Phoenix haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. In each of the last four seasons, they have won fewer than 30% of their NBA games. High draft picks have struck out, the head coach has changed multiple times. The organisation has made news off the court far more frequently than on it in recent years.
Much of the Suns’ hope is centred around Booker, and to a lesser extent, 2018 first overall pick Deandre Ayton.
Booker signed the maximum rookie scale extension in July 2018, which sees him paid over $27 million in the 2019/20 NBA campaign. Booker has a 70-point game to his name, and has averaged over 20 points per game in each of the last three seasons, but he’s yet to be named an All-Star.
Playing on terrible Suns teams, Booker has been a divisive figure at times. There’s an argument that a player of his calibre should be able to elevate the team, but the dysfunction in Phoenix is an easy counter-point.
His scoring isn’t in question, though the rest of his game hasn’t flourished in the way many hoped amid point-guard-less Suns teams and changing systems. Often needed to be the primary playmaker, Booker’s decision making hasn’t always been great. The 6.8 assists per game last season could be seen as a leap forward, but that came with 4.1 turnovers.
The 2019/20 season should be different in Arizona. While draft decisions were critiqued – and it remains to be seen if Phoenix nailed it – they have notably strengthened their starting five with Dario Saric and Ricky Rubio.
Both will be key, though it’s Rubio that could unlock Booker’s potential. The former Utah Jazz point guard will take control of the offence. Booker will still come under pressure – as teams won’t respect Rubio’s shooting – but he finally has a backcourt mate that makes his life easier.
Saric can shoot from deep, is a force on the boards, and can take some of the workload off of Ayton. The arrival of Aron Baynes should help Ayton, too.
The Suns’ plans revolve around Booker and Ayton, who could develop into one of the top pick and roll pairings in the NBA. Reaching the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference is very unlikely for Phoenix, but this is the best situation Booker has been in to take his game to the next level.
It isn’t perfect, and there will be challenges along the way, but that’s the life of a star player in the NBA.
If Booker is to reach his All-NBA potential, he needs to first push himself into the All-Star conversation, regardless of the guard depth in the West.
He will be the focus of the opponent’s plans – he needs to find a way to thrive despite that, and bring the best out of his teammates in the process. That’s what the best players in the NBA do.