I don’t want to alarm you, but you should begin to prepare for a world where the Phoenix Suns are NBA champions. It’s the only logical conclusion one could come to after one of the league’s sorriest franchises beat the Clippers on Saturday, 130-122, without their starting center (Deandre Ayton) or point guard (Ricky Rubio), and on the second night of a back-to-back where the previous evening’s game went into overtime. Los Angeles, meanwhile, had an extra day of rest, arguably the best player in the league, and a stellar supporting cast that has beaten LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Steph Curry. Yet even with those advantages, the Clippers were unable to deal with a team led by an extremely motivated Devin Booker—along with some help from Dario Saric and, uhh, Frank Kaminsky.
Though Booker has been this team’s best player for some time now, his career accomplishments aren’t exactly filled with noteworthy milestones. The best thing that could really only be said about him to this point is that he’s a shoot-first combo guard who once scored 70 points in a double-digit loss to the Celtics. You could almost be forgiven for thinking even less of him after this past summer when video surfaced of the 22-year-old being a bit of a narc in a pickup game.
But so far in this early season, he’s looked a lot different. Booker’s shown far more promise and capability to lead his team through a loaded Western Conference than ever before. As his highlight tape from Saturday shows, he’s not only still very much able to take over and be the leading scorer, but he’s also doing more to find open teammates around the court so that he can force fewer shots. If this playing style keeps up, Booker will surely set a career-high in single-season assists—he’s averaging 8.3 per game through three games.
For this game in particular, his best attribute was the confidence he had to get right in the face of Patrick Beverley, in a way that didn’t end up harming his team (i.e. getting ejected). Though this battle did put Booker in foul trouble, he eventually had the last laugh when he forced the feisty Los Angeles guard to foul out with just over six minutes left in the game. As Beverley left the court, the Suns bench gave him a nice wave goodbye.
This isn’t anywhere close to how Booker would have handled things in previous seasons. Whenever things didn’t go his way, he used to almost make it his mission to find some way to leave the game, whether by ejection, or by playing so poorly that his coach had no choice but to yank him from the game. Now, he’s responding in a way that humbles loudmouth players like Beverley.
Booker’s new approach to the game has been rather infectious for the rest of his team. Players that were relegated to bench roles on other teams have found new life in Phoenix in more demanding roles. Dario Saric finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Aron Baynes had 14 and eight boards with two blocks, Kelly Oubre Jr. had 20 and five rebounds with three steals, and even Frank Kaminsky balled out from the bench with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Again, these numbers came against the freakin’ Clippers! You know, that team that many have as serious title contenders? Seems pretty good, in my opinion.