Does scoring 45 points for the second best team in the league feel different than scoring that much for a struggling team?
“Yeah,” Devin Booker with a big, slow nod, after a moment to reflect. “Yeah it does.”
Booker had a season high 45 points for the Suns in their win over the Chicago Bulls for their 25th win in the last 31 games — one of the best stretches in franchise history.
Then on Friday, Booker scored 22 in the first half of a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in which the Suns had the very best quarter in franchise history with 30-point margin (43-13). No Suns team in 53 years had ever had a +30 quarter.
Booker must have felt some deja vu, looking at the Thunder.
With the team suffering from injuries — starters Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley — on top of sitting out Al Horford for the season, the Thunder have gone young. Super young.
In their win over the Houston Rockets on 3/21, the Thunder began the game with the youngest starting five in Thunder history with Moses Brown (21 years, 159 days), Luguentz Dort (21 years, 336 days), Théo Maledon (19 years, 282 days), Aleksej Pokuševski (19 years, 85 days) and Isaiah Roby (23 years, 46 days). With an average age of 21 years and 36 days, the 2020-21 Thunder produced the youngest starting five in NBA history to earn a win (only the 2016-17 Suns presented a younger starting five but did not earn a win).
Wait, the 2016-17 Suns you say? On March 23, 2017, the Suns started Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones Jr., Marquese Chriss and Alex Len for an average age of 21 years and 14 days old. Heck, if Dragan Bender hadn’t been hurt, the lineup could have gone even younger! Alex Len (24) was really dragging them down. The kiddie corps went on to lose by 28 points to the Nets that night.
Then, on Friday night in Phoenix, the Thunder bottomed them all. They used almost that same lineup but swapped the ancient Lu Dort (21) for younger model Theo Maledon (19) and broke the age barrier in doing so (factoring in Maledon’s two years age difference drops them into the 20s in average age). They lost the first quarter by 30 and the game by 37 to the Suns.
What does this tell you?
It tells you that you can’t win NBA basketball games on the regular with a college-aged lineup.
Sure the Thunder are 20-28 this year. Respectable. That’s thanks to some older players helping them get there earlier this year, not thanks to last night’s starting lineup.
If you felt bad for the Thunder last night, that’s because you’ve been there.
Heck, just two years ago when Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were rookies and Devin Booker was still just 22 years old, they lost a first quarter by 30. I remember interviewing Ayton after the game and he, a 20 year old rookie, was shell shocked, saying that he just knew the game was over already.
Just two years ago, this Suns team was on the losing end of games like Friday night. They lost by 30 to the Spurs into the 2018-19 season, by 22 to the Nets a few games later on the way to losing 24 of their first 28 games that year. That team gave huge minutes to guys 20-22 years old.
Now, the Suns are the OTHER team. The one that blows out kiddie-corps lineups while winning 26 of 32 games.