How Suns' Devin Booker stays fresh to carry heavy workload vs. Bucks in NBA Finals
PHOENIX — Sometimes, he might just ask the question. Other times, he might just give a look.
Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams remains well aware six-year guard Devin Booker is only 24 years old. But sometimes, Williams still finds it necessary to check if Booker needs some rest. He then quickly realizes he should not have broached the topic.
"It’s insulting to him when I ask him about his stamina," Williams said. "I’m sure it does happen. But the really good players and great players in this league don’t allow being tired from keeping them from doing what they have to do."
In the Suns’ 118-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Booker logged a high volume in points (31), shots (12-of-25 overall, 7-of-12 from 3) and minutes (44). Phoenix has discovered that Booker has done this not just by relying on his young age and athleticism. Booker already has incorporated tips he learned from teammate Chris Paul, former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and other veterans on how to maximize his durability and energy.
"It’s everything," Booker said. "I take bits and pieces from all my mentors for preparation with diet, strength training and making sure your body can withhold these moments."
Therefore, it surprised no one that Booker was ready for the moment in a pivotal Game 2 that gave the Suns a 2-0 series lead. After missing seven of his first 10 shots, Booker quickly course corrected. He made two consecutive 3-pointers that gave the Suns a 101-88 lead with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter.
How could Booker course correct so quickly?
The Suns see how Booker remains disciplined with his shooting mechanics both in practice and in games. Paul observed that Booker "just stays in attack mode all game long."
"The thing about Devin is he shoots the same way first quarter, fourth quarter, it doesn’t matter," Williams said. "His shot looks the same. That’s a guy that has put a ton of work in his shot. But the mentality, he’s calm in those moments."
And he’s calm in those moments partly because he has the stamina to keep going. Sometimes young players can exert that energy while getting away with poor habits. Not Booker, who has prompted the Suns to call him an "old soul" because he treats his craft like an established veteran hoping to make his prime years last a little bit longer.
"It's the treatment, it's the shots, it's the everything," Paul said. "We have a day in between games or something, I might shoot a little and then sit out. But Book really wants to shoot some shots. And everything is game speed."
The Suns stressed that plenty of other players have shown these consistent work habits, including Cameron Payne, Jae Crowder and other role players. But not everyone has Booker’s talent to match that work ethic.
"Every guy that I’ve been around, they have something in them to push them past exhaustion," Williams said. "That’s the reason why those guys work the way they work in the summer time, so that they can be ready for those moments that when they are tired, it doesn’t mess with their game."
It is therefore not surprising to hear Booker’s answer on whether he will play for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics later this month: "I’ll be there," he said.
Booker said he told Team USA director Jerry Colangelo and coach Gregg Popovich that he wants to play even though their first game is on July 25, only three days after a possible Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
"Very important. It’s a life goal of mine," Booker said. "I think it's the most prestigious event that basketball can find. So to be a part of representing your country I think brings you to a whole other stratosphere. Just thinking of the guys that have come before us and represented our country, I don't think there's anything better than winning a gold medal."
Winning the NBA Finals would come second. If the Suns wrap up the series this week after Game 4 (Wednesday) or Game 5 (July 17), perhaps Booker will have more time to recharge before heading to Tokyo.
Williams might not want to bring up that idea, though. Booker might just glare at him.
"We’re young and getting it and trying to get after it," Booker said. "So I don’t feel tired, for real."