When the Suns fell to the Bucks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2021, superstar guard Devin Booker stuck around for an additional second to soak up Milwaukee’s celebration on its home floor.
“Rattling,” you can see him say as his team got here so near achieving the final word goal of winning an NBA championship in his first-career playoff run.
The Suns used their shortcomings as fuel last season, churning out 64 wins to say one of the best record within the league — probably the most wins in a season for the reason that 2017-18 Rockets (65). Phoenix entered the postseason as title favorites, but its final result was as embarrassing as we have seen in NBA history. The Suns were obliterated by the Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, losing by 33 points to get sent home early.
How do you reply to an end result like that?
For somebody like Booker, it’s not possible to take winning without any consideration. The Suns didn’t win greater than 25 games in the primary 4 seasons of his profession and it wasn’t all that way back when his team didn’t even crack the 20-win mark in 2018-19.
Booker had seen individual success — he averaged a then career-high 26.6 points and 6.8 assists per game throughout the Suns’ 19-win season — but he was beginning to be labeled as someone whose production didn’t translate to team success.
That became subjectively false once he was joined by future Hall of Famer Chris Paul within the backcourt, helping lead the Suns to a second and first-place finish within the West, respectively, of their first two seasons together.
This season, he has made that sentiment objectively false, navigating the Suns through a variety of injuries to emerge because the undeniable MVP candidate in Phoenix.
Devin Booker’s MVP emergence
Before the season tipped off, reports surfaced that veteran forward Jae Crowder — who had began in 109 of 127 regular season games played with the Suns over two years — wouldn’t join the team until the 2 sides worked out a trade for the 32-year-old.
2022 Sixth Man of the Yr candidate Cam Johnson was set to fill his spot within the starting lineup but eight games into the season, the previous lottery pick suffered a torn right meniscus that required surgery, keeping him out for as much as two months.
Two games later, star guard Paul — who had already been struggling early within the season, averaging a career-low 9.5 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting from the sphere — went down with a heel injury, keeping him out since Nov. 9.
Even down three key rotation players, the Suns still own one of the best record within the Western Conference at 16-8 over one quarter into the season.
To offer credit to the team as an entire, Deandre Ayton has played like a franchise cornerstone, Mikal Bridges has continued to be a two-way iron man, Cameron Payne has stepped as much as fill Paul’s shoes and Torrey Craig has plugged the void of each Johnson and Crowder — but Booker has been the catalyst and heartbeat leading the charge.
The 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 28.4 points with a 59.9 true shooting percentage — the second-best mark of his profession. He has also taken on more playmaking responsibility with Paul out, averaging 5.9 assists per game, his most for the reason that 12-time All-Star joined the Suns.
Booker has been an offensive maestro this season, scorching teams from all three levels of the ground with smooth footwork, fluidity and patience that will make his idol, the good Kobe Bryant, proud.
In actual fact, whenever you stack up Booker’s numbers to date this season to Kobe’s MVP yr in 2007-08, there are some clear similarities.
|Devin Booker, 2022-23||10.2-20.8||48.8||2.4||39.0||87.2||4.9||5.9||1.0||28.4|
|Kobe Bryant, 2007-08||9.5-20.6||45.9||1.8||36.1||84.0||6.3||5.3||1.8||28.3|
In 2007-08, Bryant led the Lakers to the No. 1 seed within the Western Conference with a 57-25 record. At this current pace, Booker has the Suns on pace to win roughly 55 games, but there is no such thing as a doubt that the eventual return of Paul and Johnson could put Phoenix on target to exceed that projection and reclaim the No. 1 seed.
Bryant’s MVP season got here on the heels of back-to-back scoring titles and while Booker hasn’t completed that feat yet, he has averaged over 25 points per game for five consecutive seasons, really hitting his stride as a bucket-getter.
He’s been more efficient to date this season than Bryant was during his MVP yr, and his big scoring nights have been as loud as Kobe’s so far.
During Bryant’s MVP season, he had 29 (!) 30-point games, five 40-point games and two 50-point games.
Through the primary 24 games of the 2022-23 season, Booker has five 30-point games, three 40-point games and one 50-point game — one of the crucial efficient 50-point outings in NBA history, reaching that mark on just 25 shots in three quarters of play.
Once you watch those highlights, it’s not possible not to think about Kobe on a few of Booker’s silky midrange jumpers as he rises up excessive of defenders and releases a shot that touches nothing but the online because it falls.
“Be Legendary” was the message that Bryant wrote to Booker on his Kobe 11s after their one and only meeting as opponents within the NBA. It is a message that Booker still wears like a badge of honor to today, with the phrase tattooed on his forearm and written on every pair of Kobes he wears during games.
Through the primary quarter of the season, Booker has been legendary. He’s been Kobe Bryant-esque as he has carried the Suns, cementing himself within the MVP conversation moving forward this season.