Drake’s prophetic shout out to Devin Booker on the track Sicko Mode seemingly put the league on notice this summer. Yes, he signed a max rookie extension this off-season, yes he won the three point shooting contest last year, but the combination of a hand injury and poor play from the Phoenix Suns lately may have casual NBA fans sleeping on Devin Booker and his potential All-Star campaign this year. Deductions made from opening night may seem hasty, but with Igor Kokoškov putting the ball in Devin Bookers hands during the last 5 minutes of the game, Booker caught fire and closed the 4th quarter scoring 19 points. Booker’s scoring has never been questioned it has been his intensity and defense. While the verdict is still out on Booker’s defense, his intensity and scoring cannot be questioned.
September 10th the Suns announced Booker needed hand surgery with an estimated recovery time of 6 weeks. September 10th seems like years ago based on Booker’s performance tonight. Devin Booker made a statement on the ESPN late game, on a night that was meant for Doncic vs Ayton (Ayton outplayed Doncic who needs a consistent three-point shot). For the first time in 4 years the Suns look poised to improve and have a leader in Igor who knows how to put his best players in positions to succeed. Coach Kokoškov has built an offense with screens at the top of the key, on the blocks and wheel motions allowing players like Josh Jackson to come down hill off hand-offs or screens and creating open shots for shooters like Trevor Ariza and Devin Booker with flares to the corner for threes. To put things in perspective the Suns have already eclipsed last years mark of three-pointers in a single game with 19. The Suns won’t win a championship any time soon, but they have an identity now that starts with Devin Booker controlling the keys to the offense and wings that can shoot and play defense.
Booker finished with 35 points and 7 assists, an impressive line for someone who had been limited in practice coming into the week. During the summer some argued that Devin Booker was a good stat on a bad team guy. Rationalizing that someone had to score on abysmal Suns teams; moreover, a 70-point outburst against the Celtics gave naysayers ammunition. His teammates were actively looking to get him points at the sacrifice of the Suns winning the game. The Suns haven’t been playing for much since Booker was drafted unless you count tanking for the lottery, with win totals hovering in the 20s: 2015-2016 23 wins, 2016-2017 24 wins and 2017-2018 21 wins. Things seem to be coming together for a Suns team: a new coach, a reliable center drafted with the number one pick and Devin Booker leading 3-point barrages.
Booker finding space for a three pointer off a pick from Ayton in Igors offense consistently worked.
Booker made 6/10 from the three-point line and finished 12/19 from the field. He didn’t force threes and consistently found the open shooter, highlighted by his passes to Ariza and Josh Jackson late in the fourth quarter. A lineup featuring Booker at the point, Jackson at the two, Ariza, Warren and Ayton has the length and ability to switch in any situation as all the players are over 6’6”. With shooters flanking his sides and devastating finishing ability of DeAndre Ayton, Devin Booker has room to create his own shot, dish it to Ayton on the block or find the open shooter. This newfound freedom highlights Bookers 3-point shooting and displayed his play-making prowess. If TJ Warren has truly found his 3-point stroke and Josh Jackson can consistently hit jumpers, Bookers ability to be a play-maker should burgeon during the season.
Bookers night was not flawless as his got into foul trouble in the third quarter; however, this break may have been the reason for his 4th quarter scoring. A consistent effort on defense will be paramount for Devin Booker continued progression. Starting Isiah Canaan worked well tonight, but ideally the Suns can add a bigger more defensive minded guard in the future to help augment Devin Booker’s defensive shortfalls. Keep in mind Devin Booker is doing all of this at the age of 21. For now we can enjoy the impressive shooting of Devin Booker.
One game into the NBA season makes it easy to scoff at Devin Booker’s performance against an undermanned and seemingly lackadaisical Mavericks team. But the Suns are above .500 for the first time since Nov. 23 2015.
Drake sported a Devin Booker high school jersey at a concert earlier this year. Drake is aboard the Devin Booker hype train and you should be too.