EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker comes back like he never left in Suns’ preseason finale

Oct 13, 2021, 5:34 PM

PHOENIX — When Devin Booker missed the Phoenix Suns’ first three preseason games of the year, there wasn’t any concern.

After coming down with COVID-19 a week before training camp, Booker also had the longest season possible with trips to the NBA Finals and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Suns were, rightfully so, being smart about his ramp-up.

You should not have been worried, but if for some strange reason you were, Booker certainly calmed those nerves after the way he played in the team’s preseason finale on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 119-74 win.

Whether it’s a preseason game like Wednesday’s, a scrimmage or what-have-you, Booker will often refer to getting up and down the floor as some “good bump.”

Wednesday was some good bump.

“I missed it,” Booker said. “Missed that feeling a lot. Always say, it’s hard to get it anywhere else in life.”

Booker scored 17 points in 18 minutes, shooting 6-of-10 from the field with three rebounds and an assist.

He was not just lollygagging around in preseason play or trying to get his legs under him.

Booker was locked in on the motions of Monty Williams’ offense and active defensively, where he will certainly start to turn some heads for those not paying attention enough to his improvement last year.

It was a good last bit of run for Phoenix, as Portland played its expected starting lineup. The Suns only sat Chris Paul, a logical decision given he’s Chris Paul, 36 years old and Phoenix gets the benefit of more court time for Elfrid Payton while he can get it.

Cam Payne started in Paul’s place and was the lone starter to get over 20 minutes. His usual partners in crime on the second unit all had strong days, with Landry Shamet (12 points), Abdel Nader (11), JaVale McGee (10) and Cam Johnson (11) all reaching double figures.

There have been a few encouraging developments with that group in preseason play.

For one, Johnson, Shamet and Mikal Bridges have been aggressive off the dribble and also more involved in the offense. There have been a handful of possessions where Paul or Booker had the initial dribble penetration, only for one of those three guys to get it and then a few seconds later set up Paul or Booker after their own drive-and-kick action.

That extra layer of the offense and not relying on just Paul, Booker and Payne to handle all the playmaking would be a big-time boost to the offense.

“I told Mikal that’s what the Finals came down to,” Booker said. “Most teams have 2-3 primary defenders and if they want to put that third or fourth on Mikal he has to be aggressive. It’s gonna open up a lot for us and it’s gonna take a lot of pressure off us and he has the capability to do it in many different ways.”

The other is an obvious connection that is beginning to form between Johnson and McGee. Those two have assisted each other a few times, including Johnson being the point man on a ball screen action with McGee.

Williams joked that he wished he could take credit for that but said it’s something that was evident as soon as they played 5-on-5 in training camp.

Once the halfway point of the third quarter crossed, Williams put in his third-stringers and had everyone in the main rotation sit, something he spoke on earlier in the week of being the plan.

The Suns will now focus on getting their conditioning in the right spot for the next week, with no preseason left and the season opener a week from Wednesday. Given their continuity and three fairly dominant wins in a row to close the preseason, it has them in a great spot to hit the ground running.

“I was talking to Chris and Book just now like, ‘This is the chance for us to go into the season with some momentum,'” Williams said. “We have to respect that, respect the fact that we are potentially a really good team but we got to work and maintain where we are and continue to improve.”

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