The Phoenix Suns are currently off to their best start in franchise history as they sit atop the NBA with a 56-14 record. They have the top seed in the West all but locked up, and the best record in all the land by an 8-game margin.
There are numerous reasons why this has occurred; from team cohesion to organic chemistry, from offensive firepower to depth, from clutch time performance to defensive intensity. All are factors that have this version of the team on their way to the best record ever posted in 54 years of Phoenix Suns basketball.
The man who is destined to be the greatest Sun in the history of the franchise, Devin Booker, is at the center of all the success. Although he isn’t posting a career high in points-per-game, with this team, he doesn’t need to. He is surrounded by role players that are designed to execute on the offensive end and who have done so throughout the season. What this allows is for Devin Booker to focus on the defensive end. And we have seen that equate to his best defensive year of his career.
This is the time of year in which the rumblings relative to the All-NBA and All Defensive teams begin. Weekly, you can hear Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo discuss their rankings of players in the NBA and ponder who is worthy of being bestowed the status that comes with this recognition. It’s more than just a tab on your Basketball Reference page, the All-NBA and All Defensive teams affect player contracts and super-max deals, and it is a club that once you enter, you are universally respected. Well, for the most part.
As national pundits go back-and-forth in an attempt to determine who is worthy to be on the All-NBA teams and in what order, Devin Booker’s name has been rightfully mentioned as a candidate for one of the teams. Since the absence of Chris Paul has occurred, Booker is no longer cannibalized by the efficiency of his fellow backcourt cohort.
The run he currently has the Phoenix Suns on without Paul, an 8-4 record, has Devin playing some of the best basketball of his career.
When you start to look at some of the first, second, and third team speculations, you see how Devin Booker is perceived. Per Zach Buckley’s piece on March 3 for Bleacher Report, Devin Booker is…not there. Zach has Chris Paul on the All-NBA Third Team, but no Devin Booker. Seeing as this piece is 2 weeks old, let’s just say that Booker has supplanted Paul on the third team. Is that the right place for him?
Using Buckley’s list as a guide, knowing that the majority of the names I’m about to list are also being mentioned by Simmons and Russillo, let’s ask ourselves this: Should Booker be ahead of them, especially considering his dedication and execution on the defensive end?
All-NBA Second Team:
- Stephen Curry: 25.5 ppg, 43.7 FG%, 114.1 OFFRTG, 103.4 DEFRTG, +10.7 NETRTG
- Luka Doncic: 28.2 ppg, 45.5 FG%, 111.7 OFFRTG, 108.4 DEFRTG, +3.2 NETRTG
All-NBA First Team:
- Ja Morant: 25.7 ppg, 49.3 FG%, 113.4 OFFRTG, 110.2 DEFRTG, +3.2 NETRTG
- DeMarDeRozan: 27.9 ppg, 50.4 FG%, 113.4 OFFRTG, 110.2 DEFRTG, +3.2 NETRTG
- Devin Booker: 25.8 ppg, 45.6 FG%, 116.9 OFFRTG, 107.6 DEFRTG, +9.3 NETRTG
I know, right off the bat we will get into the “Doncic and DeRozan are really forwards debate”. Sticking to the position-less basketball thought process, however, you’d have to still think that Devin Booker is worthy of more than third team recognition.
Are some of these guards better offensive players than Devin Booker? Potentially, yes. Due to the makeup of the roster of their respective teams, they are relied upon night-to-night to be more impactful on the offensive end. What separates Devin Booker, and hopefully a narrative that will soon take hold, is the fact that he is a fantastic two-way guard. He is no longer a looter in a riot, rather, he is a ninja in the night.
There are plays like this one in which Booker stealthily diagnosis what is happening from the weak side and executes with precision:
I understand the offensive appeal and how it sways the All-NBA team vote. Ja Morant is a high-flyer who is exciting to watch, and re-watch, again and again. Stephen Curry has been apart of the All-NBA fraternity since earning a spot on the All-NBA Second Team for the 2013-14 season. Luka Doncic is a master facilitator who obliterates you with numbers. DeMar DeRozan ran off a stretch of 10 consecutive games scoring over 30+ points. All are well deserving of being mentioned among the NBA’s elite for their efforts.
But doesn’t defense matter, even a little bit?
I’ll throw another clip of Devin playing stellar defense before I get into the All-Defensive Team conversation.
The defense Devin Booker has consistently executed throughout the season should not only be a factor in where he falls on All-NBA team ballots, but on all defensive teams as well. How many guards in the NBA have been more dedicated, more engaged, and more impactful on the defensive end? And in the same breath, how many of those players are the best team in the NBA?
I’ll start with who made the all defensive team last year from a guard’s perspective.
If you look at this list, you know that Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, simply due to games played, will not make another appearance on the list. This leaves the door open. I fully expect Jrue Holiday to make the first team once again, and Matisse Thybulle will be an interesting conversation as well, seeing as he’s missed 15 games, but plays for the 76ers. #EastCoastBias
Sure, you have the traditional stats. We can delve into those. Devin Booker is averaging a career high 1.2 steals per game, which currently ranks him 30th in the NBA. Do you know who else has 1.2 steals per game it is getting buzz for a potential Defensive Player of the Year? You guessed it. Mikal Bridges.
Per StatMuse, Devin Booker possesses the best defensive rating by any shooting guard this season.
When you delve deeper into the advanced analytics and compare them to the guards who won last year, you’ll see where Devin Booker stacks up.
Per B-Ball Index, here is Devin Booker this season versus the 4 guards who earned spots on the All-Defensive Team last season:
Advanced stats are always up to interpretation and you can drill down further and further to have them make sense, but what you see from above is that, from a perimeter defense standpoint, Booker doe snot carry the elite defensive numbers as the All-Defense team players from last season. But when you add Booker’s interior defensive numbers to the fray, he is a much more well-rounded player holistically.
Yes, the expectation of guard play is to be elite on the perimeter. But Devin has displayed an affinity for effecting the opposition on all defensive levels. He has assisted in leading his team to the 3rd best defensive rating in the league. Recognition of such should follow.
The time has come to start recognizing exactly what impact Devin Booker has had on the Phoenix Suns. Culturally, he is the face of the franchise. Statistically, he scores the most points for the team. But defensively, he has taken the guidance from his coaching staff, has learned from the veterans around him, and dedicated himself to being a complete player in every aspect of the word.
Yes, we love Mikal Bridges. And the Warden should be an All-Defensive player. But so should Devin Booker. He should at least be All-Defensive Second Team given his impact on that side of the floor. And yes, he should be at least All-NBA Second Team as well, if not first. He’s the best player on the best team in the NBA. It’s time the league took notice.