Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker takes the spotlight.
Context: The Suns are rolling. Led by Devin Booker, who carved the Philadelphia 76ers up to the tune of 35 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, the Suns won their seventh game in a row on Wednesday to keep their dreams of making the play-in tournament in the Western Conference alive.
Booker has been playing so well in Orlando - there's no doubt that he's in the running for the Player of the Seeding Games - that we almost take flirting with a 35-point triple-double in a must-win game for granted, but there is one particular part of his game that shouldn't be overlooked. As much attention as he's gotten for his scoring outbursts over the last couple of seasons, Booker has grown tremendously as a passer since entering the NBA, to the point where his passing is a legitimate strength.
There was one particular pass Booker made against the 76ers on Wednesday that was straight out of LeBron James' playbook.
Let's take a closer look at it, plus why it matters.
The play: Booker launches a crosscourt pass to Cameron Payne.
Breakdown: Looking to ice the game, Booker brings the ball up the court and takes some time off the clock before running a high pick-and-roll with Deandre Ayton.
Booker has been one of the league's best pick-and-roll scorers this season. According to NBA.com, he's generating around a quarter (27.3 percent) of his offence on those plays and ranks in the 70th percentile in scoring efficiency with 0.93 points per possession. He's a threat to score at all three levels with the ball in his hands. There are only 15 players who have made more pull-up 3s than him on the season, he's canned an incredible 46.2 percent of his 2-point pull-ups and he's finishing at a similar rate as San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan around the rim.
Being the elite pick-and-roll scorer that he is, the 76ers have Norvel Pelle hedge - not very well, but still - while Glenn Robinson III fights over Ayton's screen and tries to stay in front of Booker.
With Pelle and Robinson both out on the perimeter, Shake Milton helps off of Mikal Bridges at the top of the perimeter...
...while Matisse Thybulle helps off of Payne in the weakside corner to prevent Ayton from getting a wide open dunk on the roll.
You can almost see Booker making those reads in real time. He knows that Milton is close enough to Bridges that he could close out on him before he can get a clean shot off. He could pass it to Ayton on the roll, but Ayton is either going to shoot a contested shot over Thybulle in the paint or kick it out to Payne in the corner on the short roll, by which point the 76ers might be able to rotate quick enough to prevent Payne from getting a clean shot off as well.
Booker decides to cut out the middle man, making a two-handed crosscourt pass to Payne himself despite Robinson being draped all over him.
The pass is a little low, but Payne still has more than enough time to catch and shoot. He knocks down the shot to extend Phoenix's lead to 14 points, effectively ending the game.
Why it matters: Booker's development is nothing short of incredible.
Coming out of Kentucky, Booker was drawing comparisons to Klay Thompson and Danny Green. Nobody thought he was going to be the defender that Thompson and Green are, of course, but the expectation was that Booker was going to be primarily a shooter on offence, someone who can spot-up on the 3-point line and run off of screens.
Fast forward five years, and Booker has turned himself into one of the league's best playmakers. Not only can he create his own shot against pretty much anyone - did you see what he did to the LA Clippers? - he's transformed himself into a more than capable passer.
That transformation began last season. Since the Suns didn't really have a point guard on their roster, Booker took over the bulk of the point guard responsibilities. There were some growing pains along the way - mainly that his turnovers skyrocketed - but Booker showed that he had some James Harden in his game, someone he told me he studied during the offseason knowing he had to be more than a scorer.
Booker wasn't even making the highest level of reads yet, but he was making the right ones, reading the defence when it collapsed to find the open man, whether it was to Deandre Ayton rolling to the basket or Kelly Oubre Jr. spotting up on the 3-point line a couple of passes away from him. Simple as it may sound, it was a big deal for his development into the type of player the Suns can build a winning team around.
Now Booker is doing things like this, making split-second reads before launching the one pass the defence isn't expecting. Could the 76ers have defended the possession better? Absolutely. But Booker has been making those sorts of reads with much greater frequency all season long. If he gets double teamed, which happens often by virtue of him being one of the league's best scorers, you can pretty much expect him to make the defence pay with his passing at this point.
Not only does it raise Booker's ceiling, it raises Phoenix's. And if what we're seeing in the bubble is a sign of what's to come for Booker and the franchise, the Suns have a lot to be excited about moving forward even if they don't make the playoffs this season.
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