Devin Booker’s dominant bubble run cements his stature, Suns’ legitimacy
The Phoenix Suns had two seasons max to fix this.
They were coming off a 2018-19 campaign of 19 wins and would be entering Devin Booker’s fifth season.
The franchise fired one of his coaches three games into the season. They fired the general manager who drafted him nine days before the start of the following season.
Time after time, drafting bust after bust, all the Suns kept doing was proving to Booker that they didn’t deserve his trust.
Even with Booker signing the five-year max rookie extension, players of his caliber don’t stick around on teams that continue to lose over 50 games and fail to make the playoffs.
As Booker started to make it more obvious over the last 36 months the type of player that he was and was going to become, the pressure began to intensify from an imaginary clock counting down when he would inevitably grow unsettled with the Suns’ inability to help him win.
All they had to do was just enough and he was going to take care of the rest.
He has given an idea of what that looks like in Orlando.
Booker has been the best player in the bubble. He’s leading the only undefeated team, and even on nights when he hasn’t had his scoring in the 30s, he’s been sensational. After nagging minor injuries the last two seasons, he’s finally able to show what he can do with some newfound acceleration and burst.
Outside of the occasional snoozing off the ball, he’s working defensively, still learning what to do with all that energy by not overextending. That will be what he improves at next season, and he’s still been relatively fine in Orlando, a huge development.
His push late in the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday was the type you see from stars who refuse to lose.
In the Suns’ five first victories, the most competitive of the bunch, Booker went on his own self-created crunch-time runs to either seal the win or help the Suns stabilize to get one.
Here’s an 8-0 run against Washington up seven with four minutes to go.
This was a 7-2 spurt that should have won the Mavericks game before it got weird and he fouled out.
The Clippers … duh.
He closed up shop against the Pacers, with a 12-5 run to extend the lead to 15. I’m gonna throw in a screen assist — shoutout Rudy Gobert — to make it 14-5 for funsies.
It was not quite all Booker against Miami, but he was involved in 11 of the team’s last 15 points (the video didn’t include an assist to Ricky Rubio).
When Booker started to flash he was capable of being a closer the past few years, this type who can do it in every way you want a primary ball-handler to, I referred to him as the “bad man.”
Because on most of the plays Booker makes, he’s the type of offensive force that has the opposition just shake their head after he does it to ’em and say, “Man, that’s just a bad dude right there. What can you do?”
Booker’s latest evolution — a major one of which we’ve seen every season he’s been in Phoenix — happening with the entire NBA world in one place is massive.
These are the types of moments he never got, preventing him from making the All-Star team (on the first go) the last three years. Of course, it helps the Suns are now winning the most when the eyeballs are on him.
But as I stated earlier, it was always clear that Booker was special. What he was good at and how good he was at it, especially with what he has improved on year-to-year, was a star trajectory. It’s easier to see the better he gets.
There’s only so much Booker can do both on the court and with his production to prove it, such as him becoming the first guard ever to average at least 26 points per game on a 61% true shooting percentage before they turn 25.
Luckily, this appears to be the tide turning. The Suns are the buzz of the bubble. Everyone is buying any stock left of the team, and I would say Booker too, but that was all snatched up a loooong time ago.
Who knows where the Suns go after attempting to build off this run. The significance of it will not be diminished by whether or not they stay undefeated and make the play-in and/or the playoffs.
It’s the jolt head coach Monty Williams needed to show his young team what works. When the Suns dropped to 14-22 after a spiritless home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 5, Williams didn’t take questions from the media. He instead repeated the same statement a few times before exiting.
“Until we learn how to play the right way consistently, we’re just going to have a lot of nights like this. That’s the deal,” he said. “Until we learn how to play the right way consistently and follow a gameplan, we’re going to play well one night, then we’re gonna have nights like this.
“Gonna play well one night, have nights like this. Gonna play well one night, have nights like this. Until we learn how to play the right way and follow a gameplan consistently, we’re going to have these nights.”
This is all Williams wanted out of his team, and despite a good portion of it being sloppy in “ugly” games as he has described them, it’s coming with winning because the Suns are playing the way Williams wants them to.
They now know the path. Getting there is going to be another story with an embarrassingly loaded Western Conference next year.
Deandre Ayton’s play in Orlando has been concerning. Cam Johnson’s, Mikal Bridges’ and Ricky Rubio’s have not. Phoenix is showing what it could have done all season with a competent bench. It has a big decision to make about Kelly Oubre Jr. this offseason.
The Suns being competitive night in and night out was the first step, one they didn’t take until the last seven games. They’ve got a lot to prove still that this wasn’t a fluke.
Again, it’s hard to say where they go from here. But Booker has done nothing but prove he’s the guy that can drag them out of the mud, away from being one of the laughing stocks of the league.
There’s an added sense of gratification in seeing Booker get his shine, as he was the only reason at all worth tuning in for Suns games the last half-decade.
If this is how bad the last half-decade was with him, can you imagine it if they drafted Rashad Vaughn or Bobby Portis instead? He deserves this after putting up with all the crap he has. No, I’m not going to make the goat poop joke.
It’s fitting that Booker passed legendary scorer Walter Davis for the most games with 30-plus points in franchise history on Tuesday, because this is his true launching point into becoming the next franchise legend.
Whatever happens next, he’s gifted Suns fans a two-week stretch they deserved after an immensely frustrating five years.
Beyond that, it’s a complete refresh for the organization that will force everyone to take them more seriously, and maybe even as a threat.
I cannot emphasize how remarkable an accomplishment that is for Booker, all at 23 years old, no less.