Back in March of 2017 Devin Booker put his stamp on the NBA map when the young Suns guard scorched the Boston Celtics for 70 points. Most people remember the crazy scoring output, not too many people outside of Boston remember that the Suns lost the game. Still, through all the losing, it was moments like that, that had given the organization hope that it had stolen a franchise guy at the back end of the lottery. Two years later and the idea of Booker as the franchise is a little more complicated. Devin Booker’s career night had come to represent Devin Booker the player; lots of buckets, but not a lot of winning.
Booker is still only twenty-two years old, but he’s playing out the final year of his rookie contract. A deal that he has certainly outperformed. Next year however, his monster five-year $158 million extension kicks in. Once that contract hits, the niceties will subside and Booker will have to prove that he isn’t just an empty stats guy. People will only stay enamored by a silky smooth jump shot for so long.
The road the Suns front office needs to navigate, is deciding on if Booker is a true franchise player or just a piece to their puzzle. Franchise guys are rare. There are maybe 12-15 franchise guys in the league at any one time, and that may be a generous figure. Puzzle pieces are scattered throughout the league.
Let’s do a quick player comparison.
Player A – PER=18.5, TS%=57, WS=1.9, BPM=0.0, ORTG=107, DRTG=118
Player B – PER=18.5, TS%=57, WS=2.5, BPM=0.1, ORTG=106, DRTG=114
Player A is Devin Booker and Player B is Zach Lavine. I’m as big a Lavine guy as you’d find, I believe he has real all-star potential; but would you build your team around him? Not unless you want to end up at the bottom of the lottery. When Lavine signed his deal worth $78 million over the next four years, most people scoffed. He’s lived up to the deal in year one. But what if he was making an average of $32 million annually over the next five years? The conversation changes entirely.
In Booker’s defense, it hasn’t been easy for any player to develop, let alone win in Phoenix. The Suns haven’t drafted an All-Star since Amare Stoudemire in 2002. There are a myriad of reasons Phoenix has been bad over Booker’s short tenure. He’s played under four different head coaches. He hasn’t played with an above average point guard since Eric Bledsoe tweeted he didn’t want to be there. His old general manager botched every draft pick since Booker was drafted (I like Ayton, but I mean Luka and Booker). His new general manager decided to help his buddy Lebron by buying out Tyson Chandler early in the season. He has no veteran leadership besides Jamal Crawford, who while one of my all-time favorites, is not someone whose shot selection you’d want to emulate. The Suns don’t get mentioned enough in the league’s most dysfunctional franchise lists.
Still, Booker isn’t blameless. While he has added new wrinkles to his offensive game every year (this year it’s his playmaking), he’s also stopped caring about playing the other side of the ball. This season Book is sporting a DBPM of -3.0 and his DRTG sits at 118. James Harden hasn’t ever sniffed numbers that bad. The eye test matches the numbers. When matched up on the ball, Booker gets caught flat footed and is prone to reaching. Off the ball Booker is content ball watching and is too often in the wrong position. If Booker is going to earn his new contract, he is going to have to start giving a shit about defense.
This year has become a throw away year for the franchise. The front office is actively trying to tank. If it works and the team lands Zion, then this is probably all moot. Zion would help cover Book’s defensive deficiencies and use the space that Booker provides to feast inside. They’d run a killer two-man game; Zion would change everything. You’d have to think about the long term fit with Ayton, but I mean those are good problems to have. With the new lottery odds though, landing Zion is far from a guarantee. Phoenix is more likely to end up with Cam Reddish than Zion.
Phoenix will have some money to play with this summer, and when July One finally hits, the Suns need to nail free agency. They don’t need to land a big fish, but they need to fill the holes on their roster that have kept them from being competitive. Land a starting caliber point guard, a big that offers some rim protection, and some veterans to help teach the young guys how to win and the Suns future gets brighter. Booker still has all-star talent and he can be your best scorer, but he needs some help. It’s hard to win in the NBA, even Lebron has struggled out West.
Really soon Booker is going to be paid like a superstar and if the losses keep racking up, he’ll start feeling some heat. Booker isn’t a true franchise guy, and chances are that he won’t be over his career, but with his shot and play making ability, he is still a puzzle piece that any franchise would love to have. The front office needs to stop trying to run the process and start trying to win some games before that puzzle piece gets lost.