Now that you are more familiar with the new guys and the bulk of the role players, it’s time to shine a light on the franchise player. The man who made this entire operation possible. Devin Armani Booker.
The former Kentucky Wildcat has blossomed into a homegrown superstar right before our eyes, and what he’s accomplished may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Guard, 6’5”, 206 pounds, turns 27 in October
While the 2022-23 season ended in yet another disappointment for the Suns, Devin Booker put on a show in the playoffs. It’s easy to forget how impressive of a run he put together with how Denver dominated Phoenix in an elimination game on their home court, leaving a sour taste in many Suns fans’ mouths.
That’s what I’m here for. To remind you of his brilliance and paint a picture as to why this version of Devin Booker may just be the tip of the iceberg. Book is entering his what is supposed to be the start of his “NBA prime” at age 27. It’s when many stars have taken leaps and certified their status among the greats.
Throughout his young career, he was surrounded by incompetence from the roster construction to the coaching staff all the way up to the top of the pole.
Slowly but surely, Phoenix built a roster that allowed Booker to thrive after years of suffering. It took a lot of growing pains and heartache for the ultra-competitive superstar, but he hung in there and it’s paid off. Over the past three seasons, Phoenix leads the NBA in regular-season wins at 160. The next closest is Milwaukee with 155.
Phoenix has a record of 27-19 over the past three playoff runs as well, including their 2021 NBA Finals appearance. Devin Booker has been the staple of this recent success. Now, it’s about focusing on getting over that hump.
In the 2023 NBA Playoffs, Booker averaged 33.7 points, 7.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals on an absurd 58.5/50.8/86.6 shooting split in 11 games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets. He was an absolute terror for opposing defenses.
The stats mean nothing to Booker, as ultimately it was another failure of a season in what was yet another wide open run for a title. It was time to pull the plug on the CP3 and Monty era and add some firepower in a creative way.
Phoenix didn’t have a ton of flexibility or options to improve heading into the offseason, which is why the Bradley Beal trade seemingly shocked the NBA world. The first report came out of nowhere. Then, it just happened. Devin Booker. Kevin Durant. Bradley Beal.
Now, he has a “superteam” assembled with players that came to him (Booker). Years ago Devin said he wanted the superteam to “come to me”, and here we are. At the time it sounded crazy, but now Phoenix is going to be one of the most watched and talked about teams in the NBA.
It’s fun to be relevant in the NBA world, but there’s only one goal in Devin Booker’s mind: bringing Phoenix an NBA Championship.
Booker will be under contract through the 2027-28 season after signing a “supermax” contract extension in July of 2022.
“Devin Booker is a star both on and off the court."— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 8, 2022
The Suns and @DevinBook doubled down on their commitment to each other, putting the final touches on a contract extension.
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Strengths & Weaknesses
The obvious strength in Book’s game boils down to his masterful shot creation and tough shot making. Every move he makes feel calculated and predetermined based on how the defense attacks him.
He has a counter for just about everything thrown at him, and it’s about to get easier with the attention that Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal will draw.
There are very few who can turn nothing into something as frequently as Devin Booker does. Whether it’s a tough pull-up jumper that is heavily contested, or a fadeaway from just about any angle on the court, Book makes it work.
The footwork illustrated on a nightly basis is next level.
6 straight minutes of Devin Booker fadeaways from last season pic.twitter.com/MTdYN5UNwk— Booker Muse (@DevinBookerMuse) September 19, 2023
The leap he takes seemingly every year happens gradually across the board. It comes down to getting reps in certain situations and improving when presented with those looks for the second time.
Adaptability has been a major reason why Booker continues to improve no matter what role he’s thrown in year after year and coach after coach.
Integrating himself into the system that Frank Vogel deploys will certainly take some time. They’ll have plenty of new faces and need to balance the attack through their star players. I fully expect there to be a learning curve, but even while learning the talent will be tantalizing enough to win several games in a row even before developing that needed chemistry.
As for weaknesses, certain individuals need to catch up with Phoenix Suns basketball, because there are real humans who still believe Booker’s defense is a negative. That narrative flipped quite a while ago, so we will overlook the casuals here.
He is a competent defender who can turn it up a notch when it counts, as we saw throughout the Clippers series and for stretches against Denver as well. Playoff Book plays with a defensive fire that truly elevated him into that two-way star category.
At this point, it’s tough to find any one weakness that stands out like a sore thumb when evaluating his overall game.
There are times where he can force passes in tough situations or get stripped if he waits too late in the shot clock to create. That can be said by just about any high leverage shot creator that has the ball in their hands as often as Booker does.
Sometimes he can get caught ball watching in the corner and get beat off a back cut.
He is human after-all, so these mental lapses are going to happen. The fact that they happen less the more games matter is my key takeaway here. I also believe he has handled double-teams a lot better the past couple of seasons.
Those doubles will be something he sees much less of playing alongside two elite scorers, something he’s never had the luxury of before.
A lot of this feels like nitpicking, but I would like to see him attack the glass and hunt rebounds more. There’s no reason he can’t grab 5+ rebounds a game and have more frequent double-digit rebounding outings. It’s not just for the “stat-padding” or aesthetics, as Phoenix needs to improve on the glass.
One Key Factor
The main talking point many would expect when making an MVP case for Devin Booker would be a defensive leap.
I’m going to zig while others zag and say that an increase in offensive efficiency and playmaking is where the true superstar leap could form.
We saw how brilliant he was in the playoffs, posting an NBA2K “sliders all the way up” shooting split of 58.5/50.8/86.6. While shooting nearly 60 percent from the field is unsustainable for someone that takes as many difficult shots as him, if he can aim for the 50/40/90 club and lead Phoenix to a top seed in the West, he’s in the mix.
Forget MVP talk, if he can take a leap in efficiency, it primes the Suns for a championship run and makes them a much more dangerous team. If you combine that with improved playmaking and the assist to turnover ratio improves then we’re cooking with grease.
We could see some high assist outings from the Kentucky product as well in games where he handles point responsibilities. The roster construction is set up for what will be some electric “point Book” lineups.
70 games played, 26.2 PPG, 6.9 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG on 50/38/88 shooting splits.
There is a slight drop in the points per game due to the nature of playing alongside two stars that can get their own shot. I expect him to flirt with the 50/40/90 club and see a jump in the assists department.
How nice would it be for Devin Booker to win his first NBA Championship and follow it up with a Gold Medal for Team USA?