36 unbothered: Counting down the days to the Suns’ opener

Sep 18, 2023, 12:42 PM

Devin Booker and Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns...

Devin Booker #1 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns talk during the second half Game One of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Footprint Center on April 16, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Clippers defeated the Suns 115-110. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.

He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.

Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.

A lot happened this offseason. NBA-wide, all eyes are on the Suns with massive change and great expectations.

So to keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 36 days away from Monday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will be joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby to dish on 36 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season. Up first:

Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime

Erik Ruby: It’s somewhat hard to believe that we are at this stage in Booker’s career already. Who could have imagined that entering his ninth season he would have a near-perfect situation around him. An owner who is invested in winning, a star-packed team, a renovated arena, rabid fanbase and his first signature sneaker on the way. But the best part is, as dazzling as Book has been already in his career, he should get better. And with the perfect pieces around him, there is a great chance we see him at the peak of his powers this year.

It might not show up in his scoring average (although I believe he could break 30 points per game if everything lines up right), but from playmaking to locking up on defense, there is no doubt we are entering the best years of Booker’s career age-wise and team-wise. A true perfect storm to see the heights he can reach and a true perfect storm for his fans who will experience it all right alongside him.

Kellan Olson: Something longtime listeners of the podcast have heard us talk about is how difficult it is to rise the ranks of the NBA’s best. Becoming an All-Star talent is hard enough but there is such a huge gap between someone like Damian Lillard, a top-10 guy, and Brandon Ingram, a top-30 guy. We’ve watched Booker ascend the lengthy climb of that gap since 2018. As much as it nauseates many to divide players into categories like “star” and “superstar,” Booker has established himself as the former and is on his way to unanimously being referred to as the latter.

I think he’s already there, based on two of the previous three playoff runs. To remind everyone, Booker scored the most points over a full postseason debut ever in 2021 and this past year put together an all-time, dozen-game playoff stretch. So as Ruby’s first entry to the series proposes, it’s bonkers to propose he’s just now entering his prime, at least from what we normally project with the age of a player.

He doesn’t turn 27 years old until the day before Halloween! Anyway, we know what to expect by now. His game will take a jump in some way. It has every year for eight straight seasons. He’s such an all-around force now that it’s grown more difficult to figure out where. Given the makeup of the team, which he has always adjusted to, I’ll guess defense and playmaking. Get those MVP tickets in.

Kevin Zimmerman: I remember playing devil’s advocate after Booker’s first year. Was he that good? Then after the next year, when he very much proved he was that good, I wondered if he would max out as an All-Star. And then after the next year and the next, I learned to probably stop trying to decide where Booker will max out. Watching him through his most efficient scoring stretch in the playoffs last year, as he rendered Chris Paul’s job as point guard disposable at the same time, I am not about to start guessing this is peak Booker now.

The numbers won’t look as good and there will be rough patches as a very rebuilt team finds its way. But I don’t think it’s a question that this is Booker’s team even if Kevin Durant is playing as well as he did for moments last year as a top-three NBA player. Bradley Beals straight up said it. That says as much about Booker’s continued ascent as anything.

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