If there is one thing Phoenix Suns head coach Frank Vogel needs his team to be this coming season, it is unselfish. That will start on the defensive end, and was saw flashes of this in their preseason win over the Detroit Pistons. An encouraging start.
Easy as that may be to preach, the hard part comes by trying to blend the incredible individual talents of their three star players. Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal have all been the man in past situations, and now it is about highlighting their offensive talents, while also pitching in as a team to win games.
With that balancing act in mind, could Booker go out there and win the NBA’s scoring title for the first time in his career this season?
This obviously shouldn’t be the goal for either Booker or the team. What absolutely should however, is the first serious MVP case of the player’s career. So although he won’t personally be trying to achieve this feat, it could be a by-product of several other important factors here.
The first is that this is undoubtedly Booker’s team. Durant was quick to bring it up at media day recently, while Beal has joined this organization under no illusions about his place in the pecking order. With that in mind – and despite having the outrageous talents of Durant at their disposal – it is likely to be Booker who is tasked with taking the shot in clutch moments.
That alone can’t guarantee a run at the scoring crown, but knowing it is his team is a start. Much more important to the conversation here is the playoff leading 33.7 points Booker scored in the playoffs last season. He went on an insane run, and decimated the L.A. Clippers in their first round series.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has won the last two scoring titles, with averages of 30.6 and 33.1 points per game respectively. If his team want to have any hopes of catching the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, Embiid is going to have to post similar numbers again this season.
The Suns on the other hand are going to be an offensive beast, thanks in part to the 3-point shooting of Yuta Watanabe and Eric Gordon around their star players. Coach Vogel has several scoring weapons he can turn to in order to spread the floor, and Booker is going to benefit from this.
Durant is obviously the most important of these, and in truth we’ve barely gotten to see the two play together since Durant came over from the Brooklyn Nets at the trade deadline. New addition Jusuf Nurkic can also, perhaps surprisingly, be of use to Booker in this area as well.
If nothing else, we know he can pass well for a big man and is a smart offensive player. He knows when to set screens and find his teammates, but also when to give them the ball and get out of the way. Spending much of your career with Damian Lillard will do that for a player, and Booker can certainly be the beneficiary now.
Only five times since the turn of the century has a player put up more than 33.7 per game to win the scoring crown, although Booker’s regular season best effort so far is a much lower 27.8 per game. Becoming the de facto point guard may also hurt his chances some as well.
If Booker plays the point – as many expect him to – then he is going to spend more time looking for his teammates then calling his own number. This isn’t exactly a problem, Booker is an excellent and willing passer and Durant and Beal are the dream teammates to have in this scenario.
But Booker is a buzzsaw himself first and foremost, and turning the volume down on his ridiculous shot-making ability seems like quiet a sad outcome when thinking of ways to use his skills. Not that fans, or Booker himself, will complain if it leads to a championship. But Booker is able to pile up points, and when he does we have seen great things happen in the postseason.
The final piece here is the fact Deandre Ayton is no longer in town. Not only did he take 13.2 shots per game last season (Nurkic put up 9.7), Ayton often fell into the trap that elite big men do which is – if you want me to do the dirty work defensively, you better give me some touches and feed me down low from time-to-time on the other end.
The Suns won’t have that problem with Nurkic, meaning there will be more shots to go around. Obviously Beal is going to take most of those, but not having to worry about an annoyed big man in the paint each night should free up Booker to take even more shots throughout the season.
The 35.6 percent he has averaged from 3-point range throughout his career needs a small bit of work, and really if Booker can get that number closer to 40 percent, he is going to be near the top of the scorers by season’s end. There is zero reason then, that Devin Booker can’t win the scoring title this season not by choice, but as a result of having an MVP-calibre campaign.