In my series preview over the weekend ahead of round two between the top-seeded Phoenix Suns and fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, I pointed out a few numbers about the regular season matchups to help give an idea about what this series might look like.
I made sure to point out that all three matchups came in essentially the first half of the season (games 14, 15, and 44) and ahead of some pretty major changes to the makeup of this Dallas squad, but they could help in some extent, at least.
A few of those numbers include:
- Chris Paul: 13 assists per game
- Devin Booker: 2.3 assists per game
Game one ended up dramatically different than those averages; Paul had just three assists, while Booker had eight.
Role reversals aside, Booker is becoming a more prolific playmaker on the regular. This is not an outlier, even for a player who’s viewed by so many as your classic, throwback, pure shooting guard, who isn’t expected to distribute, especially during the CP3 era.
Here’s how that production has fluctuated over his career:
It’s easy to see the growth when looking at the film as well, and I’d like to point out the consistency he showed in game one – yes, he started the game quickly with four assists in the first quarter alone, but he kept that playmaking threat as a weapon all game, dishing out at least one in each quarter.
In my mind, the eight assists from Booker can be categorized into three groupings: touch passes, kickouts after threatening to score, and processing reads.
Touch passes are the ones like the first in the video where he finds Bridges for a transition dunk on a really beautiful lob over Bullock as well as the 0:39 mark where he gets the handoff from Ayton and proceeds to find Ayton on a standstill lob from deep. Then the assist after that one as well that looks pretty similar, though Booker puts up the lob while on the move. His lob touch has improved leaps and bounds even from last season.
Booker’s second assist (0:09 mark) is a great example of using his scoring gravity to facilitate for others. The double comes in the form of Finney-Smith and Doncic, and as the adage goes, “when the double comes, your job is done” and Booker’s able to pass out to Crowder for a bucket. He does it again at the 0:29 mark, going around the pick and the passing lane opens up like the red sea when it sees Moses.
Booker’s ever-growing processing shows itself at the 0:20 mark. He gets trapped at the top of the key by Powell and Finney-Smith, and he has options. Booker could throw it out to Crowder on the wing or Bridges in the corner, but instead finds Ayton on his way to the basket. At the 0:54 mark, Booker sets up a beautiful bullet pass to Johnson after Booker notices Johnson creeping up out of the corner area.
I’m sure I’m with a lot of Suns fans that don’t look fondly on some of the Booker possessions toward the end of last year’s playoff run, especially when he was struggling with the nose and hamstring injuries.
It’s hard to argue that he didn’t have a problem with some of the trapping that the Clippers and Bucks were trying, but he seems more capable to deal with it now than he ever has before.