The Phoenix Suns should have felt great heading into All-Star Weekend. They had the best record in the NBA (by a good margin) and were cruising toward the playoffs. But Chris Paul’s untimely injury seemed to throw the squad for a loop and shake up the Western Conference. No matter: Devin Booker has ascended to “Point Book” status and is rightfully garnering NBA MVP consideration from Hall of Famers.
Booker has played his best basketball of the season with Paul sidelined. The Suns have opened an even bigger gap between themselves and the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, largely because of D-Book’s steadying influence. Detroit Pistons legend and NBA TV analyst Isiah Thomas has taken notice.
The 25-year-old won’t win the NBA MVP Award. Still, it’s abundantly clear (as Thomas understands) that he deserves more attention in that conversation.
Devin Booker has put up tremendous stats in Chris Paul’s absence
Booker was already having a fantastic season before the All-Star break. He made his third straight All-Star team and dominated in first quarters and clutch situations.
However, the Suns guard has taken it to another level with CP3 out of the rotation.
In 10 games since All-Star Weekend, Booker is averaging 28.2 points on a terrific 63.8% true shooting. He’s still dominating in the mid-range game but is also making 41.1% of his three-pointers on 7.3 attempts per contest.
Perhaps more importantly, Booker has taken on a more significant role as a playmaker. He’s averaging 7.0 assists in his last 10 games, well above his pre-All-Star split of 4.5 dimes per contest. Between the scoring and the playmaking, Booker has a 123 offensive rating and +13 net rating since All-Star Weekend.
These aren’t just empty stats, either. Booker is impacting winning.
The Suns continue to plunge on ahead. Phoenix is 10-4 since the break, improving to 58-14 and opening up a nine-game advantage over the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies. It will be a matter of days before they clinch home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.
The Suns needed someone to fill the void with Paul not at the point, and “Point Book” has saved the day. Not even a brief stint in health and safety protocols could slow him down.
Isiah Thomas wants the rest of the NBA community to give Booker his flowers.
Isiah Thomas makes Booker’s NBA MVP case
For much of the past several weeks, the MVP race has seemed to revolve around Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Isiah Thomas is throwing another hat in the ring.
Thomas stumped for Devin Booker as NBA MVP on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. He said, “best record leading scorer has always been part of the criteria,” alluding to the Suns’ success and Booker’s role in the winning.
Now, Booker hasn’t carried the slack alone.
Suns wing Mikal Bridges has taken a step forward in Chris Paul’s absence, bumping his scoring average to 17.4 points after the All-Star break. Deandre Ayton’s scoring has also increased in the past few weeks. A healthy Cameron Payne has helped matters, and Cam Johnson dominated immediately after the break, though he’s been sidelined with a quad injury for the past nine games.
Still, while replacing Paul has been a collective effort, it’s hard to point to anyone but Booker as the driving force behind Phoenix’s sustained success. At the very least, he deserves some recognition, even if he thinks the “criteria” for MVP changes.
Booker had an intriguing response to Thomas, but narrative now works in his favor
Although Devin Booker is grateful for Isiah Thomas’ support, he understands he won’t win the NBA MVP Award.
Booker quote-tweeted Thomas on Tuesday evening and concocted an interesting response. According to D-Book, the “criteria” for the award changes depending on the players up for discussion. He seemed to take a subtle shot at the media in the process.
But here’s the thing: Booker’s narrative case is growing ever stronger.
Before Chris Paul went down, plenty of talking heads probably had him above Booker in their MVP rankings. Since CP3 came to Phoenix, he’s only gathered more respect as a winning player who makes everyone around him better. However, Booker can say the same.
Remember, the Suns went undefeated in the NBA “bubble” in 2020. They’ve more than held their own with Paul in street clothes, as Booker has been more prolific and impactful as a scorer and passer despite actually having a lower usage rate than he had before the All-Star break.
Again, Booker won’t win NBA MVP. In an era of analytics and versatile athletes, he doesn’t quite stand out like Jokic, Embiid, or Giannis, who constantly seem to be battling for the title of league’s best player.
Still, as Thomas rightfully pointed out, Booker is putting up terrific numbers for the NBA’s best team, more so since Paul went down. He even has the highest defensive box plus-minus of his career. That has to count for something.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.