Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has been labeled as somewhat of an MVP “darkhorse” for the upcoming 2018-19 NBA season.
The Ringer has listed him as a possible darkhorse candidate and Bovada has given him some inspiring odds (+27,500) to win the award. But just how realistic is it that the 21-year old sniper can actually win the whole thing?
Based on past MVP winners, it’s going to have to do more with his team’s success than his own personal accomplishments.
Players that win the award have typically been on teams that finish in the top-3 or so in their respective conference. Russell Westbrook is the outlier, as his team finished sixth in the Western Conference in 2017, although he had to average a triple-double for the first time over 50 years just to take it home. Outside of him, previous winners (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, and on and on) have all been the best player on one the best teams in the entire league.
The Phoenix Suns are not expected to be one of those top teams. In fact, the Suns have a much higher possibility of being a bottom-five team in the league than a top-five team. The organization is in the final stages of their rebuild process and finally have the young pieces necessary that they can justify forgoing tanking. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to win 50 games next season, but they also aren’t in the mindset of losing on purpose. The Suns are going to compete and Booker is going to be the driving force that leads them to wins.
Based on Booker’s previous seasons, we can make an educated guess as to what he can expect from his production for the upcoming season. Last season he averaged 24.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from deep (all improvements from the season before that). All around, those are excellent numbers for a 21-year old. The three-point percentage is the one that needs to take a leap, though. If he can propel that number into the low 40s (somewhere in the 41-42 percent range), his reputation as an elite shooter will only improve as well as the respect he will require from defenders.
Booker is one of the savviest scorers in the NBA. He can create for himself or work off ball-screens to open himself up. He’s an expert in creating the tiniest of windows to get off shots that don’t look open on first glance, but they’re open for him. Building on that is the first step to him becoming a superstar. Scoring is what has made him so deadly up to this point and being able to add an extra four or five points per game will bolster his MVP resume. If he can sniff near 30 points per game, his name will constantly be mentioned in the MVP race, no matter how poorly the Suns do.
*Note: Booker has improved his scoring output in all three seasons, averaging 13.8 points per game his rookie season, 22.1 his sophomore season, and 24.9 last season. Bumping that number up to around 28-plus for this season is entirely plausible.*
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) August 19, 2018
Booker’s MVP chances all come back to his surroundings. He can average damn near 30 points per game, six assists, six rebounds, AND shoot over 40 percent from three but still lose the award by a significant margin, especially if the Suns miss the playoffs as they are expected to. Only Kareem-Abdul Jabaar has won the MVP despite his team missing the playoffs, and that was back in 1976.
The other big issue is Booker’s peers. LeBron James will take on a heavy workload with the Los Angeles Lakers and will more than likely finish top-5 in the MVP race even if he coasts through the season. Anthony Davis will command all the attention in New Orleans, although his team isn’t expected to finish in the top-5 five in the Western Conference. James Harden will be in great position to repeat as MVP and his Houston Rockets team will undoubtedly be one of the five best in the league. Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the path to being the next best player in the NBA and him leading his Milwaukee Bucks team to a top-four seed in the East will earn him some serious consideration. Basically, the competition is going to be steep and Booker is going to have to outplay a lot of older and more experienced players who will all be on better teams.
What Booker does have is the freedom to do what he wants when he wants with the ball. At the moment, the Suns don’t have a de facto point guard of the future and Booker will constantly have the ball in his hands on offense. The fact is, the Suns aren’t going to be good, everyone knows that at this point. They have the pieces they want to build with, now they have to make sure they can all fit. The one thing they know for sure is that Booker can go and get them buckets on call. They drafted DeAndre Ayton, who will create more room as he can potentially help space the floor while taking some pressure off Booker. The addition of Trevor Ariza in free agency takes even more pressure off Booker as the primary scorer, as Ariza is a competent shooter (and solid defender) that can aid in spreading the floor for Book.
Booker is going to have the opportunity to shove his name into the MVP ballots. He’ll have one of the greenest lights in basketball and the freedom to take any shot he feels comfortable with. If he wants MVP consideration though, he’s going to have to clock close to 30 points per game and bring up his perimeter shooting numbers. Without winning at least 40 games though, I don’t see how he could realistically compete for the award no matter what his stats look like. He still may (along with the team) be a year or two away from being a legitimate option for the most prestigious individual award. If Anthony Davis continues to improve year after year (along with Karl-Anthony Towns), there may not be much hope for anyone to win MVP over the next couple seasons, but Booker will surely be one of the players on his heels and this year is the best time to prove that.