Booker, Warren scoring efficiently for winning Suns without Eric Bledsoe
He wasn’t playing like it in the preseason or in the first three games of the year, but Eric Bledsoe was the Phoenix Suns’ best player.
Was, of course, is the tense we are using now since Bledsoe has left the team.
Now, it’s Devin Booker, and if the 21-year-old has proved anything in his young NBA career, it’s that he’s ready to shoulder the load offensively.
The two most problematic elements of that role for Booker is how efficiently he does it at such a young age and where else will he get help.
There was a small whiff of the latter being an issue late in Phoenix’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 28. Booker was double-teamed on two key possessions, and while both possessions resulted in open shots, they were both missed.
That was a tiny pinch, though, and the help would need to come in full games. The answer wasn’t crystal clear for some, but T.J. Warren has been waiting for the opportunity.
After multiple setbacks, including a minor head injury last year that halted his momentum toward a breakout third season, Warren is now in a clear position as the No. 2 offensive option behind Booker.
His response in the five games since Earl Watson and Bledsoe’s departure from the team has been spectacular.
Warren is averaging 20.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on a ridiculous 56.8 percent shooting from the field.
Even better, his counterpart, Booker, has shut down the criticism of his poor shooting percentages to this point in the season. Under Jay Triano, Booker is averaging 25.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 48.5 percent from the three-point line and 95.8 percent at the foul line.
Now, the deal the Suns players are making under Triano’s rotation system is in regards to the balance. Not one of the 10 players that get on the floor is going to play exceedingly high minutes, nor is any player going to consistently play under 10 minutes.
That has led to Booker playing 33.1 minutes per game and sharing time with Troy Daniels. This is even more so for Warren, logging 27.8 minutes while switching off with rookie Josh Jackson.
With that in mind, the two rank in the top-10 of the NBA in points per 36 minutes prior since Triano’s appointment. Prior to Thursday night’s action, Booker checks in at seventh at 27.7 points and Warren is 10th, with 26.7 points. Warren, by the way, is the only perimeter player besides Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Aaron Gordon to be averaging at least 25 points per 36 minutes and shooting at least 55 percent from the field over that stretch.
With no third party like Bledsoe also looking for his share of shots, the two have done an excellent job sharing the ball. Booker’s 28.2 usage percentage in the Triano era is right next to Warren’s 27.2 mark, and both numbers rank outside the top-30 overall in the league. For the lack of offensive options around them, that’s notable.
The only two players in the top-10 of that per 36 scoring leaderboard that have similar or lower usage percentages are Stephen Curry and Durant, both of whom clock in at 28.8 and 25.2, respectively.
Credit to Booker, who, in a more important role, is playing much better basketball while not raising his 28.4 usage percentage from last year.
That overall success for the duo adds up to the team. Since Triano took over, the Suns are 4-1 and seventh in the NBA in offensive rating at 107.8.
It’s a small sample size and the high-level numbers to this degree aren’t sustainable, but for the two young players to respond like this is notable. Warren, after all, is still only 24 years old alongside the 21-year-old Booker.
If the two can continue scoring with decent efficiency while winning basketball games, it sets them up as a legitimate one-two punch that will only improve as they grow more experienced, and that’s what rebuilding is all about.