their team. Wins are supposedly all that matters, right?

Best player. Best team. Best single moment (game-winner). That is my closing statement, your honor.


Check out Kellan Olson’s dive into why Devin Booker deserves the “Bubble MVP” honors.