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Williams: Suns’ Devin Booker doesn’t need convincing to play defense

Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz drives the ball past Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 28, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Jazz defeated the Suns 96-95. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns’ season has started in a way that it hasn’t in nearly four years.

They have a winning record through five games.

The narrative around the “why” the Suns seem to be trending in a positive direction has a lot to do with having a legitimate point guard, Ricky Rubio. There’s also been credit given to new head coach Monty Williams, who discussed the hot start with Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Williams said Friday that when it came to implementing new philosophies and getting star Devin Booker more involved defensively, it didn’t take much convincing. Booker bought in right away.

“This is going to sound crazy, but not one time did I ever convince Devin of anything,” Williams said. “We had conversations [at training camp] in Flagstaff about the way we’re playing and way we want to play, and his comment to me was, ‘Coach, I’ve always wanted to play like this.’

“There’s a ton of players that I can relate to. I can’t relate to Devin. I can’t relate to a guy that score like that, that has that kind of pressure on him every day. I was not that kind of player. … But to answer your question plainly, we didn’t have one comment or one conversation about anything that related to him being a better defender. I think he just wants it.”

One trend can be found in Booker’s “Defensive Box Plus/Minus,” which estimates the number of points a player contributes on defense relative to the league average, per 100 possessions. Per Basketball-Reference, in each of the first four years of his career, that number was somewhere between minus-2 and minus-3. This year, it’s minus-0.6.

As pointed out on Friday by NBA analyst Kirk Goldsberry, the Suns this year lead the NBA in how much their net rating has changed compared to last season, as that stat has improved by 17 since last season for Phoenix (the Golden State Warriors were dead last, declining by 18 compared to a year ago).

So, for both Booker and the team as a whole, things are going in the right direction.

“He’s becoming — and look, it’s been five games, we have a ways to go — but when your best player plays with intensity and he gets after it on defense and shows leadership qualities, it says a lot about your team,” Williams said. “And it gives you a chance to build your program.”

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