There is no doubt that the 2023-24 Phoenix Suns are going to be one of the best teams in the league. Contrary to what Charles Barkley may think, the organization are among one of the true contenders to win it all next season.
Having Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal allows them to do that, and all three will be hoping to be All-Stars at the very minimum. Booker should have far loftier goals then that again, with a first league MVP crown not beyond him if he continues to improve as he has.
One potential pitfall to the Suns’ hopes of dominating all before them next season however could come in the over-reliance of “Point-Booker”.
With Chris Paul having left the franchise, as well as Cam Payne, there are no classic point guards on the roster. Talk of T.J. McConnell has proven wide of the mark so far, and with little cap room available to the Suns, it remains to be seen what they can do to add any more players to the hugely impressive summer they’ve had.
Naturally Booker is going to play a lot of minutes as this group’s point guard and lead ball handler, and this makes total sense. In a backcourt alongside the sharpshooter Beal, and with Durant the all-in-one offensive threat he has always been, Booker will be trusted to find his teammates nearly as often as he shoots himself.
Given that he has averaged over six assists per game already twice in his career (5.5 last season), he is going to excel in this role. But because the Suns don’t have another high level floor general on their roster, and with Booker being naturally good at everything he does on a basketball court, will this over-reliance on the player as he enters his prime hinder both him and the team?
Booker is going to see his usage go up some next season, even though he’ll be sharing the ball a lot of the time with Durant and Beal. The 31.8 percent usage he had on the court last season was only the fifth highest mark of his career, but that number is surely going to go beyond 33 percent with how much he will be running the show out of necessity.
This is sure to wear down a player who has never had to do this for an entire season before, and who the Suns will want as fresh as possible for a championship run. There is little doubt Booker won’t still want to get his, with the 27.8 points of last season a career high. You can’t have it both ways though, and Booker’s scoring is sure to take a small dip.
The luxury here is that both Durant and Booker can pick up the slack, with those two and Booker combining for over 80 points per contest last season. Booker facilitating his two elite teammates sounds great in theory, but is that what he signed up for? As one of the best offensive players in the entire league, deferring that prestigious talent to a 34-year-old Durant is risky.
Then there is the matter of guarding opponent’s guards on some nights. Booker won’t have to do that very often, that’s why Eric Gordon, Keita Bates-Diop and Toumani Camara are on this roster. But even if he’s not chasing around quick guards, Booker will still have to put a shift in using his bigger body to attempt to slow down the Jayson Tatums and Jamal Murrays of the league.
Again in a vacuum, this isn’t a problem. But all of a sudden the Suns want Booker to set the table more than he ever has before, still try and contribute at least 20 points per night (and we are being generous with that number), and also defend to the highest level possible. It’s asking a lot of the player, and believe it or not the Suns relied on Booker more defensively last year than you think.
Booker had his worst display in four years on that end (113.4 defensive rating), and the second worst mark of his career. There is no doubt he is a two-way player, but that is the trade-off of asking him to score nearly 28 points a night. Booker has to take some defensive possessions off, although the team were still better (114.5, seventh in the league) when he was on the court.
Why this is worrying is because the Suns will need all the help they can get defensively, and Booker will certainly play his part. But he will likely slip a small bit on that end as a result of doing everything else, which the team really can’t afford to have happen with how much he helps.
Outscoring everybody is going to be their Plan A, but no franchise ever won a championship without a Plan B. On a broader level, Booker is spoken about in the same breath as Tatum and Murray, but we could be about to see a shift in how he is used more often than that. This can be a hard sell when you’ve just come off the best season of your career and are 26-years-old.
Devin Booker as a point guard is going to work for the Suns, of that there is no doubt. But entering what will be his ninth season, going to him early and often next season is going to lead to drawbacks elsewhere. When you can do it all, it can be hard for a coaching staff to not ride that talent constantly. The organization need to be careful with how they handle this situation.