EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Monty Williams open to exploring more of Devin Booker at PG with Suns
Apr 16, 2020, 1:04 PM | Updated: 9:43 pm
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
There were a lot of moving pieces that Monty Williams had to get a feel for and incorporate in his first season as head coach of the Phoenix Suns.
One that he wasn’t quite ready to turn to yet was his franchise player Devin Booker at point guard.
Through nothing other than sheer desperation, past head coaches Earl Watson, Jay Triano and Igor Kokoskov used Booker at point plenty, creating “Point Book” as we refer to him as on the interwebs.
Those teams either didn’t have a point guard at all or a point guard that couldn’t create, so Booker would run the show.
Surprise, he was pretty good at it!
For the top three lineups in minutes last season featuring Point Book, they outscored teams per 100 possessions by 4.4 (73 minutes), 10.4 (44 minutes) and 1.8 (38 minutes) points. Remember, that was on a 19-win team where Booker himself had a not nice -6.9 net rating.
So, on a team where its net rating went from 3.8 when starting point guard Ricky Rubio was on the floor to a team-worst -6.5 when he was off, you’d surely want to fill in some of those spot minutes with Booker in control, especially with the inept backup point guard play, right?
Nope. The Suns’ top lineup in minutes featuring Booker without Rubio, Elie Okobo, Ty Jerome, Tyler Johnson or Jevon Carter played a total of six minutes. (And let the record show they scored 21 points in those six minutes).
There, of course, was a reason for this. Booker got worn down by those minutes with the burden of the entire offense on him, and preserving Booker over a full season was a priority for Williams.
But after year one of locking Point Book away in the basement, Williams wants to bring him back upstairs next season.
“Anything I would like to explore would probably be putting Devin at the point guard position a bit more than I did last year,” he said on a conference call Thursday. “I think he’s at a point in his career where he’s making the right plays consistently.”
Williams wasn’t available for followups, but there are a couple of reasons we can safely assume as to why he didn’t make the move right away and why he might in the future.
For one, when Williams was asked about it during the season, he wanted Booker to get set up more off the ball for easy buckets and that worked.
Of the NBA’s 108 players who had at least one possession a game creating a shot off a cut, Booker scored a league-high 1.64 points per possession.
There are multiple evolutions to his off-ball prowess.
The first and most obvious one is in the spirit of one of Booker’s idols, Rip Hamilton, is his movement around screens.
All he needs is to get ahead of a defender, and then he will get in his bag of tricks from there, where Booker has been an expert at keeping defenders “in jail” behind him since his second season.
Oh, so now you’re going to play up on him to try and stay snug when the screen comes?
Then he starts being mean when he bails on the set play by reading the floor to use his own teammate’s cut (and his defender) as a moving screen.
It’s a different way for Booker to score, and one that takes far less work than fighting off the aggressive attention he earns from defenses when on the ball, bringing it up.
But all three of those clips are with the starters in the game, and Phoenix needs the flow of the offense maintained when Rubio sits.
Too often, though, Rubio couldn’t rest for long stretches because of incompetence in his place.
In over half of his games, Rubio played over 33 minutes after averaging under 30 a game in both of his seasons playing for Utah. That includes 18 games over 35 minutes (!) after exceeding that mark 20 total times with the Jazz (!!). Rubio looked noticeably better this season when he got a few days off and has two years left on his expensive deal, so that minute allocation is trending in the wrong direction, obviously!
And with how advanced of an offensive playmaker Booker is at this point, it’s actually not quite as taxing on him to take what the defense gives him sometimes.
Booker was making high-level reads just fine last year.
Not to completely downplay how much extra wear-and-tear these minutes add, but some of the ball-handling isn’t all that physically demanding with how blatant defenses are eliminating Booker from the play.
Williams said 10-12 minutes a night, maybe more, would be the target for Booker at point guard. Because of Mikal Bridges’ proven ability to defend point guards, that’s a nice little window to maximize the efficiency on both ends.
This can also add less pressure on general manager James Jones to add a competent third guard this offseason and instead develop one slowly through the team’s first-round draft pick in a class loaded with guards.
All in all, it’ll benefit the Suns greatly and is another nod that Williams understands the big picture.
All stats and video from NBA.com/stats