The return of Devin Booker on Wednesday night for the Phoenix Suns was met with thunderous applause from the Phoenix faithful at the Footprint Center. Kevin Durant might be a top 15 player of all time, but Devin Booker is the “Chosen Sun”. His connectivity to the fanbase coupled with his dedication to the organization have made him so. He was introduced last and the wave of appreciation rattled the building.
His return and impact were immediately felt in the Suns’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The pace of play, the movement on offense, the spacing; the Suns looked the Suns we envisioned this past off-season. Sans Bradley Beal, of course.
It has been a rocky start for Phoenix this season, as their lack of continuity has led to turnover-prone basketball and lackluster fourth-quarter performances. With Devin Booker back in the mix, stabilization returned. Always aggressive, Booker was in control as he poured in his 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting in just 26 minutes played.
The welcomed sight? Only two turnovers by Booker and 9 overall by Phoenix.
Playing against the team that entered with the number one overall defense in the NBA, the Suns scored 133 points and put the Timberwolves to bed. Yes, it was the second night of a back-to-back for Minnesota, so you can point to that as the reasoning. But the reasoning was that Devin Armani Booker was back.
Devin Booker in his return:— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) November 16, 2023
☄️ 31 PTS
☄️ 5 AST
☄️ 4 REB
☄️ 1 WIN pic.twitter.com/EP5XBHyfhZ
It may be too early in the season to begin the discussion around the Most Valuable Player award. 11 games in and Phoenix is 13.4% of the way through the season. There is so much ball left to be played. Booker has only played in three games, so even if an MVP poll were to be taken today, he most likely wouldn’t be eligible and wouldn’t be discussed.
Regardless, we’re going to have that conversation.
The MVP is all about narrative. Joel Embiid won last year after campaigning for it. Yes, he put up the numbers and he rightfully earned it, but you have to have a good story to go along with statistics. Devin Booker has a story. The story? Book in the lineup versus Book out of the lineup.
The team averages 9.6 more points per game with him in the lineup, shoots 7.7% better from the field — including 10.8% better from beyond the arc, has 1.5 more assists, and 2.1 fewer turnovers.
We like to call that a “positive impact”.
The Suns without Devin Booker:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) November 16, 2023
The Suns with Devin Booker:
14 TO pic.twitter.com/i0KRhOtznS
His impact on the team goes far beyond the court. As Frank Vogel stated in the post-game press conference, following their victory against the Timberwolves, “I just think his leadership on this team is really invaluable. He’s leading when he’s not in uniform; in film sessions, in practices, he’s our most vocal guy and he’s really taking the reins of that this year with this team and even more so on the floor as the point guard, running the show.”
“We ask our point guards or primarily ballhandlers to get us into the action,” Vogel added, “and I will put us in action if I want to see it, but I want them knowing their key, and he really takes control of that and obviously the shot-making, the attention he draws to the ball, his ability to pass the ball is really exceptional – an underrated part of his game – and he was great tonight.”
This is Devin Booker’s team. Kevin Durant is happy to take a backseat to a talented 27-year-old shooting guard in his prime. He recognizes the talent on the floor beside him, stating, “Incredible. I mean that is what I expect out of him every time he touches the floor. The pop was there playing with pace, that is what we need. Good to have our point guard back.”
There’s your narrative. Booker has taken the reigns as the primary playmaker, is a leader on and off the court, and is averaging 31.3 points and 8.7 assists, and the team does not look good when he isn’t in the lineup. Couple that with the fact that the NBA has been handing out the MVP to centers and forwards for the past five seasons – the last guard to win the MVP was James Harden in 2018 – and perhaps there is some market correction will occur. It’s time to give the Michael Jordan MVP Award to a guard once again.
There will be some cannibalization along the way. Kevin Durant has been playing absolutely fantastic for the Suns through 11 games. And yes, he has played all 11 games. He is averaging 30.1 points on 49.9/38.5/88.5 shooting splits. That is elite basketball.
Seeing Devin Booker return on the court was impressive, regardless of whether he is considered for the MVP. He is a basketball player who has developed into a world-class player right before our very eyes. Even while there is still more work for Frank Vogel and his coaching staff to accomplish and player chemistry to create, the ship hasn’t been totally righted. It does appear that the team is moving in the right path with Booker back on the court, however, because he is their MVP.