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Has Devin Booker Become the NBA’s Best Point Guard?

The Phoenix Suns star was already one of the best scorers in the game. Now he’s become one of its greatest passers, too, unlocking new levels to his game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

One month into their injury-riddled season, it’s hard to know what’s real about the Phoenix Suns. Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker have yet to play a second together, while new head coach Frank Vogel has already cycled through eight different starting lineups.

But after a rocky 4-6 start that included some disturbing developments (i.e., what is wrong with Beal’s back), Phoenix has won seven in a row. It’s a streak that, not coincidentally, began when Booker returned after missing eight of the Suns’ previous nine games. The three-time All-Star has shredded defenses with radiant and timely shotmaking, averaging a career-best 29.4 points per game with a 62.8 true shooting percentage.

What’s far more important in the short and long term for an organization that’s all in to win this year’s title, though, is Booker’s passing. In his first season since 2019-20 without Chris Paul running the show, Phoenix’s franchise player has comfortably assumed a lead playmaking role that has catapulted him into the conversation for best point guard in the league.

When the Suns shipped off Paul and acquired Beal this summer, the initial plan was to put the ball in Booker’s hands. It made enough sense at the time. Despite having the (accurate) reputation of a prodigious scorer—someone who dropped 70 in a game before his 21st birthday—Booker’s assist rate has been way above average at his position for most of his career. He consistently dimed up fellow Suns on some forgettable teams that were sorry enough to make people wonder if his statistical rise was empty or meaningful.

But on this scale—with a fundamentally new set of responsibilities on his plate and actual championship aspirations that elevate stakes and urgency—his recent numbers are kind of shocking: 8.9 assists per game (tied with Nikola Jokic for fourth highest and two more than his previous career high) and an assist rate of 42.8 (second highest, behind only Tyrese Haliburton). For context, over the past three seasons, Booker averaged 4.8 assists per game with a 23.2 assist rate.

The Suns are generating 126.7 points per 100 possessions when Booker is on the court and an absurd 137.4 points per 100 possessions when he brings the ball up the floor, per Second Spectrum. (Booker is dribbling the ball up the court 33.5 times per game, which is 4.6 more than his previous career high and 13.1 above last season’s average.) On a per-100-possession basis, nobody is creating more points from behind the 3-point line.

If sustained—or even improved on once everyone is healthy—this evolution is a five-alarm fire for opponents who entered this season hoping Phoenix’s three stars would need a more traditional facilitator to really hum. For them, sadly, that hasn’t at all been the case. Instead of treating his new circumstances as a burden, Booker has used them as an opportunity to showcase just how great his all-around game can be.

Running a pick-and-roll, Booker looks like a larger version of Trae Young and a quicker Luka Doncic. Booker already had every pass in his bag. Jump skips to the corner. One-handed lasers across his body with either hand. Spoon feeds at the rim, kickouts from the paint, crispy pocket passes to punish big men who want to take away his jump shot. His reads occur a blip before action that is quick, precise, and certain. His 50.2 ball screens per 100 possessions rank him eighth out of 104 players who’ve initiated at least 100 pick-and-rolls this season. It’s also the highest mark of his career. Some of his reads are a work of art. Take this skip to Chimezie Metu against the Knicks:

The play unfolds like a typical high pick-and-roll, with Suns backup center Drew Eubanks setting a screen and then diving toward the rim. Booker’s neck never turns to the left, though. His eyes are locked straight ahead, even after the ball leaves his right hand, which flares up like it’s throwing a lob to Eubanks.

Booker is willing to take what the defense gives more than most players who can score 35 points in their sleep—he posted a career-high 15 assists in just 32 minutes against the Jazz on November 17 while taking only 15 shots—and believes those around him can make the right play when he puts them in a spot to do so.

Here, instead of jacking this pull-up 2 over a defense that’s collapsed into the paint after Booker split the ball screen, he kicks it to Jusuf Nurkic in the corner, who then shovels it to Nassir Little for the open 3:

“That’s the kind of player he is,” Josh Okogie said earlier this season. “He trusts his teammates, and he gives us all the confidence in the world to go out there and shoot and make plays.”

Booker attracts as much defensive attention as anyone in the league, be it help off the strong side or two defenders who desperately swarm him just to get the ball out of his hands—something that frequently happens at the beginning and end of ball games.

Here he tiptoes the baseline, induces a moment of panic from a defense that really doesn’t want to switch a big on him, then hits his open teammate under the basket:

To better highlight how much has changed for Booker this season, he’s making 53.2 passes per game. That’s a personal high, miles above last year’s 37.3. And even when he wasn’t on the court with Paul the past few years, his volume was always way lower than it is right now. Booker’s shots per touch are at a career-low mark, and he’s averaging a career-high 394 dribbles per game, which is up significantly from last season’s 266 and the 200 he logged during his first go-around with Paul back in 2021. All this shouldn’t be a complete surprise, but the poise and general awareness he’s exuded without any noticeable growing pains have been truly incredible.

“It’s a good start to a new phase of his career, where he’s going to be the primary ball handler,” Vogel said after Booker tallied eight assists on opening night. “He’s really embraced taking the leadership role on this team, playing a more traditional point guard where he’s a threat to go into kill mode at any point. And he has the savvy of reading defenses and picking them apart with the pass, which was the beauty of this game.”

Watching him now, it makes you wonder just what his passing numbers could have looked like had the Suns never traded for Paul. Supplement Booker with a roll man and some knockdown 3-point shooters, and the offense is essentially unstoppable. There are pockets of heliocentric brilliance here, backed by [scans Phoenix’s roster] maybe the greatest pure scorer who’s ever lived also on the team. Durant’s effective field goal percentage when Booker is on the court is 70.4. Without him, it’s 55.4. When one pass away, the best defense is a solemn prayer:

“It’s good to have our point guard back,” Durant—who’s currently boasting his highest scoring average in a decade—said after Booker’s return in a recent win against Minnesota. Positions are increasingly an arbitrary conceit, but it’s more than clear that Booker can conduct elite offense by himself. He directly makes life easier for everyone around him, organizes sets, manipulates defenders from the top of the floor, and makes every big decision.

He’s either withstood or demolished pretty much every defensive coverage that’s even semi-regularly deployed in the NBA, be it a box-and-one against Golden State or the barrage of blitzes that come 30 feet from the basket. Beal will eventually enter the equation as another knockdown shooter who can make life easier for Booker by simultaneously decreasing some ballhandling duties while spacing the floor better than anyone on the team (not named Durant or Eric Gordon).

In the meantime, to see Booker be this effective right out the gate, without Beal, surrounded by a brand-new supporting cast, and under a new head coach, is petrifying and awesome. “We don’t know each other,” Booker said after Game 1. One month later, with so much still to learn, Phoenix’s offensive ceiling is only theoretical; Booker’s steady, albeit sudden, transformation into a top-shelf floor general is the biggest reason.