The Phoenix Suns won their fourth straight game on Tuesday night, seeing off the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers 120-107. A game that will be remembered by fans as the occasion when Kevin Durant climbed to 11th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list.
Devin Booker continued his hot play since returning from injury, chipping in with 28 points and six assists while showing once again that when he is healthy, this franchise does not have a point guard problem. He is their lead ball-handler, and the 9.2 assists per game he is averaging right now is easily a career high.
Booker also gave former Suns draft pick Toumani Camara a tough time, in what was a rude awaking to the levels to this game from star to rookie.
Camara was taken in the second round of the NBA Draft this summer by the Suns, but was somewhat puzzlingly part of the deal that sent Deandre Ayton to the Trail Blazers for a package centered around Jusuf Nurkic and Grayson Allen. A move that looked even worse after Camara showed flashes of defensive brilliance at Summer League and in the preseason.
But those games do not accurately represent the intensity of the regular season – without even taking into consideration the playoffs – and Booker was quick to remind Camara of that fact. Early in the game, Camara was tasked with defending Booker, and as you might expect, he struggled to contain one of the best players in the world.
There is certainly no shame in that, but was more surprising was the fact that Booker seemed to almost take this personally. In the first-quarter he waved off a potential screen to isolate against Camara, and the cameras appeared to catch him with about nine minutes left in the second-quarter mention something about “number 33” when Booker was subbed out.
Trail Blazers’ head coach Chauncey Billups clearly trusts Camara. He’s started five games – including the game versus the Suns – of 14 played so far this season and is playing about 25 minutes per night. In fact in the matchup against Booker and the Suns, Camara played a team high 38 minutes.
He only scored seven points (three of which were free-throws), and missed two attempts from deep. But that’s not why Camara is out there, and defensively even though Booker schooled him a few times, he was no less enthusiastic to get stuck into whoever he was tasked with guarding. On that end, Camara did not look out of place at all, and he will make a nice career out of that.
Offensively it was another story though, and this game was a window into why Camara was traded this summer without ever playing for the organization. On many occasions the Trail Blazers simply put Camara in the corner, while their more polished scorers like Shaedon Sharpe went to work.
Camara is currently so limited on that end that players such as Keita Bates-Diop and Jordan Goodwin – players who are fighting for consistent minutes on this Suns’ roster – look far better than him whenever they play. Which isn’t all that often, which speaks to the work Camara still has to do offensively in order to become the two-way threat the Suns needed him to be this season.
There is no reason the Belgian can’t be just that in the next few years, but the Suns’ front office was correctly ruthless in their approach. They don’t have the time to develop a player with that many limitations offensively, even if on the other end he will gladly hound Booker all over the court and diligently do so for 40 minutes if asked.
Letting Camara go this summer felt like a risk because the Suns had guys like Eric Gordon and Bates-Diop who he could learn so much for. He is being given a ton of run with the Trail Blazers so far this season, and in doing so has shown that he couldn’t have been relied upon as much as the Suns would have needed to.
Even defensively, Booker had his way with Camara on plenty of possessions. Every team in the league now has at least on high-level scorer, and often times a lot more than that, to try and contain. Being asked to do this on a rebuilding roster to get his reps up is the best place for Camara right now. Booker made sure of that.