PHOENIX SUNS

ESPN’s NBARank puts Suns G Devin Booker on the verge

Sep 18, 2018, 8:17 AM | Updated: 8:20 am

Devin Booker, left, guards Victor Oladipo during a training camp for USA Basketball, Friday, July 2...

Devin Booker, left, guards Victor Oladipo during a training camp for USA Basketball, Friday, July 27, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

To some degree, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker will always be judged by how much his teams win.

Some hold last season’s 21-win season for the Suns against him more than others. After Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney tabbed Booker as the No. 50-rated player in the NBA, ESPN’s NBARank voters consisting of dozens of panelists ranked Booker as the 31st-best player in the NBA heading into the 2018-19 season.

It’s a major leap from last year, when the Suns’ 21-year-old came in 60th on the ESPN list, writes Mike Schmitz.

So long as he’s able to return from hand surgery cleanly, expect Booker to continue his scoring ways while taking another step as a ball-screen facilitator under new coach Igor Kokoskov. Booker’s efficiency will likely depend on who the Suns start at point guard, as they’re a bit short on experienced ball handlers. But the 21-year-old has proved capable of operating as Phoenix’s version of James Harden as a pick-and-roll shot-creator.

Deandre Ayton figures to take attention away from Booker, and the addition of wings Trevor Ariza and Mikal Bridges will give Booker more space to operate in modern lineups. Booker’s downside will likely always be his defense.

Aside from the 19-place difference in his rankings for Sports Illustrated and ESPN, the company Booker shares in the two rankings is quite different.

He was ranked behind Houston’s Eric Gordon, Philadelphia’s Robert Covington and Boston’s Jaylen Brown on the former list. On the latter, Booker sits ahead of Boston’s Al Horford, Detroit’s Blake Griffin and Washington’s John Wall.

The expectation is Booker, who signed a projected $158 million max contract extension this summer, will be able to return from surgery on his hand close to the start of the regular season. He averaged 24.9 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds a year ago while shooting 43 percent overall and 38 percent from three-point range despite playing with one of the NBA’s least-talented rosters.

His expected improvement after spending the summer in training camp with Team USA — and the help he should receive from what on paper looks like a more talented Phoenix roster — could propel Booker into elite status when these player-ranking exercises come around next year.

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