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Devin Booker rising from looter to legit MVP contender

Booker now has 6th best in MVP odds

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We remember when people questioned the value of a guy posting 26.6 points, 6.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game as a 22-year old because his Phoenix Suns team had lost more games than any other NBA team since Booker became a starter?

One early criticism came from an SI writer who wondered aloud if Devin Booker was nothing more than a ‘looter in a riot’, meaning Book was only getting his numbers because the team around him was so bad that he was the likeliest to score the majority of points.

People harped on Book’s inability to win, ignoring the intentional tanking, constant coaching changes and an awful roster around him those four years that consisted of only a few players still under contract for any NBA team in 2020.

We are not just talking fans. Media and rival coaches questioned his value too.

Book heard the criticisms. He was as frustrated as anyone that the Suns just couldn’t win games. As recently as 2019, as the Suns were in the middle of yet another losing streak, Book took media time to reflect on what eats at him the most.

He could have complained openly about not having good teammates. He could have asked out, to go to a contender where he could win more.

Instead, a guy who was still just 22 years old simply said “that’s my job to make that happen”. Those comments were not a one-time thing, either. Duane, Gina Mizell, Gerald Bourget, Kellan Olson, Brendon Kleen and I heard Book talk like that after every loss — that it was his team, and his responsibility to turn it around.

The Suns started winning more in 2019-20, but the criticisms didn’t stop.

One analyst, Nate Duncan, argued with me on the Solar Panel podcast that he’d rather have Danny Green in a playoff game than Devin Booker.

Another analyst, Matt Moore, suggested Book should shoot less if he wanted to win more games. That was in September 2019 as Matt and I were previewing the upcoming season on the Solar Panel. Matt thought he was being generous with a prediction that the Suns would win a lot more games because they finally had two handfuls of players with real NBA talent, while guessing that Booker’s numbers might regress a bit because of said talent.

Book’s numbers, in fact, stayed the same as the Suns won more games — 26.6, 6.5, 4.2 — while his shooting improved because his shots were a little less difficult, yet coaches still bypassed him for an All-Star reserve spot.

The criticisms did not stop. Some even surmised Book might not even be a starter on a contender, but rather a Jordan Clarkson or Lou Williams type of scorer off a bench.

As recently as the 2020 Bubble, amidst the Suns 8-0 Bubble Run in what became a franchise turning point, coaches were asked by a prominent ESPN media member if they thought the Suns could ever be a consistent winner with Book as their best player.

Is Devin Booker actually any good? Can he actually win games?

Why yes. Yes he can.

Two years later, Book has notched more wins than ANY OTHER NBA PLAYER since July 2020. He is not only a starter for the reigning Western Conference Champs, he set an NBA record for scoring in his first ever playoff run by a whopping 82 points!

And now, with Chris Paul sidelined to injury, Book finds himself among the top six contenders for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

According to DraftKings SportsBook, Book is tied for the 6th best odds right now to win the MVP award, behind only Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant and DeMar DeRozan and tied with Stephen Curry.

Can Book win the MVP outright? Almost certainly not. One of Embiid or Jokic will almost certainly grab the hardware, but Book might just make a few top-five ballots at the end of the year.

More importantly for Book’s future, he’s become more of a lock for All-NBA this year than ever. And it just so happens that MVPs and All-NBA nods count toward a higher max extension starting in 2024.

Enjoy Book’s run this spring for the best team in the NBA as he tries to lead the Suns to the league’s best record and top overall seed in the 2022 Playoffs.

Quite the turnaround from ‘looter in a riot’ days, huh.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.