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Suns Player Preview: Devin Booker still has more to prove

What’s better than reaching the NBA Finals? I think you know. So too, does Devin Armani Booker.

2021 NBA Finals - Phoenix Suns v. Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Just like they are in the picture above, Devin Booker’s eyes are always focused upwards.

In a figurative sense, Book is constantly fixated on the next: the next bucket, the next possession, the next quarter, the next win.

And right now, the most pertinent “next” in his mind is the next championship. “Next” in this case though, also means first. Book’s current trophy case is entirely vacant.

He came just about as close as possible to championship glory that a player could last season — excluding those who did actually hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer of 2021.

Booker and the surprise Suns captivated Arizona’s fanbase with a heartfelt display of team-oriented basketball.

Ignited by Chris Paul’s ingenious IQ, Book’s deft scoring touch, Deandre Ayton’s historic production in the post and host of contributions from dogged competitors, Phoenix barnstormed their way through the Western Conference, collecting victims like the reaper as they shocked the basketball landscape en route to the Finals.

And Booker was the scoring catalyst behind it all.

Through postseason play, Booker averaged 27.3 points per game, 5.6 total rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He shot the ball at a 44.7% clip, while sinking free throws at a 90.5% rate.

His regular season numbers: 25.6 ppg, 4.2 boards and 4.3 assists. His field goal percentage was 48.9%, and he shot 86.7% from the charity stripe.

Book showed a stark spike in production in all categories but one in the playoffs. Save for a few boneheaded decisions and clear losses of temper, Booker was commendable in his first few instances of postseason action, flashing a veteran’s moxie that far surpassed actual his tenure.

Chris Paul was a calculative assassin per usual, while Deandre Ayton posted paint numbers that likened him to legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. But Book assumed the role of primary scoring option night in and night out, and though opposing foes knew what type of package their enemy would be rolling out in efforts to subdue them, they could oftentimes do little to stop it.

Reason number one: Booker is nearly infallible when he’s in his rhythm and getting to his spots. He’s a calm and comfortable spot up shooter, but he’s at his best when sizing up opponents in isolation situations, freezing opponents with a quick crossover or smooth power dribble, and pulling up for bread-and-butter jumpers.

Some of his premier playoff performances included: 34 points in Game 1 of their opener vs. the Lakers, following that up with a 31 point doozy in Game 2. His last first-round showing was his best: 47 points to complement 11 assists.

He posted a 40-point triple double to kick things off in Round Two, adding 13 boards and 11 assists to go with his laudable 40-piece special.

And oh yeah — can’t forget about his back-to-back 40-balls in Games 4 and 5 of the Finals.

D-Book — or the “lightskin God” as CP3 so lovingly called him following their WCF victory, has never had many deficiencies in the scoring department.

And as he continues to batten down the hatches of an already firmly-fastened skillset, he’ll be ripening his game with additional facets to evolve into a multi-dimensional playmaker, even without ball in hand.

He’s a proven facilitator, taking on numerous play-creation roles during Chris Paul’s absences. Monty Williams was able to consistently rely on the young gun’s seasoned prowess, and Book stepped into the point guard’s spot without inciting a significant drop-off in point frequency.

He’ll take on even more possessions with that role as Paul steps into his 17th campaign. Even during instances in which a true point guard (like Paul or Cam Payne) is present in the fray, Book will have moments in which he’s counted on to make something out of nothing.

As his “volume shooter” label begins to further morph into “scoring floor general”, Book will see his assist numbers creep north as well. They were down about two points from 2019 to 2020 (he averaged 6.5 apg in the former year), but as he defers less to Paul for playmaking, he’ll dole out more ready-made care packages to teammates.

Look for his assists total to slide to about 5 per game in 2021-22.

His rebounding numbers will likely remain stagnant from one season to the next, and Javale McGee’s presence in PHX’s depth chart will minimize rebounding opportunities for smaller guards. And that’s what the Suns want — heck that’s why they showered McGee with a $5 million lump sum this offseason.

Book’s most comfortable in the midrange, and when he’s clicking on all cylinders from that spot on the floor, he’s nearly unstoppable. He boasted a 71.2% two-point shot frequency, while converting that shot at a high rate; 54.1%. But as Phoenix’s offense finds its footing, Book will find himself with more chances to do damage from deep. He’s still a sub-35% three-point marksman on average, but look for that number to stabilize at 37-38 next year.

He’s a scorer by trade, but it’s within the game’s little nuances that he’ll truly make his mark in 2021-22.

Expect him to consistently rely on that good ol’ midrange game to the tune of about 28 ppg, and while his midrange scoring is a near given, he’ll truly be dominant if he expands his dexterity to all three levels of the floor. That, facilitation improvements, plus a strong impact on defense (a steal average above 1 for the first time in his career would be a pleasantry for Suns’ supporters) will ensure that he’s doing his part in helping his troupe play its best basketball.

And quite frankly, the reality of Phoenix playing its “best basketball” holds it bearings within the drumbeat of Booker’s own heart. They go as he does: the less limitations he has, the more they’ll win.

Simple.