Why Devin Booker’s Evolution Will Lead Suns to NBA Title


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Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker is looking to get even this season after a heartbreaking loss in the 2021 NBA Finals. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Derek McLeod, Contributor

Fresh off their 2021 NBA Finals loss against the Milwaukee Bucks, TV cameras captured Suns star Devin Booker untucking his jersey as green and white confetti dropped from the ceiling to celebrate the Bucks’ first NBA Championship in 50 years. Booker was only able to mutter “damn” to himself while consoling his teammates, who also had to grasp that their Cinderella season had fallen just short of the ultimate goal. 

Booker’s reaction to losing the Finals last year was more than dismay, the end of a strong run that fell short of the ultimate prize. Fans may look back at that moment as the genesis of a new Booker, a version of the super scorer that contributes defensively and rallies the troops as a pivotal voice in Phoenix’s organization. A brutal loss in the post-season has historically marked the beginning of some legendary runs, especially in the NBA.

Look no further than the late, great Kobe Bryant, a loser in the 2008 Finals against the longtime rival Boston Celtics. The loss fueled Bryant in the next phase of his evolution, propelling both him and the Lakers to capture the NBA Championship in back-to-back seasons following the defeat, which included avenging the 2008 Finals by taking down the same Celtics team two years later in the iconic 2010 Finals.

Michael Jordan, who took a year and a half hiatus from the NBA, returned to the Bulls in 1995, losing to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That loss fueled the Bulls team to three-peat in the following years, solidifying Jordan’s legacy as the “greatest ever.” Given Booker’s similarities to Jordan and Kobe, can Book become the catalyst for this next NBA era? 

It may be far-fetched to place that burden on the 25-year-old Booker, but his approach to the game reflects that of Bryant and Jordan. A methodical threat on the offensive end, his play, at times, draws comparisons to the two legends as they engulfed themselves in the art of the sport. Booker’s incredible attention to detail and his well-known admiration for Bryant indicate that his time at the top is coming sooner rather than later. To be up there next to the all-time greats, an NBA championship does plenty to keep Booker on his inevitable trajectory to the top. Thankfully, Booker has arguably the best core of talent and synergy on any roster to match his fiery intensity. 

Fast forward nearly nine months later, and you’ll find a new edge to this Phoenix Suns squad. Hungry, determined, intelligent, quick-witted, physical. These traits carried Phoenix to a Western Conference crown just last year, but there is a different kind of swagger to the 2021- 22 Suns. With the legendary Chris Paul out for two months during a crucial stretch of the season, it became apparent that any other outcome besides an NBA Championship is not acceptable for this year’s juggernauts. Going 11-4 in games without the “Point God,” the Suns rallied behind the budding leadership of Devin Booker, a young superstar poised to etch his name in immortality. During the stretch without Paul, Booker placed the team on his shoulders, averaging 28.2 PPG, 7.0 ASG, and 52.1% from the field to go along with 40.3% from 3, all rising numbers compared to his season totals with CP3 on the court. 

Booker’s influence can be spotted on Phoenix’s roster, including several young, athletic players who buy-in on the defensive end and veterans who guide the young stars mentally throughout the season. Already the Suns’ number 1 option offensively, Booker shouldered the burden of keeping the ball moving offensively, something Chris Paul has made look easy during his almost 20-year NBA career. The Suns easily could have faltered, but Booker’s step-up in play resulted in a significant morale boost for the rest of the squad who stepped up to fill Paul’s shoes. Booker will be the first to ensure that his teammates are credited for that resilient mid-season run, as Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton, and role players like Cam Payne, Landry Shamet, and Cameron Johnson have all been critical elements to Phoenix’s 60+ win regular season. But without Booker, Monty Williams’ Suns lack the offensive firepower and leadership that he provides the team, regardless of how great the Sun’s core has been throughout the season. 

The Phoenix Suns enter the 2022 NBA Playoffs as the #1 seed in the West and the favorite to win it all. Suppose the Suns are as good as they’ve been all season long. In that case, the potential challenges posed by Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors and Ja Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies in the western conference will be minimal, as nobody can match the unrelenting efficiency of this Suns team. Although they’ve dominated all season, none of that will matter until they return to the big stage and capture the franchise’s first NBA championship. Booker, CP3, and Williams lead a hungry and motivated squad back into the fire. They have the talent and pivotal experience to break through and win it all, and the Suns will go as far as D-Book takes them.

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d suggest you look for Devin Booker to immortalize himself this postseason and begin his ascent towards the Jordans and the Kobe of the basketball universe.