Two things I learned from the NBA Bubble

Devin Booker is a future MVP

The Sun were a team I saw making a surprise run to the playoffs in my preseason write up.  I loved the addition of veterans with a young core that looked like they were going to take the next step. After a hot start to the season Phoenix struggled down the stretch and then the pandemic hit.  

Phoenix entered the bubble more as common courtesy rather than an actual contender for the final playoff spot. No one told Devin Booker that.  The former Kentucky Wildcat showed up to make a statement in front of the world and he did that. Averaging 27 ppg on 43% shooting, adding 6 apg and 5 rpg while leading the Suns to a 7-0 record.  Booker was already establishing himself as a great player during his time in Phoenix, but he was not yet known as a guy that can be a winner.  He has found his niche that has made him a leader of a team that most people had written off.  

The Suns are not going to make the playoffs despite his great run, but the expectations leading into next season will be extremely high for Booker.  The team will not be expected to win the west but if they don’t make the playoffs the world will look at him. He has welcomed the pressure of the franchise and is beginning to develop into the player that will be a serious problem for the league in the coming years.  Players like Karl Anthony Towns and John Wall are both guys that out of Kentucky were supposed to be game changers for the league but it is the lesser glorified Booker that has surpassed them not only in skill but in leadership.  He may not stay in Phoenix forever but he has already begun to make his mark on that city and that team.   This guy is forreal and will show it.

The Heat can take the East

The Bucks are the clear favorites in the East.  The loss of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in back to back years has been like removing a roadblock for the Greek Freak and company to get to their destination. The Raptors and the Celtics are the two teams that seemed like they would be the best candidates to pull off the upset over the new beasts of the east but I think the Miami Heat have shown the ability to take down the Bucks and they will do it by attacking their biggest weaknesses.

The Miami Heat are the best three point shooting team in the NBA, sitting at 38% as a team makes them a very dangerous matchup for a Bucks team that has huge issues protecting the exterior. The Heat have not been dominant in the bubble,  they actually lost to the Bucks without Jimmy Butler.  That game took a 32 point second half comeback and serious foul trouble from Heat #2 player Bam Adebayo.  Milwaukee will not have all the factors working for them again in a seven game series.  

The Heat took two out of three from the Bucks during the regular season and are led by the least intimidated player in the entire NBA and coach that has been there before.  This roster is thick with gritty talent and shooters.  They are the perfect foil for Milwaukee, you get by Milwaukee you have a shot to go to the finals.

Devin Booker- The League’s Next Star

The Phoenix Suns have been the definition of disfunction over the last decade.  Nine seasons in a row with zero playoff appearances.  They haven’t won more then 24 games in the last three seasons. The years of Charles Barley, Kevin Johnson and Steve Nash have become a distant memory, a mirage of greatness in the the Phoenix desert.  But suddenly you see civilization, water, food and air conditioning!  Brought to you by the leagues newest star Devin Booker.

Over their first three NBA seasons:

Steph Curry Devin Booker
PPG 16.3 PPG 19.8
RPG 3.93 RPG 3.3
APG 5.6 APG 3.5

Devin Booker was drafted by the Suns out of Kentucky in 2015.  There was small fanfare to his pick at number 13.  Booker seemed like a solid role player that could be a piece to help an NBA team.  Booker quickly proved to be more then just a role player. Shooting 40% and averaging over 20 points a game in his sophomore season Booker became the quiet leader of a Suns team that had been lacking a star.  Not since Steve Nash’s final season in 2012 has there been a player that was putting Phoenix on the map. Booker took the role and ran with it during troubling times.

2017 was a season to forget for the Suns. Eric Bledsoe took to twitter proclaiming he no longer wanted to play in Phoenix last season causing issues in the locker room.  The problems in the locker room continued into the front office as the Suns fired Earl Watson just three games into the season.  With Watson gone the Suns decided to move on from their troubled guard Bledsoe.  Moving Bledsoe to the Bucks weakened the roster but signaled a change in the culture.  The Suns went into tank mode.  But losing sometimes has its advantages in professional sports.

Phoenix selected Deandre Ayton out of the University of Arizona with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. Adding Ayton has given the Suns a player to build along side Booker.  The presence of an inside force will allow freedom for Booker to work against one-on-one matchups. Adding sharpshooting veterans Jamal Crawford, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza will provide the leadership for the team and guidance for a young emerging star.  The addition also puts Josh Jackson and TJ Warren to move to the bench creating tough matchups for second units.

Phoenix showed their commitment to Booker in the offseason signing him to a five-year, $158 million maximum contract extension over the summer.  Booker is now locked up for the future.  The pieces are being put into place around him with with Deandre Ayton, Josh Jackson, TJ Warren and Mikal Bridges.  The Suns will not be great this season but people will see the greatness of the next big star in the league.  Booker opened up the season showing the ability of an elite player, finishing with 35 points and 19 in the fourth quarter with the game still on the line. Booker’s 35 was the most by a Suns player in an opening day night game since Kevin Johnson put up 35 in 1993.

Phoenix got the win on opening night against a fellow rebuilding team in the Dallas Mavericks.  If Booker can avoid injury and play a full season the league will see a rise in every statistic.  Booker will take the next step in his career, remember he is just turning 22 at the end of October.  The next great star is in Phoenix and his name is Devin Booker.