After another showcase, flexing their dominance in the Western
Conference, the Phoenix Suns are sick and tired of the disrespect.
Before making the jaw-dropping leap to elite, practically
overnight, upon the arrival of Chris Paul last season, Phoenix was
nothing more than a laughingstock at the bottom of the
Now, as Suns star Devin Booker rightfully pointed out following
an impressive 140-130 victory on the road in Denver on Thursday,
it’s time for this team to rightfully — as he put it — earn their
flowers on a national level. The team has sixty wins and is well on
its way to comfortably finishing with the NBA’s best record. That's
simply something you can’t overlook.
Oh, by the way, Booker bested the likely-MVP favorite in Nikola
Jokic by putting up an absurd 49-point, 10-assist performance on
the second night of a back-to-back. Forcefully, Booker and the Suns
are putting themselves, again, squarely in the national
conversation. And it’s one that should’ve already been brought up
“Honestly, it’s people playing with my name, man. It’s just too
much for me,” Booker said of his view of the national disrespect
towards himself and the Suns. “I’ve been at it for a long time, and
I’m the type to see anything and take it as disrespect so that can
get me going. The main objective is to win basketball games.
They’ve been telling me that since I was 18 or 19, so now that we
have the No. 1 seed locked up, been winning basketball games for
two years straight now. This teams need their flowers. Coach Monty
(Williams) should’ve been Coach of the Year last year. There’s just
so much that I feel doesn’t get talked about on this team. We’ve
done a good job about not worrying what people say about us, but it
needs some recognition.”
Closing in on the best record in Suns franchise history, Booker
is right on the money with his assessment. Toiling in mediocrity
for the first five years of his career, it's obvious this was
pent-up frustration finally spilling free from Booker. Early on in
his career, Booker was viewed as a stat-padder who couldn’t help
elevate a team to win meaningful basketball games. Now, he’s
averaging 26.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists while carrying
a 57.3 True Shooting percentage on the No. 1 team in the
Ramping up for another potential deep postseason run, Booker is
putting his game into high gear. Taking over games whenever he
pleases, all the while talking back to the naysayers along the way.
Booker’s offensive explosion on Thursday against the Nuggets ranks
high on the list for Suns head coach Monty Williams, as far as best
performances under his guidance.
“One of the best performances I’ve seen him have since I’ve been
here, because of the variables and obstacles we had. To have 49 and
10 on a back-to-back, it not only backs up what I said pre-game,
but the fact that he’s not in the MVP conversation is just somewhat
silly. When you can will your team to win like that, and do it in
the fashion that he did it in tonight — says a lot about his work
ethic, his individual ability, and a lot of other stuff I don’t
have time to talk about.”
The MVP push is on in Phoenix for Booker, the rare young star
who stayed when his organization was at its rock bottom a few short
years ago. As the Suns organization itself pointed out, twelve
players in NBA history have averaged at least 25 points, 5 rebounds
and 5 assists on the NBA’s best team. All 12 of those occurrences
finished with said player winning MVP.
Can Booker actually make a legitimate case alongside the
established top three candidates in Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and
Giannis Antetokounmpo? It’s doubtful at this stage, but there’s no
doubt that Booker deserves a spot on the All-NBA First
If I had a ballot, here’s how I would put together my All-NBA
First Team: Ja Morant, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola
Jokic, Joel Embiid. Far and away, those five players have seemed to
be the most consistent all season long. Stephen Curry and Kevin
Durant faded off the radar due to injuries. Luka Doncic received
plenty of preseason hype, but he’s yet to really elevate into the
same category as Booker for MVP-type narrative.
Speaking of narratives, the aforementioned best player on the
best team argument is hard to ignore. Booker showed in Chris Paul’s
15-game absence that he can carry the load without any issues.
During that span, Phoenix finished with an 11-4 record as Booker
dominated all along the way.
Thursday saw the return of Paul to the Suns’ starting lineup, an
immediate boost as the future Hall of Fame point guard finished
with 17 points and 13 assists. What’s so special and unique about
the Paul-Booker backcourt pairing is they are wired the exact same
way. Both are obsessed with honing their craft, but also crave
success at all costs.
As Williams alluded to postgame on Thursday, having two stars
who are open to receiving criticism from their coach is rare
nowadays. On a team known for its lack of ego, the Suns have this
trait in spades with Paul and Booker leading the charge.
“When the best players allow themselves to be coached and called
out, it means a ton,” Williams said. “It's certainly not something
I take for granted.”
Simply put, this version of the Phoenix Suns is special. Not
only did Williams echo that same thought after Phoenix’s latest
win, but Paul and Booker also made note of it as well. When a team
has bought-in completely on all levels — driven more by team
success than individual accolades — the hard part of the puzzle is
already accomplished. The type of chemistry Phoenix has within
their locker room is rare, and they’re bottling up that energy on a
run towards what should be another trip to the NBA Finals.
The Suns have an elite head coach, the most dynamic backcourt in
the NBA, young players ascending towards their ceilings (Mikal
Bridges, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Johnson), plus endless amounts of
championship-worthy depth pieces (Jae Crowder, JaVale McGee, Landry
Shamet, Cameron Payne, Bismack Biyombo).
After the Suns suffered massive heartbreak at the end of last
season, folding their cards to the Milwaukee Bucks after taking a
2-0 series lead in the Finals, they’ve come back as an even
Phoenix still means business, even after notching win No. 60.
The team is only a few more wins away from breaking the franchise
record, and more boxes still need to be checked for a team chasing
“I’m sure the Valley is going nuts right now,” Williams said
after the Suns clinched the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Indeed, Phoenix is host to a true rising from the ashes, into a
new golden era of Suns basketball.