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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz

Devin Booker’s doubters are proven wrong once again

No longer a ‘looter in a riot’, Book setting Suns scoring records for best team in league

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has made the even the most belligerently optimistic dreams come true since he was drafted at age 18 and became a star by age 21 on a team that was otherwise dysfunctional and objectively awful.

Book has always loved Phoenix and Phoenix has always loved Book.

Back then, Book was a brash scorer, joining short lists of all-time NBA players who were youngest to reach all the K-scoring milestones, but his team was losing games left and right, including a club-record 17-game losing streak as recently as 2019. He is the youngest ever to put 70 points in a game, soon followed by 59 and 58 point outings, but those wonderful games were all tainted by loss.

“It’s been hard to win here,” Booker often said after yet another loss.

From 2015 (the year Book was drafted) to 2019, the Suns lost more games than any other franchise, including losing streaks of 17, 15, 13 (twice), 10 (twice), 9 and 8 in that stretch of four seasons alone.

Suns beat writer Duane Rankin joined the valley media ranks in time for the 2018-19 season that included 17 and 10 straight losses. Booker was fed up, but always made himself available to media and always said he wanted to be part of the solution. Duane had lots of interviews that year along the line of this one.

Some media and fans outside the Valley had low opinions of Book. He was once called a ‘looter in a riot’ by an otherwise respectable media member for his role as the leading scorer on the league’s worst team. Another asked a lot of questions during The Bubble (2020) on whether Book was really a winning player. Another suggested Book would need to score less if he ever wanted his teams to win games consistently. Yet another pounded the table while declaring they’d rather have Danny Green than Devin Booker.

Book’s peers knew better. As early as 2016, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Damian Lillard and many others called Book a future All-Star. They said he would soon become the best shooting guard in the league. As far back as 2019, Book began showing up on players’ All-Star ballots among the top 5 in West guards while he still lagged behind in media and fan voting.

Three years later, the tables have certainly turned.

There is indeed “beauty in all this”, Book.

Booker is now the best player on the best team in basketball, and that team is still the Phoenix Suns. Another future Hall of Famer, Chris Paul, orchestrated a trade to Phoenix so he could pair with Book to make the best back court in basketball.

The Suns have the best record in franchise history through 47 games (38-9). They have most wins in the NBA this season, the most wins over the last two seasons, the most wins since the 2020 Bubble. They are the defending Conference champs.

And they’re doing all this with Booker — now a two-time All-Star — scoring at exactly the same level he did during those monumental losses. As if maybe, just maybe, Book’s peers knew better than the national media about his potential as a team leader.

Big-time scorer on losing team == big-time scorer on winning team.

Book is just a big-time scorer. Period.

He averaged 27.3 points in the 2021 Playoffs, including 4 games of 40+ points, leading the Suns to their first Finals appearance in 28 years. He scored the most points ever by an NBA player in their first playoff run by a margin of 80 points! In 22 playoff games, the Suns were +124 (including +12 in the Finals) with Book on the floor.

Looter in a riot? Nah, he’s great in the clutch too. Book is shooting 63% in clutch situations this year (game within 5 points in the final five minutes of regulation) and ranks 5th in the league with a +46 as the Suns are now 17-3 in clutch games.

Book is still hitting more scoring milestones.

He has now scored the 6th most points before turning age 25 and become the 7th-youngest ever to reach the 10,000 point milestone*.

*He slowed down as he approached 10k because of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the league to shut down for four months and play fewer games once re-started.

He doesn’t just score. He’s also the 6th youngest NBA player ever to reach the 9k+2k milestone of 9,000 points and 2,000 assists.

On the historical Phoenix Suns charts, he’s got the third-highest career scoring average (23.1), second-most three pointers made (899), 8th most points and 9th most assists.

On Wednesday night against the Jazz, Booker recorded his 3rd 40/10 game (40+ points, 10+ rebounds). Book now has three such games, including one of those in Western Conference Finals last year as part of a 40-point triple double.

Guess how many Suns in franchise history have 3 or more 40/10 games? Charles Barkley (3), Cedric Ceballos (3), Larry Nance (3) and Amare Stoudemire (11). One more and Book will be alone in 2nd place on this list.

That 40-point game on Wednesday was also his 16th 40-burger, which now is the most in Suns history.

All this and he’s just barely 25 years old. By the time he retires, Book will be all over the top of those team charts.

He should be in the MVP conversation this year. He definitely should be starting in the All-Star game, but Book no longer cares about those individual accolades.

“I appreciate it, but I’m not worried about that anymore,” Book said after the Jazz win has the Suns with an 8-game winning streak and 4-game margin over the next best team in the league. “I’m in a different phase of my career.”

With a bit luck and a ton of hard work, he might be the only one of those guys with a championship trophy in hand.

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