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Game Preview: Suns at Thunder, and the case for Point Book

If Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker steps up even taller in Chris Paul’s absence, his MVP odds will rise.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (48-10) at Oklahoma City Thunder (18-40)

When: 6:00 PM AZ time

Where: OKC

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


All Star break is over!

The Phoenix Suns resume play today against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who likely will do everything in their power to tank the rest of the season.

Probable Starters

Injured

Thunder: a few players have been out

Suns: Cameron Payne still out, but Landry Shamet is back and ready to go


Suns Update

Those of you around Bright Side for a while will know that I have never been a proponent of ‘Point Book’ — the notion to shift one of the league’s greatest shooting guards into a full-time playmaker responsible to not only get his own shot but to get everyone else their shots too.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has always been a talented playmaker, posting 4+ assists per game since 2017 including a career high 6.8 assists per game in the 2018-19 season before General Manager James Jones finally got him a real point guard.

In fact, Devin Booker is one of only a handful of non point guards in the NBA to average at least 20 points and 4 assists per game every healthy season since 2017. If you add in point guards, the list barely doubles. The list is star-studded with All-NBA players from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Stephen Curry.

Devin Booker can pass the ball. He can set up teammates and can also get his own shot. Back in 2018-19, his last season without a true point guard, Booker put up career highs in both points (26.6) and assists (6.8) per game. A season later, while playing next to Ricky Rubio and his 8+ assists per game, Booker still shined on his way to his first All-Star bid with 26.6 ppg and 6.5 assists per game.

While Book was a high-value passer, he also struggled with turnovers. Those same two high-assist years were also high turnover years. Only five players (yes, still All-NBA luminaries) have posted more seasons since 2017 with 3.8 or more turnovers per game than Book’s two (2018-19 and 2019-20).

*stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

As the primary playmaker, he also struggled with health. Putting all that pressure on his body to score and pass, call the plays, bring the ball up on every play, and deal with constant blitzes and double-teams, Book consistently pulled up lame with wrist, ankle and hamstring injuries.

Since Chris Paul came to town with his own MVP-candidate level of play, Book has settled into a pure shooting guard role and become one of the very best in the game. He is touching the ball less than ever yet delivering career-high value with 25.5 points and 4.5 assists per game while posting career best rates in rebounds, steals, blocks and all the complicated defensive metrics.

Point Book to the rescue

Now though, the Suns are facing a dilemma. They’ve lost their top two point guards in Chris Paul (6-8 weeks with a thumb fracture) and Cameron Payne (day-to-day with a wrist sprain; out at least one more game, if not several).

To run the show, they are left with only Aaron Holiday (not a playmaker) and Elfrid Payton, a playmaker who won’t shoot and doesn’t really fit the Suns offense. Both are best suited as third-option playmakers.

That leaves the Suns with one true option for the majority of playmaking until Cameron Payne returns in a few games.

The Suns need Point Book.

The Suns need Book to reprise his role as a playmaking guard, but hopefully an even better version that plays more within himself. As the primary option, Book tends to try too hard — taking tougher shots (pullup threes, drives into traffic) and making tougher passes that result in as many turnovers and assists.

They need a leveled-up Book who can post 25+ points and 7+ assists while limiting turnovers to 3 or fewer per game and still delivering high-value defense.

Book’s success as the lead playmaker over these next two months, even after Payne returns, will have a direct impact in MVP betting odds.

If he struggles even a little bit and the Suns fall back a bit to the pack, Chris Paul will remain in the MVP picture in absentia.

If Book does well and the Suns keep winning, you’ll see Book rise into the top five of MVP votes.

I fully expect Book to be THAT guy.


Prediction

Suns will win this one, easily.