After dropping a season-high 51 points in three-quarters in a win over the Chicago Bulls, Devin Booker seems to be finally starting to get some real MVP buzz.
Since falling in anticlimactic fashion to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in last season’s Western Conference semifinals, it has been hard for many to put much stock in regular season success for the Phoenix Suns.
This is the same team that won 51 games in the regular season before representing the West in the NBA Finals two seasons ago. Then followed it up by winning a league-best 64 games last season.
But unlike past seasons, Phoenix has not been so lucky regarding injury luck and depth availability.
All-Star floor general Chris Paul has missed 14 games due to a sore right heel. Young forward Cam Johnson is expected to miss 1-2 months with a torn meniscus in his right knee that he suffered in early November against the Trailblazers. And veteran wing Jae Crowder has not played a single game with the team as he continues to hold out until he is traded.
Yet here they are, sitting atop the Western Conference at 16-8, and that has a lot to do with the displays of offensive dominance by All-Star guard Devin Booker. But the narrative alone does not fully contextualize how impactful Booker has been this season. So, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Devin Booker has always been viewed as a full-arsenal scoring threat, but this season he has taken his offensive game to another level. He is averaging the 7th most points per game with 29.1, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists, which ranks in the top 25 of the league (22nd). But more importantly, he is doing so with elite-level efficiency.
He is nearing the 50-40-90 club, shooting 48.8% from the floor, 37.8% from the three, and 87.8% from the free throw line.
The crazy part is that Booker isn’t necessarily doing this simply by having more opportunity on the ball with Chris Paul out.
According to StatMuse.com, he has a usage rate of 31.5, which would rank as the 5th highest percentage in his eight seasons in the league. Even his shooting volume has stayed relatively stagnant. He is taking a career-high 21.2 field goal attempts per game, but that is only a slight jump from his 20.9 last season.
He has been in the zone, and more than anything, he is getting to his spots with ease. But without a doubt, his favorite place on the court has to be the midrange area.
They call Chicago Bulls All-Star forward Demar DeRozan the Mid-Range God, and Kevin Durant is also considered amongst the best mid-range shooters in the game. Looking at the numbers, it seems they have a little more company at the top, with Devin Booker starting to enter that elite class.
Booker has been killing in the midrange area as he ranks 7th amongst players taking two or more shots a game from 10-14 feet as he takes 3.0 attempts per game and shooting 52.9% in that area.
For context, amongst the other players in the top 10 shooting from this range, Booker has the 3rd highest efficiency behind only Kevin Durant (57.9% on a league-high 4.8 attempts) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (56.5% on the 2nd most attempts at 4.4).
That means he is above guys like Demar DeRozan (49.4%) and Joel Embiid (44.1%).
But then when even when you up the distance, Booker remains in high company. From 15-19 feet, Booker is tied with Dejounte Murray for the 4th most attempts from this range with 3.5 per game. In those attempts, he is shooting 50.0% on the dot. That’s tied for the 2nd with Joel Embiid for best efficiency amongst those in the top 5.
So, no matter how you slice it when it comes to difficult shot-making from within the arc, Devin Booker has been amongst the best in the league.
But to go even deeper into the numbers, let’s look at the context around the team itself.
The Phoenix Suns have the 7th highest-scoring offense in the league (116.7) with the 2nd best offensive rating (117.5) behind only the Boston Celtics (120.1). This is without another real self-shot creator available on the roster and their second-leading scorer, Deandre Ayton, who averages 17.0 points along with 9.7 rebounds a game.
And while most people will say, “Well when Chris Paul gets back, things will slow down for Booker,” that actually could not be further from the truth.
In the ten games Paul was healthy, he was practically a shell of himself from an offensive production standpoint. Paul is an elite distributor, so he still was casually averaging 9.4 assists a game, but in terms of scoring the ball, he had fallen off of a cliff.
He was averaging 9.5 points per game which is easily the worst of his career while shooting 36.8% from the floor, 27.3% from three, and even 44.3% from two-point range. All of these are career lows.
More so than the shooting splits being bad, it was the passiveness of Paul in terms of even attempting shots. Paul drastically shot down to only 7.6 field goal attempts per game and two-point attempts were chopped nearly in half, going from 8.3 to 4.3 this season.
But the most telling of all is Paul’s decline in usage percentage. Many were worried that we saw a slight decline in Paul last season as he dropped to under 20% usage last season (19.7%). Under 20% is considered underwhelming in terms of usage amongst All-Star caliber players, especially at the guard position.
But this season, the fall from grace only continued. In ten games on the floor, Paul had dropped down to 14.9% usage. This was easily the worst of his career and almost 7% lower than his usage in his rookie season with the New Orleans Hornets (22.2%).
In short, Chris Paul is not changing much for Booker when he gets back. He may generate a few better shots here and there for him. But in terms of shouldering the offensive load, Booker has and will need to continue being this good offensively to carry the Phoenix Suns into the postseason.
Like other high-profile guards like Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who are tasked with carrying their teams’ offenses, Booker is right there in the mix with those guys.
According to NBA.com, their Kia MVP Ladder has him ranked 5th this week after being 7th the week prior. It may be hard to surpass guys like Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and even Nikola Jokic for that top spot, but it’s hard to overlook what Booker is doing for the Suns with three quality starters from an NBA Finals core sidelined for the majority of the season thus far.
One thing is for sure, D-Book is a bonafide superstar and the entire league better start to take notice.
Hi there! My name is Jalon Dixon, but most people just call me Jay. As an aspiring, young sports writer and podcaster, I enjoy discussing sports (mainly basketball and football) and sharing my knowledge with others. Growing up right in the middle of Towson University, Morgan State, Goucher College and others, I have gotten the chance to learn so much about a handful of the different athletic teams that thrive here in Baltimore. I want to be the voice of local fans and teams that may not get the same spotlight as others, but still play a big part in our everyday lives. My motto is “Always Embrace Conversation,” so if you ever want to give me feedback on a piece or even just have a friendly sports debate, feel free to email me! Hope you enjoy my work and maybe even learn something along the way.