Kevin Durant's injury means it's Devin Booker's time to step up for Suns
Columnist Greg Moore says Booker's individual brilliance isn't enough, he must make his teammates better
Kevin Durant’s injury represents a prime opportunity for Devin Booker to take the next step to superstardom: He’s got to make the guys around him better.
That’s the one true measure in basketball.
This isn’t about total assists or assists per game or assist-to-turnover ratio or assists per 48 minutes or win shares or player efficiency rating or even hustle rating.
It’s about the confidence other guys get from knowing a particular player is on the court. It’s the reason John Paxson and Steve Kerr hit shots after catching passes from Michael Jordan.
It’s the reason Kenny Smith and Robert Horry hit shots after catching passes from Hakeem Olajuwon.
And it’s the reason Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace hit shots after catching passes from Kobe Bryant.
Booker has a couple of weeks against some real competition to elevate his game in a way that elevates others.
The Suns have 12 games left in the regular season, and there’s a chance that Durant could miss all of them.
Half of these games are on the road, including four of the next five. There are two home-road, back-to-back sets, including next week when the Suns play at Sacramento on Friday before coming home to play Philadelphia on Saturday.
In early April, the Suns will play Denver at home then hit the road to play the Lakers the next night.
If that’s not bad enough, all but one of the remaining games are against playoff contenders.
Right now, the Suns would enter the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, but it’s conceivable that they could end up in the play-in tournament. Phoenix has lost three of its last four, and it took way more razzle dazzle than it should have to beat the lowly Magic Thursday night.
The responsibility to lift the Suns during Durant’s absence doesn’t fall solely to Booker.
Coach Monty Williams is going to have to find ways to adjust, especially in games against players who seem to get every call. Chris Paul will have to show an unprecedented willingness to take — and make — spot-up 3-pointers. And Deandre Ayton will have to be more beast than beauty on both ends of the court.
But mostly, it’s on Booker.
For subscribers:Our game-by-game predictions on how the Suns will fare without Kevin Durant
He’s got an opportunity right now to get ready to join the top echelon of superstars, but that means making the guys around him better.
Maybe that means he has to scold and scream at Ish Wainright into knocking down shots? Maybe he has to glare and scowl at Paul for passing up open looks? Maybe he has to hype up Ayton for doing the things that only he can? Or maybe he has to shut down the locker room or team jet with a legendary challenge to guys who haven’t been in their playbooks like they should?
It’s hard to say.
The best leaders know which buttons to push with which guys. But make no mistake, that’s his challenge to figure out.
Individual brilliance, which we’ve seen plenty of from Booker over the years, simply isn’t going to be enough over this next stretch.
The Suns need to maintain their playoff positioning and get ready for the grind that’s coming.
That won’t happen unless everyone on the roster believes that anytime they step on the court they’ve got a guy on their side who demands and inspires excellence.
This is a good time for Book to turn to that chapter in his career.
It’s the only way to become a true superstar.
For subscribers:Suns get 'must win' over Magic thanks to Josh Okogie's game-saving block
Reach Moore at email@example.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.
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