EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker driving, attacking basket more early into Year 8 with Suns

Oct 24, 2022, 5:16 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first qu...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter at Moda Center on October 21, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are intent on lessening Chris Paul’s workload this regular season. The expectation from training camp was that it would mean more of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson being featured on the ball. Three games in, though, it has been less of that and more of Devin Booker commanding the offense.

Last year, the Suns turned Booker into the best accentuating piece of an offense in the league. Monty Williams’ system would get Booker the ball coming around off-ball movement when the defense would already be on its heels in some fashion. Booker would attack from there, and thanks to the brilliance of Paul, having the primary scorer in that spot was not at a detriment to the offense. Don’t get me wrong, Booker was starting on the ball plenty, but those curling actions getting him directly into his midrange homeland from the get-go was the bread and butter.

This season, the Suns will still use Booker that way, but he is on the ball more deliberately and NBA.com’s tracking data backs that up. In his first two seasons with Paul, Booker averaged 3.52 and 3.65 dribbles per touch, respectively. Through three games, it’s at 4.53, and that’s compared to Paul’s 4.33 after a 5.21 mark the year prior.

It has been working rather effectively. Booker is averaging 32.0 points per game and shooting 53.1% from the field.

To go back to the design, Booker is now attacking defenses from the perimeter as the initial action more frequently. His drives per game sit at 17.3, nearly doubling a 9.7 number last season and getting him back to a range of 13-14 he used to be in. Booker was at his highest level yet as a player last year but the increase in drives will help him get back from attempting a career-low 15% of his shots at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass, and 5.3 free throws per game were the lowest since his rookie season.

Off a small sample size, it’s 33% of his shots at the rim and 20 free throws in three games. We’ll see where those numbers lie in a months or so to see if we’re really onto something, but after watching Booker for seven years, there’s definitely something to it.

“Devin’s been around so long sometimes you forget he’s still a young player but I think he’s moving into the early parts of his prime and that’s where you become your strongest and you’re starting to see his ability to get there and take punishment,” Williams said Monday.

Booker has always been a player about rhythm and tempo, as he showed an innate feel from the jump on using his own speed to get to his spots. With the incredible understanding he now has for how NBA defenses work and how they are programmed to stop him, Booker looks like he’s further unlocked the use of his turbo button for more instantaneous offense.

In Year 8, Booker is using wider angles off ball screens to get to the rim on the ball. When he’s off it, Booker is immediately slashing through openings and flying by closeouts.

“The times where he makes the quick decisions to attack, I think that’s when we are our most lethal in that environment,” Williams said.

There was a point Booker reached a few years ago where you could see him really turning on the jets in semi-transition opportunities and other tiny windows he’d get when the defense wasn’t hyper-focused on him just yet.

Now it seems that next level is doing it more consistently in half-court situations. Booker said Monday he understands the defensive attention he draws and is mindful of setting up his teammates off that while also still taking the openings he can get.

“Sometimes you can just impose your will,” Williams said of it, referencing this dunk below.

That will get Booker to the line more, and Williams wisely pointed out the importance of that because the Suns’ defense can be set off that. So, if you think about the crucial good defense turning into good offense formula for Phoenix’s success scoring the ball, it actually can start back on offense with free throws and keep the cycle naturally flowing.

A few of those clips are with the starting lineup out there, a group that will give Booker more space now that sharpshooter Cam Johnson is involved. The new-look 5 in 38 minutes this year has a blistering 126.0 offensive rating and 36.0 net rating.

It’s either more driving lanes for Booker as you saw or a much better kick-out target.

Booker gets better every year. That’s never a question. It’s the way in which he improves. It’s early but we’ve got a frontrunner.

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Devin Booker driving, attacking basket more early into Year 8 with Suns