Devin Booker put together a career-best night in playmaking, in a road win against the Utah Jazz Friday night. It was a game that further displayed the aforementioned processing speed, feel, and general IQ that he’s operating with now, in his 9th season. Friday night, he would tally 15 assists, a career-best mark, and just one turnover.
Of note: the turnover committed came on an offensive foul, amidst a foray to the basket on a secondary break — speaking to how precise he was with his duty as the head of the Suns' attack.
He would compile 37 assist points (a career-high) and account for 60% of the Phoenix Suns made field goals via assists in the process. This would make for his 15th career game with 8+ assists and one turnover or less — his most recent before yesterday, came last season at Dallas in a very impressive showing.
Let’s zoom in…
Suns opened the game with one of their patented sets, Elbow out, into Spain pick-and-roll.
What’s unique here is the angle at which the Suns play with the screens in this three-player action and the correlation with how defenses react to it. We see they’re set on a downward slope here, friendly to Booker being able to get a piece (or more of the paint).
The downhill nature of the angle here, which is adjacent to how they align a lot of their 77 screens in double drag — only taking place via the elbows here — puts stress on the defense.
Booker now engages the switch as well as being patient to let the play develop — ultimately allowing Nurkic’s roll to have gravity — and look who’s in the corner for the easiest of three-point attempts.
Of note here: Kevin Durant is shooting a blistering 87.5% (7-for-8) from deep from Devin Booker passes.
The attention on Booker’s drive garners attention and forces rotations to develop, tasking Markkanen — the lowman — to tag the roller, leaving Durant unaccounted for.
Guess what? Rinse and repeat, only flipping the alignment from its initiating points.
The screen angles fall in a cascading fashion again, and Booker — going to his left now — can hit Nurkic on the roll to split defenders. The precision in tight quarters requires Booker to have great timing to hit said pass in the only window available.
He executes, and the Suns get a bucket plus the foul.
Here is Booker’s ascension into the class of master manipulators, a la Chris Paul.
He cancels the screen from Nurkic and Barkley dribbles himself into post positioning in the emptied corner. Through patience again, Booker allows things to develop.
This is early on, and he’s gathering information regarding what types of help or support the Jazz are conceding in different contexts of the game. He sees them fully committing and conceding their hand in help immediately, with Markkanen at the nail.
Booker processes just how much they’re willing to concede in the distance, as well as what’s going on behind that help in potential next rotations — and look who’s cleverly stashed one pass away.
That Durant guy again, but appreciate the timing with which Booker is delivering these passes — allowing rotations to develop to most optimize the shot quality from his passes — and the accuracy in delivering shootable passes, hitting teammates in their pockets.
This one’s keen to where he is in processing, and delivering with time into advantages.
He creates this one with his eyes up and notices George, who’s back early and has to account for Durant, is out of position as he holds for Markkanen, who’s slow back after the make.
This subtle cover-up enables Eric Gordon the opportunity to attack a closeout early in the clock. Booker advances it to him instantly as he processes this, George jumps high side on his close, Gordon crosses to go left, and because it’s Durant in the strong corner, there isn’t even a semblance of help to come.
It’s also, again, early in the clock, and the Suns get a layup in the first six seconds of the clock.
Advantage creation can sometimes be so subtle, as we see here — but alertness has to be paired with timing.
Here’s the sideline out-of-bounds action that I spoke on last week, with Booker.
The Jazz switch, specifically with a late switch, when he receives the handoff. That enables a window in the mesh point of the switch so that Booker can squeeze this pass to Eubanks before the low rotation from Markkanen comes over.
Eubanks gets a catch with two feet in the paint on the roll, and he’s at a good spot in his launching pad.
Here we see some match-up manipulation.
Booker gets a “hunt” screen from Bates-Diop, and “Waldo” on this possession in terms of finding the preferred match-up, and putting them into action, is Markkanen.
Bates-Diop then respaces to the deep corner, and a gaping driving lane is enabled to Booker’s right. Now, he could go quick there, get a paint touch, and likely be fouled, make the shot, or both, and no one would bat an eye.
However, his matured pace of play and processing speed enables him to pick up on the cadence and contexts in which the Jazz are sending extra support — and from where. Booker lets the dust settle, the defense tips their hand as Olynk steps up in gap support (off Okogie) on demand from coach Will Hardy.
Booker’s timing on the attack is spot on, he puts pressure on the rim.
Notice the Suns spacing as he gears up, though.
Eubanks floats around to find a smart pocket after noticing the driving lane as Bates-Diop respaces.
He then occupies the dunkers spot opposite of the eventual drive, and with Watanabe in the deep corner there, this is “corner filled” spacing, where players occupy both the corner and same side dunker spot, simultaneously.
Aided by a brilliant burn cut from the 45 — to collapse who would be the “sink” man — by Okogie, Booker put the cherry on top with a wrap-around pass to Watanabe, for a wide-open three from his preferred spot in the corner.
Notice the game clock in the play above as well, this’s all been done in his first shift, all in the first quarter.
The Suns had an astronomical half-court offensive rating of 147.8 in the first, and he was at the helm of nearly all of it, in string-pulling.
So keeping receipts on how he’s guarded in different contexts, this switch here was seeing Olynk in “show and recover” to flatten action out and buy time for Horton-Tucker to recover.
Knowing this, Booker attacks the far hip of Olynk on his show — stretching the rotation, creating distance from his check, Goodwin, and eliminating the “recover” dynamic of the coverage — then splits to evade Horton-Tucker, who’s coming back into the play late.
That all creates the advantage of a Goodwin topside three, on the pop.
These reads, the pace, maturity, poise, and decisiveness in Booker’s processing, all are qualities of a point guard and leader.
Having them, in a player that can toggle between playmaker and scorer with every dribble he takes — doing so at an elite level in both roles — is a premium weapon that drastically changes the floor and ceiling of a team, long-term and on a gamely basis.
I’ve mentioned this a few times prior, but Booker is in for a career-best season, all-around, should he remain healthy.
The roster around him provides abundance in requisite spacing, secondary scoring/playmaking, and other complementary skill sets that optimize all that he does.
This offense, this team, is his Pinocchio, and he is Gepetto.
He’s evolving from having just the raucous uppercut in his scoring punch, as well as garnering the abilities at three levels to be elite — with the ball and without it — to consistently dictate, to now, process, in real-time, the many ways he’s defended, and cycle through counter punches to consistently win, on a possession-by-possession basis.
He is here.