Can the Phoenix Suns build a contending team around Devin Booker?

Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune

On April 11 2018, Devin Armani Booker, 13th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft to the Phoenix suns, told media “I’m done with not making the playoffs”.

Almost a year later, we can now see how that statement was an ice-cold take on the sports world. However, it’s not like many people actually believed that the Phoenix Suns could reach the top 8 in the Western Conference – the same team that went 21-61 (the worst record in the NBA) in the previous season. No one would would be surprised to see Booker’s Sun’s be the first team to get eliminated from playoff contention for this season. Why is that?

The Phoenix Suns last made the NBA Playoffs during the 2009-2010 NBA season, lead by a deadly duo of Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash. Since then, the Suns franchise has achieved an abysmal win/loss record of 270-444. Simply put, the Phoenix Suns aren’t actually that good.

Let’s review each first round pick that Phoenix has selected since drafting their franchise player in Devin Booker;

YearPickPlayer Name
20164Dragan Bender
201613Georgios Papagiannis
201628Skal Labissiere
20174Josh Jackson
20181Deandre Ayton
201816Zhaire Smith*

*Zhaire Smith was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, alongside an unprotected 2021st Miami unprotected first round pick in exchange for 10th pick Mikal Bridges

Looking at this list, the only name that stands out to the regular fan is Deandre Ayton, a stat-stuffing beast, averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 rebounds to close out his rookie campaign.

Dragan Bender, Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere are either on the end of their rotation, or not on an NBA roster (Georgios). Dragan Bender, despite being a “project” for the Suns franchise has been nothing short of disappointing, not showing any signs of life on either the offensive or defensive end in the current NBA. The Suns playstyle no longer needs a prototype four out on the wing, hence why he hasn’t developed his game at all since being drafted. He’s currently riding the bench, with numerous rumours sprouting of the Suns waiving Dragan in the near future.

Another one of Phoenix’s draft picks that have stayed with the team, Josh Jackson has been utilised wrong by head coach Igor Kokoskov for the past two seasons. For the most part of his career, Jackson has been stuffed into the point guard position to fill the void they desperately need to cover, and it’s showing all of his weaknesses. Jackson is not a reliable playmaker or ballhandler, often showing signs of struggle on offense relating to the stat sheet as turnovers and missed shots. Trade rumours have shot up about Jackson during his two year career, but nothing has been decided upon. For now, it looks like Josh Jackson will be another piece in this rotating roster.

Looking at these two notable selections (4th overall picks), we can see the coaching staff are to blame for their current draft pick woes. Besides Devin Booker, and arguably Deandre Ayton, no player drafted by the Suns since Booker is currently making an impact on the team.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We can’t blame the talent on the roster, as currently there are 4 players on the current Suns roster that are averaging at 15ppg+ (Booker, Ayton, Warren, Oubre), but we can blame the fact that the franchise has been unable to provide Booker with a point guard that suits his style of play, and that the coaching staff has been unable to work its way around a PG-less team. Without a true ball handler, Booker has been tasked with carrying and distributing the ball along the court, jumping from 4.7 assists per game to 6.7 assists per game on the season. With the recent acquisition of Tyler Johnson, his playmaking role has been reduced, but he’s still given this responsibility more than he needs to be.

Last night, Booker dropped a season high 59 (scoring 64% of the teams points), breaking many milestones along with this record. Two notable ones (in relation to this article) are listed below:

  • The first NBA player to score more than 50 in a game but lose by 30 points or more
  • The third NBA player to score 50 in a game but have no teammates score above 10 points

Devin Booker needs some star power alongside him to take away the pressure he’s been put under in terms of offense, but the Phoenix Suns franchise has been unable to provide a long term solution. Time will tell if Deandre Ayton can be the Shaq to Booker’s Kobe, or if these stats are meaningless as they account to losses. Meanwhile, the only hope for the Phoenix Suns to build a contender around Devin Booker is in the 2019 NBA Draft.

No, it isn’t ESPN’s saviour Zion Williamson, it’s the 6’2″ point guard from Murray State in Ja Morant.

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Ja Morant has already been linked to the Suns franchise, with Suns owner himself Robert Sarver visiting one of Ja’s games during the OVC tournament semifinal. This shows that Phoenix may potentially use its top 7(this could change) pick to draft the generational point guard. Ja Morant can fix the problems with this Phoenix team, and bring his own style of play into it.

Morant currently averages 24.5ppg, 5.7reb and 10ast for Murray State, showing hopeful Suns fans his playmaking as well as scoring abilities. Let’s not forget that Ja has an amazing offensive skillset that allows him to break the ankles of every opponent on the floor then run to the rim for a gravity-defying dunk. If the stats and the highlights don’t sell Ja enough, then I don’t know what will.

In the end, Phoenix will still have a long way to go if they want to rebuild their franchise into a powerhouse. Sure, adding Ja, Zion or any other prospect would severely increase the likelihood of achieving a powerhouse sooner, but their big problem is managing their roster and developing their players.

What do you think? Do you think the Phoenix suns are able to become Western Conference contenders while still keeping Devin Booker on the roster? Let us know in the comments below.

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