The most valuable player is the guy who gives his team the best chance to win. For the Phoenix Suns that isn’t Devin Booker. It’s Ricky Rubio.
Is Devin Booker the most valuable member of the Phoenix Suns? I guess that depends on what your definition of the term valuable is and how you quantify it. Is it statistical domination? Does his contract make him most valuable (as it does in the eyes of the franchise)? Is it his presence on the court? All of these factors play into the valuable conversation, but the term has always been one open for interpretation.
This “most valuable” debate always rings true in June, when podcasters and talking heads discuss who they believe should win the NBA MVP. The definition of valuable has so many different meanings, and it is different to each individual. If valuable simply meant the best player on the court (or in the league), Michael Jordan would have won more than five MVPs.
Valuable is in the eye of the beholder. It is a collection of statistical support, team impact, and player observations. Russell Westbrook is an ideal example of how statistics alone can cloud the valuable judgement. In 2016-2017, where he averaged a triple-double for the entire season (the first time it had been done since Oscar Robertson in 1962-63), the NBA world was stunned and amazed.
What we didn’t realize was how the NBA landscape had changed, and how the weight of a triple-double was much different than back in ’63. Westbrook averaged a triple-double in 2017-18 (finished 5th in NBA voting) and again in 2018-19 (finished 10th in MVP voting). It’s not always about simple numbers.
We know that, from an offensive production standpoint, Devin Booker is the most talented player on the Phoenix Suns. He can score in a plethora of different ways, putting pressure on the defense and creating havoc on the court. He is a professional scorer. Thus far this season, he has accounted for 21.9% of the entire offense for the Suns. He will be an All-Star this year, and rightfully so.
Statistically, you can go on and on about Devin Booker. His free throw percentage, his improved shooting, his improved efficiency. There is no doubt Book is the most important player on Phoenix Suns. He is an offensive machine, a modern day Terminator, sent back in time to destroy rims in every arena in the NBA.
Yet, when you watch the game, you feel more confident when Ricky Rubio is running the offense. Why? Because of the way he distributes the ball and sets his team up for success. His value is in the offensive production he creates. His value is in a team-first attitude. His value is in his selflessness. His value is in his leadership.
There are some statistics that support Papa Ricky’s (congrats on the baby!) winning contributions. Ricky Rubio has had 10+ assists in 14 games this season. The Suns record in those games? 10-4.
Compare that to Devin Booker’s 30+ point performances (17 times he has scored 30 or more; the Suns are 9-8). When Booker scored more than 35% of the team’s total points, the Suns are 4-8.
“Booker Ball” isn’t good for the team. Compare that to “Ricky-Sharing-Is-Caring Ball”, when Ricky assists on 50% or more of the Suns total assists, the team is 10-6.
What the statistics don’t show is the leadership Rubio brings to the Suns. He is an even-keeled player; never too high, never too low. When the team is winning, he celebrates with his teammates. When the team is struggling, you won’t find Ricky yelling at his squad, pointing at their positioning on a play (something I’ve seen Booker do a few too many times). You’ll see him coaching his teammates, explaining what they could’ve done better to be successful on a play.
The culture in Phoenix has changed with Ricky’s arrival. Think of any game, or any time of a game, when he isn’t on the court. The players cut less, the movement stops, and the offense becomes stagnant.
Devin Booker is the most important, the most talented, and the most loved by Phoenix Suns fans. He has had to carry this franchise for three years now. But with Ricky Rubio in the back court alongside him, the team is finally feeling what some success feels like.
Because Ricky is the most valuable.