Despite the team not making a playoff appearance since losing in the Western Conference Finals in 2010, Devin Booker sees a brighter forecast ahead for the Phoenix Suns.
“We have a really good young core,” Booker told Basketball Insiders. “Our young players are developing, including myself, very well. Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis have been getting some time now. And then we have a mix of really good veterans, Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, P.J. Tucker; they’re leading us on the right way. Each and every day, they push us every day in practice. They’re patient with us. We’re messing up a lot. That’s what you expect coming into this league, playing against grown men. We’re still learning, but at the same time, I think the future is really bright here.”
Booker believes the collective struggles now will ultimately build Phoenix’s young core for playoff success down the road, despite owning the Western Conference’s worst record (15-32) while enduring growing pains.
“The best learning is experience, getting a chance to play,” Booker told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of rookies, a lot of second year players, they don’t get as much time as we’re getting, so developing on the floor, playing against the greats of the league, I think that’s going to help us in the future.”
Booker has shown exponential growth and has scored 20 or more points in 12 consecutive games. To put that into perspective, that’s the longest streak by a Suns player since Amar’e Stoudemire (18) in 2008, and the longest streak by any first or second-year player since Blake Griffin (14) during his rookie 2010-11 season.
Booker has averaged 25.6 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field, 46 percent from beyond the arc and 83 percent from the foul line in 38 minutes per game thus far in January.
“He’s one more day closer to 21, to be honest with you,” coach Earl Watson said when asked about Booker’s growth in January. “We forget how young he is because he’s so special and so skilled and talented, so our expectations are immediately rushed.”
Booker has emerged as a young leader for the Suns while the team is learning to close out games down the stretch. Booker hit a game-winning 3-pointer over the contested hand of Derrick Rose with 31 seconds remaining against the New York Knicks on January 21. According to coach Watson, these are the type of moments Booker desires.
“Whenever we need a big shot he looks dead at me and [Eric] Bledsoe looks at me, so it’s a good problem to have because a lot of players will look away from you,” coach Watson said. “They all want that big shot. With Devin, we feel like the opportunities he had at 19 in his rookie year are a blank canvas for how good he can be.”
What’s been the biggest change in Booker’s game since entering the league as a rookie a season and a half ago?
“Just more comfortable, knowing what to expect,” Booker told Basketball Insiders. “Last year I was just thrown in the fire, each and every game it was something new, playing against a new team and new defensive scheme, and playing against a different player. But now, it’s my second or third time seeing a lot of players, so I’m feeling a lot more comfortable on both ends.”
The 20-year-old is also growing more comfortable off the court while maturing as a young man. While most kids his age are sitting in college classrooms and attending house parties, Booker is just beginning to explore what the real world has to offer.
“Just enjoying cities,” Booker told Basketball Insiders. “Growing up, we’ve been so busy playing AAU and things like that. We haven’t gotten a chance to just explore and enjoy our lifestyle. We make enough money where we can take care of the people we love, and at the same time, just enjoy the journey. So like I said, meeting new people, enjoying relationships and just doing everything in different cities.”
While the baby-faced assassin is enjoying the present, he also has a relative vision of what he wants his long-term future to become.
“I have a lot of goals, aspirations I’ve been trying to reach since I was a kid,” Booker told Basketball Insiders. “I have lists that go on all day, but at the end of the day just get the most out of the game. We build relationships, and we just love this sport, so I want to play until I get the last bounce out of the ball, until it goes flat. I love this game, always have, I don’t want to set, ‘I want to be a Hall of Famer, be a 10-time All-Star,’ I don’t want to set any goals like that. I just want to get the most out of it that I can.”
While the Suns are experiencing partly cloudy skies while rebuilding in the present, Booker will be the weatherman behind a forecast with brighter skies ahead in the future.
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