Just turned 24 years old, Devin Booker appears ready to propel the Phoenix Suns back into the playoffs.
The 13th overall pick from the 2015 NBA Draft has poured in 7683 points across his 342 appearances in the league....yet none of them have come in the playoffs.
Perhaps unfairly, Booker was lumped into the face of the franchise position in Phoenix from his second season in the league, where at 20 years old he averaged 22.1 points and 3.4 assists per game. As is often the case with young stars in the modern era, the expectation of winning far outweighs individual performance, regardless of the situation.
Along with the ever revolving door of teammates during his short career, Booker has also played under five different head coaches - Jeff Hornacek, Earl Watson, Jay Triano, Igor Kokoskov and now Monty Williams.
Instability on and off the court has led Phoenix to a combined 121-280 record since the Kentucky product was drafted, but it's the team's performance in the bubble that brings genuine optimism that the Suns' 10-season playoff drought could soon come to an end.
The transofrmation from electric scorer on a poor team to true superstar leading a playoff contender is a monumental step to make, but Booker's bubble play suggests he may be ready to make that leap.
Buoyed by his first All-Star appearance in Chicago in February, Booker went to work during the season hiatus, taking his game to new heights during the Suns' unlikely 8-0 seeding game burst.
Averaging 30.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game in the bubble, Booker narrowly missed out on the newly created 'bubble MVP' award, won by the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard.
Dropping 35 points on four seperate occassions during the stretch, Booker's marquee moment came in a matchup against Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers.
Scoring eight points over the final 5:03 of the game, he delivered one of the iconic moments of the season return, dribbling left, beating Leonard on the shot fake before rising up and draining the game winner at the buzzer over Paul George - the image of Booker laying flat on his back while his teammates surround him is one that will forever be associated with the historic return of the league in 2020.
DEVIN BOOKER! GAME-WINNER! 😱 pic.twitter.com/vUvwABgyE5- NBA TV (@NBATV) August 4, 2020
Just days later, Booker once again delivered late, first drilling a jump shot and then a lay-up in the final minute to help lift the Suns to a 7-point win over eventual NBA finalists the Miami Heat. It wasn't simply the fact that Booker was putting up big numbers --we know he can do that-- it was that his monster performances were leading to meaningful wins against meaningful opposition.
Seven of the eight straight wins were against playoff opposition, four of them coming against Western Conference rivals - The streak was the longest for the franchise since 2010 when Booker was just 14 years old and Steve Nash was running the show.
BOOKER IN CLUTCH TIME (2019-20 SEASON)
|In the bubble||4.3||71.4%|
According to NBA.com clutch time is defined as the final five minutes of regulation or OT where the margin is five points or less - otherwise known as superstar time. The numbers don't lie, Booker played to a superstar level in the bubble.
With Monty Williams at the helm, Booker finally has some stability on the sidelines, while rising big man and former No.1 overall pick Deandre Ayton continues to emerge as a genuine second star.
The bubble ultimately didn't end the way Phoenix fans wanted it to, but Booker's performance was was truly special, proving once again that winning takes time. Contracted until the end of the 2023-24 season and years from his athletic prime, the best is yet to come for Booker.
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