The Phoenix Suns may have already reached their peak, and the only direction from here could be down. But we don’t know that for sure, because sometimes the next peak is only visible after you’ve reached the current one.
The Suns reportedly tried to acquire Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the history of the game who’s still in his prime, without giving up much in return. But now, with KD re-committing to the Nets at least for a while, the Suns remain almost the exact same team who lost in the second round of these past playoffs. The only real change in the rotation so far is Dario Saric coming back from injury to replace JaVale McGee as backup center.
The Suns still want to win a championship, and this current roster has had the capacity to win a championship the past two years but came up short each time. They need to improve somehow, either by making changes or by experiencing significant improvement from players still on the rise.
In this series, we delve into key players on the Suns roster who have the capacity to improve to the level that they could help the Suns win the whole thing.
Assuming all else stays the same, which player’s improvement could vault the Suns to a championship?
Here are your candidates:
- Devin Booker — to top 8 player in the NBA
- Deandre Ayton — to top 20 player in the NBA
- Mikal Bridges — to top 30 player in the NBA
- Cameron Johnson — to top 50 player in the NBA
- Cameron Payne — to top backup point guard in the NBA
Let’s take them one at a time, with a little help from the Bright Side staff.
Last week, we touched on the two 2018 Draftees taking that next step into the All-Star discussion.
Today, I share why I think 2015 draftee, Mr. Multiple-Max-Extension Devin Armani Booker needs to get even better to carry these Suns to a championship parade.
Devin Booker — to top 8 player in the NBA
Why it needs to happen:
NBA Champions almost always have one of the greatest players in the game who can help them overcome the toughest of opponents in the postseason. Conventional wisdom says you need one of the undisputed All-Time Greats in their prime to win a ring, such as Michael Jordan (Bulls), Kobe Bryant (Lakers), Tim Duncan (Spurs), LeBron James (Heat, Cavaliers, Lakers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), or Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers, Heat). Those six players have accounted for 26 of the last 32 NBA championships.
But that next tier of players can occasionally carry a team to a championship too.
Just look at the 2019 Raptors (Kawhi Leonard), 2015 Warriors (early Stephen Curry), 2014 Spurs (early Kawhi), 2011 Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki) and 2008 Celtics (Kevin Garnett) as great comps for Booker. Each of them had been considered top 10-ish players coming into their first championship season, but not really ‘that guy’ until they showed the world they were that guy.
For the Suns to win a championship as currently constructed, they need another leap by Devin Booker in the way that Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett made their leaps.
How it can happen:
Booker is already among the top 15 players in the league, just on the cusp of being inside the Top 10. Let’s take a look at the best players in the NBA to see where Booker could land. You might not agree with the exact order, so I won’t even try.
In alphabetical order, here are the players clearly ahead of Booker at this point:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (Age 27, 3-time MVP, 1 championship)
- Kevin Durant (Age 34, 1-time MVP, 2 championships)
- Stephen Curry (Age 34, 2-time MVP, 4 championships)
- Nikola Jokic (Age 27, 2-time MVP)
- Joel Embiid (Age 28)
For Booker to pass up any of these guys in value, they would have to drop precipitously while he ascends. Can it happen? Sure. Durant and Curry are both approaching middle age, for example.
Now here are the players in Booker’s range whose play this year can fluctuate their ranking just like Booker’s play can impact his own, in alphabetical order by first name
- Anthony Davis (Age 29)
- Bradley Beal (Age 29)
- Chris Paul (Age 37)
- Damian Lillard (Age 32)
- Devin Booker (Age 26)
- Donovan Mitchell (Age 26)
- Ja Morant (Age 23)
- Jayson Tatum (Age 25)
- LeBron James (Age 37, 4-time MVP)
- Luka Doncic (Age 23)
- Kawhi Leonard (Age 31)
- Jimmy Butler (Age 33)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (Age 26)
- Paul George (Age 32)
- Trae Young (Age 24)
How many of these guys would you trade Devin Booker straight up for? Any of them?
Now you can see why Booker made first-team All-NBA last year as one of the top two guards in the league. He beat out Stephen Curry, who’d had a bad year until the 2022 playoffs, and the surging Ja Morant to join Luka Doncic as one of the league’s best two guards.
And you can see why Booker got the 4th most votes for Most Valuable Player this year, behind only Jokic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo.
Booker now ranks as the best shooting guard in the league by most, and as you can see he’s got control of his own destiny how far he can ascend this year among NBA players overall.
And as he turns 26 years old at the end of October, he’s only getting better, folks.
If Booker can outclass all of those players and to ascend into the Top 5-8 range this season and play his best ball in the playoffs — remember him scoring 40+ in back to back Finals games in 2021? — then it’s quite possible Book can be the difference the Suns need for that elusive title.
I love this video showing Booker’s growth throughout this NBA career, from never starting a game at Kentucky to being named All-NBA first team.
Likelihood: I actually think this is quite likely to happen. Just look at that list of players outside the top 4 of the NBA and I wouldn’t trade Booker for any of them.