In tight race, Suns' Booker pushes into All-Star discussion
By DAVID BRANDT
PHOENIX (AP) Devin Booker has produced the kind of all-around numbers for the past few seasons that suggest he should be an NBA All-Star. He usually commands the respect of opposing defenses like an All-Star. His teammates and coach believe there is no doubt that he's an All-Star.
Yet the fifth-year Phoenix Suns guard has never been an All-Star.
That could change fairly soon.
The 23-year-old looks like he'll be caught in quite a battle for the final spots in the Western Conference when the reserves are announced next week. The league's coaches will likely have several good players to choose from, including Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Brandon Ingram.
If he makes it, Booker would be the Suns' first All-Star since Steve Nash in 2012.
"I've said it for a couple years - my main focus is to turn around this franchise and get to the playoffs," Booker said. "Obviously, (being an All-Star is) an individual goal of mine. I feel like I've played at that level. I guess we'll see. It's a selection process that I have no control over."
The case for Booker is pretty straightforward: He's among the league's most productive and efficient scorers. He's ninth in the NBA with 26.5 points per game and is shooting 51% from the field, including 36% from 3-point range. He's also shooting 92% on free throws.
He's a capable passer with 6.3 assists per game and his defense is usually solid.
Maybe most importantly, the Suns are finally winning some games after four brutal seasons. They're 18-26 right now and still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. An improved supporting cast of Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Deandre Ayton - along with first-year coach Monty Williams - has been crucial.
But there's no doubt this is Booker's team.
"His game is pure art," Oubre said. "If you're looking at Devin Booker play basketball, and you're saying that he's anything but a superstar in this league, let's be real man, don't talk to me. He should be in the All-Star Game because he's worked for it and he has the talent, too."
Booker is sometimes overlooked because of his blue-collar style. He rarely lights teams up with huge dunks or 3-pointers from 10 feet behind the arc. If he scores 35 points in a night, it's usually because he's slowly wearing down opponents with 15-foot jumpers and muscular drives to the rim.
Williams appreciates the consistency Booker brings each night. He's saved some of his best performances for the past few weeks, leading the team in scoring in 12 of the past 14 games. At one point, he scored at least 30 points in seven straight games, which set a franchise record.
"I feel like you'd be hard-pressed to name another guard that's that much better than Devin; that is that efficient and plays the way that he plays and means as much to our team where we are as much as Devin," Williams said.
But the NBA is full of high-scoring guards who are all vying for All-Star recognition. Earlier this week, Booker scored 37 points in a nearly single-handed comeback attempt against the San Antonio Spurs. A couple hours later, Portland's Lillard poured in 61 points as the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors.
Williams said he's done "all I can" to let people around the NBA know just how good Booker has been. In about a week, he'll know if all that lobbying has been effective.
Booker said he's appreciative of his coach's efforts.
"It means a lot - he's an honest guy, straightforward and always keeps it real," Booker said.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated January 23, 2020