Devin Booker has scored 109 total points in his last two games. Let that sink in. The 22-year-old guard became just the seventh player since the NBA-ABA merger to score 50-plus points in back-to-back games, joining a list that includes James Harden, Michael Jordan, and Allen Iverson. He shot over 60 percent from the field in those two games: 19 of 34 in his 59-point outburst on Monday, and 19 of 29 in his 50-point performance on Wednesday.
In spite of it all, the Suns still lost both of those games, narrowly falling to the Wizards on Wednesday, 124-121, after getting spanked in Utah by the Jazz on Monday by a score of 125-92. Booker may be pouring in the points right now, but it’s not doing much to help the Suns actually win games—which, perversely, is exactly as the team likes it.
Booker’s eye-popping scoring stats don’t tell the full story, and you have to dig a little deeper to notice. For instance: While he scored 59 of his team’s 92 points on Monday, he also posted a plus-minus of -13. (I love that the FreeDawkins video points out that Booker was cheered by the Jazz fans in attendance right there in the title. It’s easy to be “classy” on the winning side of a blowout rather than, say, when in a dogfight with Russell Westbrook.)
At least that loss came on the road, against a playoff team in the mighty Western Conference. Wednesday’s L might’ve been even more deflating, as it came at the hands of the 11th-place team in the weak-as-hell Eastern Conference, against the injury-crippled, hopelessly incompetent Wizards. If you’re going to have a player go off for 50 points against a team like that, you better be winning that game.
Booker repeatedly got to the rim against a Wizards defense that ranks 29th in defending the paint. (The only team worse in the league at paint defense? You guessed it: the Phoenix Suns.) He wasn’t as hot from deep as on Monday (3-for-9 compared to 5-for-8 two days before), but it didn’t matter when he could blow by his man on practically every drive, particularly when going at the forever-overmatched Jeff Green.
I mean, look at this tidy shot chart:
Unfortunately, Phoenix could not contain Bradley Beal and Jabari Parker on the other side of the floor, as each scored 28 points, and three other Wizards scored 16 or more against the Suns’ 29th-ranked defense. Thomas Bryant was one of those players, finishing with 18 points, including Washington’s last six on a three-pointer and an and-1 alley-oop to drive the nail into Phoenix’s coffin.
Booker didn’t sound too beaten up about Wednesday’s loss, and why should he? It’s not like anyone in charge in Phoenix is all that invested in padding the record with a couple late-season wins. In fact, the front office will probably be delighted with their young star going off because they still lost both games. While the new NBA Draft lottery rules have disincentivized tanking somewhat—the teams with the three worst records share the same odds at getting the number one pick—it still pays to be in that group of three, which is where the Suns currently sit alongside the Knicks and Cavaliers.
As we’ve seen in the NCAA Tournament so far, Zion Williamson is the real deal. Hurting your odds of landing him by even a single percentage point would be a massive failure for one of the league’s worst teams. Despite doing his best to singlehandedly beat a checked-out Wizards team and a surging Jazz playoff squad, Booker’s points explosions serve the good of the team precisely because they didn’t lead to wins.
Part of it is that Booker’s game has never been much more than points. He’s one of the worst defenders in the league at his position, his play-making isn’t all that great, and while he’s tall and springy, his rebounding instincts are wanting. It’s how he can score 59 points in a game while racking up a net rating of -13.9 (somehow worse than his season-long net rating of -6.9), and it’s why Phoenix would be thrilled to relegate him to third wheel behind Zion and last year’s number one overall pick, Deandre Ayton. The Suns would be more than happy to watch Booker stand around on defense and chuck a few dozen shots up on the other end like this for the remainder of the season, just as long as when the final buzzer sounds, the team is right where everyone wants them to be: on the losing side.