With seventy-five seconds left in the first game of the season for the Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker had the ball in his possession and the full focus of all five defenders for the Golden State Warriors. It was not the first time he had encountered circumstances like this. This one was not like the others.
Booker’s first game since making the permanent switch to point guard was this matchup on October 24. After all, it was his first game since the switch. The three-time All-Star had already served that job for extended periods of time and even for games on numerous occasions, so being in that position was not an entirely alien experience for him.The future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, who had been the Suns’ consistent, pass-first pilot during the most successful seasons of Booker’s career over the past four years, was suddenly on the opposing side of the court. After the Suns sent Paul to the Washington Wizards as part of the blockbuster deal involving Bradley Beal, Paul was redirected to Golden State, and Phoenix decided against acquiring a traditional point guard to use as a replacement for him.
Being the floor commander of a powerhouse team that has hopes of winning the NBA championship is suddenly Booker’s full-time job. To add insult to injury, the Suns’ high-stakes experiment had now reached its first real test, which took place late in the game, inside Chase Center.
“Where a true point guard helps is late down the stretch in games,” Booker said in an interview with ESPN which took place one week before the start of the season. What he had to say was about to become a reality.
When the Suns’ center Jusuf Nurkic set a screen for Booker at the top of the key, the Suns were already leading by one point already. Kevon Looney, a big man for the Golden State Warriors, came in to block the drive while Paul slid into the paint to assist Nurkic in his roll to the basket.
Booker made the read and executed it wonderfully, leaping to create a passing angle. He kept his eyes set on Nurkic until the very last split-second before sending a cross-court dime to Josh Okogie for a corner three that was wide open.
With two free throws from Stephen Curry, the Suns were able to make it a two-point game well before their next possession. Another pick-and-roll was executed by Phoenix on the right side of the court, with shooting guard Eric Gordon establishing a second screen for Nurkic. While Gordon was moving to the right wing and Nurkic, who was 7 feet tall and 290 pounds, was beginning to gently rumble on his roll, Curry grabbed Booker to prevent him from driving the ball.
As Booker made his way back toward the top of the three-point line, the Golden State Warriors’ defense was faced with a difficult choice: either they should leave Gordon alone on the wing or they should allow Nurkic to walk down the lane. During the time that Booker was making a chest pass to Gordon for another wide-open three-point shot, Looney was able to pick up Nurkic.
Upon Booker regaining possession of the ball, Curry replied with a three-point shot, bringing the score back to a one-possession game. When Nurkic was approaching a couple of strides over half court, Gary Payton II, the most persistent on-ball defender for Golden State, was in Booker’s grill. Nurkic was approaching the middle of the court. A single forceful dribble was taken by Booker just before to his pulling up at the top of the three-point arc.
In an effort to prevent one of the league’s most talented shooters from having a good shot, Looney sold out, but Booker, who was flying through the air, made a pass to Nurkic with both hands in the midst of a lane that was already congested.
Booker’s crunch-time masterclass was capped off by Nurkic’s layup with ten seconds remaining, which was the dagger that came at the end of a chaotic sequence. Booker not only scored 32 points in the victory, but he also shredded the Warriors with his playmaking, reading the Warriors defense like a point guard who has been playing for years.
What Booker and the Suns thought going into the 2023–24 season was confirmed by this piece of evidence: he was prepared to run the point for a top-tier offense.
As a result of the Suns’ new lineup approach, Phoenix has become the most extreme example of a league-wide trend in which teams are moving away from traditional, conventional point guards and toward explosive scorers as their primary offensive initiators.
Even though the front office of Phoenix and the new coach Frank Vogel are betting on the playmaking skills of the Suns’ star trio of Kevin Durant, Beal, and Booker, they are putting the majority of their faith in Booker, who has been with the team for nine years.