Phoenix Suns

Workout Plan: The Phoenix Suns need Devin Booker to become a better defender


The Summer Workout Plan is a weekly series breaking down what certain players can do to take their game to another level this season. We've already looked at OG Anunoby, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

This week, we're putting Devin Booker's game under a microscope.

At the age of 22, Devin Booker already has one side of the floor mostly figured out.

It's the other side that is still very much a work in progress.

Since the Phoenix Suns selected him with the No. 13 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Booker has checked out as one of the worst defenders in the league by ESPN's Defensive Real-Plus Minus, a metric that estimates a player's impact on their team's defensive performance while they are on the court.

As a result, the Suns have been a better defensive unit with Booker on the bench in each of his three seasons with the franchise. It was particularly bad last season, with Phoenix giving up a whopping 111.6 points per 100 possession when Booker was in the lineup compared to 109.6 points per 100 possessions when he wasn't.

Devin Booker's defence hasn't been great in the NBA
Season Defensive Real-Plus Minus Rank Among Shooting Guards Rank Among All Players
2015-16 -3.87 62 out of 63 419 out of 423
2016-17 -2.58 74 out of 79 451 out of 468
2017-18 -2.44 100 out of 110 502 out of 521

While the team's shortcomings on defence aren't entirely Booker's fault - the Suns had the youngest roster in the NBA last season and the front office hasn't surrounded him by many defensive-minded players through the years - his intensity is often lacking.

Take the following stretch from the first quarter of a game against Utah in the second half of last season as an example. In the 10 field goals the Jazz made between the opening tip and Booker taking his first breather on the bench, he was directly involved in them getting five high-quality looks, starting with a layup from Donovan Mitchell and ending with a wide open 3-point from ... Donovan Mitchell.

It propelled the Jazz to an early 24-8 lead. Utah never looked back, winning by a final score of 129-97.

Defence was seen as Booker's greatest weakness coming into the NBA, so nobody is expecting him to develop into an elite defender. The Suns just need him to become passable - an achievable goal for someone his size with his athleticism - to the point where he's not one of the worst defenders in the entire league.

It would make his contributions on offence far more meaningful, too. With an average of 24.9 points and 4.7 assists per game, it's no surprise that Phoenix was a better offensive team with Booker on the court in 2017-18. Their net rating (the difference between a team's offensive and defensive rating) improved by 0.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, however, because of how much of a negative he was on defence.

That's not a great sign for someone the Suns signed to a $158 million extension this offseason, but effort will go a long way in closing that gap this season and beyond.

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