EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker’s list of accomplishments begins with Suns’ return to playoffs

Apr 28, 2021, 9:18 PM | Updated: Apr 29, 2021, 8:48 am
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at ...
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Arena on March 18, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

“I don’t care anymore. It’s like 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 — it’s almost the same thing. Now I’m just at the point in my career where I just want to be a winner.

“I’ve done the individual accolades countless numbers of times, so for me now it’s figuring out how to win and we’re not doing that right now. So until we start winning that’s when all those things will matter to me.”

That quote is how I started a piece two years ago on Devin Booker quickly becoming one of the most prolific young scorers in NBA history, as he kept rattling off nights in which he became X youngest player to score X amount of points.

The quote from Booker is after a January 2019 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. In it, Booker scored an efficient 27 points on 9-of-20 shooting and the Suns lost by 14. Sounds about right.

Despite the lazy presumptions that can develop for talented bucket-getters only caring about themselves and getting theirs, Booker has always primarily been devoted to winning.

There was no way to reach the glass ceiling for him to break through early in his career — he was in a helpless situation even though he was more than capable of heavily contributing to a playoff team already.

Well, with head coach Monty Williams, general manager James Jones and point guard Chris Paul, he finally got that help. After Wednesday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers that puts the Phoenix Suns 26 games over .500, it also makes them a playoff team for the first time in over a decade.

When I talked to former Suns guard Jamal Crawford in 2019 for that piece on Booker’s winning-over-scoring mentality, here’s what he presented as perspective about Booker’s thought process as a potential top player on a contender:

“’How can I lead this group to wins? The better they are, the better I’ll be because my job will be a little bit easier,'” Crawford said.

Watching Booker’s game change and grow this year with the motivation of winning at these heights has been one of the joys of this Suns season.

Booker is an All-Star on one of the best teams in the NBA as a legit two-way player, to boot. It’s no coincidence that Booker is playing the best defense of his career, performing legitimately great on that end some nights, because the situation finally allows for it. He’s always made a noticeable improvement in his game each season, and this year, it’s been as a defender.

He’s in phenomenal shape this season — not to say that he wasn’t already. The way he’s been able to exert himself night in and night out is on another level. There’s no doubt he could have played the entire second half on Monday in New York, the second game of a back-to-back and finale of a brutal road trip. Some games this year, Booker is borderline bouncing off the walls with the way he’s flying around the court, putting relentless pressure on defenses that have to know he’s coming at them with any smidge of a chance he gets. He clearly got his body ready with the postseason in mind.

As expected, he had zero issues giving Paul his fair share of the offense. Booker doesn’t get credit for that individual sacrifice for the betterment of his team, ceding his chance to find more of a rhythm coming off a quick ramp-up and no group basketball in the offseason. He took more than 20 shots in only three of his first 18 games, and he attempted 21 field goals in all of them.

Once the Suns’ backcourt duo inevitably clicked around late January, Booker did too, winning Western Conference Player of the Month in February. It’s because Booker has always been a tempo-based player, thriving off the intricacies of an offense and hitting his highest gears when his team is fully in motion.

It’s not hard to imagine how any of those things could have been an issue for a talented young player who hadn’t won 25 games in a season until only last year.

It hasn’t been for Booker because, as Crawford told me: “Winning’s the only thing driving him.”

With that, he’s still managed to be the same Devin Booker. He’s averaging over 25 points per game, shooting nearly a career-best from the field, and even though he’s getting his least amount of touches per game since his rookie year, Booker’s top-10 in the NBA in points per touch.

Be happy as a Suns fan that the franchise is back in this position, and also be happy for Booker, who it is impossible to picture any of this happening without and will get his long-overdue first encounter with the mystique of playoff basketball.

Now, he can start counting those accomplishments.

Now, he can start being legendary.

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