To say that the playoffs have been out of reach for the Phoenix Suns in recent years would be generous. However, this year they have a crucial opportunity to show just how dangerous a team they could become. Prompted by the questions below, Jonah Stott, Matthew Wellington and Huw Hopkins share their thoughts on the Suns playoff hopes.
Will Devin Booker ever be good enough to lead to the Phoenix Suns to the playoffs?
Jonah Stott: I think the next few weeks are an opportunity for the Phoenix Suns to show Devin Booker that they are worth his future, as much as he is worth theirs. His scoring has been impressive for years, increasing annually with 22.1, 24.9 and 26.6 points per game over the last three seasons.
These upcoming eight games will be his first tangible chance to showcase himself as a noteworthy leader, and to attract other players for the future.
Huw Hopkins: For Booker’s early scoring prowess, many look for comparisons. You didn’t see Kobe Bryant succeed until a few seasons into his career. Other elite scorers like Tracy McGrady never figured out how to score and win. Will he just be a good-stats-bad-team guy? At this stage I reckon so, but the eight remaining regular season games, when the Suns will try to shine and book a place in the play-in tournament, will tell us a lot.
Matthew Wellington: Yes. I would even go as far as rephrasing the question to: With just enough help, Devin Booker is ready to carry the Suns to the playoffs.
If I’ve learned anything about Devin Booker since he joined the league in 2015, it is this – he is more often than not, the best player on the court. At just 23 years of age Booker has dozens of standout games on his resume and I’m not just talking about that time back in 2017 when he dropped 70 points in a loss to the Boston Celtics. We saw it earlier this season against the 76ers, where Booker matched up against a five-time All-Star in Al Horford, an elite young player in Ben Simmons and a reliable two-way threat in Tobias Harris. Anyone who watched that game had the same conclusion, Booker was best player on the court. And it wasn’t even close.
His combination of physicality, lateral quickness and basketball IQ often allows him to dominate offensively on the court, regularly exploding for high figure double-digit totals. He isn’t too bad on the defensive end either, where he blends in with the Suns aggressive rotations, using his size to muscle opponents whilst keeping hands active.
I would expect to see a fired-up Booker in these upcoming games, where in a win or go home scenario, perhaps having the best player on the court will count for something.
What can Phoenix do to help?
Hopkins: Believe it or not, the likes of veteran pieces such as Ricky Rubio and Aaron Baynes have been excellent this year. However, Deandre Ayton needs to make sure he can stay on the court upon his return and that his production levels are where they were before he suffered a right ankle sprain. Meanwhile players like Mikal Bridges and Elie Okobo need to maintain their upward trajectory and utilise the games remaining to finish the season strong.
To keep Booker happy, and for continued improvement, their job is just to avoid making rash decisions and to keep a steady pace to development and success. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the Suns franchise has actually been doing things right this season.
Wellington: I think their red hot 7-4 record at the start of this season is an indicator of just what Booker’s teammates can to do help, even though that run was ultimately hampered with injuries and the untimely suspension of Deandre Ayton. Despite the drop-off, Booker’s teammates have largely been excellent this year. Ayton was starting to find pick-and-roll chemistry with Ricky Rubio in February, where he had an outstanding month. His performances even led to some Suns fans questioning whether he would be better utilised as the number one option, replacing Booker.
On the whole they’ve moved the ball well and ultimately figured out how to play around their superstar guard. Booker too has enhanced his teammates’ games, you can see it in the way he moves the ball and picks his spots to attack off the dribble. His ability to collapse the defense has led to increased opportunities for teammates and just as long as they regularly contribute, the Suns are a handful for any opponent.
Stott: His supporting cast isn’t bad, particularly Deandre Ayton. Despite his, let’s say, indiscretions, Ayton has been growing significantly as a player this year. He has showed a determination to be worthy of that number one pick (averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game) that could translate well to this opportunistic campaign. Alongside this, players like Oubre can provide consistent scoring, while Rubio provides much needed facilitation and defense.
Are the Suns going to the playoffs?
Wellington: I highly doubt it, but if the Suns play like a team with nothing to lose, they may just have a miniscule percentage of a chance. I would expect Booker to perform to his usual high standards, but questions still remain around his teammates and just how ready they will be.
Stott: Probably not, but that’s not the point right now. This year, blessed with one of the kinder schedules, they have a golden opportunity to grasp the eighth seed and show they are a force for the future.
Hopkins: The Suns basically have to go undefeated to reach the play-in tournament. The pressure that will come with that task will undoubtedly be immense, which is why in my opinion, they won’t be in the postseason this year. I mean, if they win their first game they may be able to put together a run, but it will only take one loss to finish them.