The mother of all NBA seasons is almost here. So as you finalize your League Pass subscriptions, complete your fantasy drafts, and prepare the guacamole for your watch parties, take some time to ponder the true meaning of the season — specifically, the benevolent stars who make such a joyous holiday possible with their prodigious athletic talents.
Here I present, each NBA team’s most important player heading into 2017-18:
Atlanta Hawks — Dennis Schroder, PG
“All my friends are dead,” said Schroder in his best Lil Uzi Vert voice as he gazed upon his roster following the respective exits of his last remaining All-Star teammates in Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard this summer. Yes, the Hawks are now as thin as a toothpick, and the incentive for them to “Do Badly for Bagley” or “Make The Fans Puka for Luka” will be enormous. But someone has to lead this JV squad, and their resident German is as good of an option as any. Perhaps we will see Dennis the Menace gun for 20 and 10. Maybe he develops some nice pick-and-roll chemistry with new additions Dewayne Dedmon and rookie John Collins. Perhaps he finally bleaches his entire head blonde. Anything to give this team a modicum of watchability this season.
Boston Celtics — Kyrie Irving
After selling an arm, a leg, and a hip for him this summer, the Celtics will hope that Irving’s performance in his first season with them does not fall flat. The outside noise in Uncle Drew’s ear will be deafening — mockery of his decision to ditch LeBron James and go off in search of his own empire, jeers at the perceived stagnation of his playmaking skills, pervasive meme treatments of his unorthodox views on astronomy. But Irving is here for one reason and one reason only: to ball out. And that’s what he’s gonna do. Just remember kids, there’s no such thing as distractions when you’re very much woke. [mic drop]
He may not even be of legal drinking age yet, but Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is already going to the Hall of Fame … in a sense.
Booker’s game-worn jersey from his 70-point outburst against the Boston Celtics last month has been sent to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, they announced in a tweet on Tuesday.
The 20-year-old’s eruption on March 24 was the second-highest single-game scoring total in the 21st century and tied for tenth-highest in NBA history. While there was some controversy over the way Booker did it, it was a historic display in every sense of the word and will now be immortalized as such. Not bad for a kid who’s still the age of most college sophomores.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has been on fire since the team shut Eric Bledsoe down for the year. Listed as a shooting guard, Booker has been lighting up the scoreboard and dropped 70 points in a game last week against the Boston Celtics. But he has also shown an ability to set his teammates up.
While the Suns have lost 12 straight, Booker’s individual performance has been enough to inspire his coach to compare him to one of the best players in the NBA.
“I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly before, but he reminds me a lot of James Harden,” Suns coach Earl Watson said Sunday, via Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic. “When Devin Booker took off at the end of last season, he was at the point. He had a lot of 30-point games. This year he’s had a 70-point game. It’s not a coincidence.”
Booker has essentially been Phoenix’s backup point guard behind Tyler Ulis since Bledsoe went down, and the former 13th overall pick has averaged 6.8 assists over the past four games. The 39.3 points per game he is averaging is the number that sticks out more, but the increase in assists is what reminds Watson of Harden.
Harden, a shooting guard for most of his career, was given the keys to the offense by Mike D’Antoni this season. He’s averaging 11.2 assists — the highest total of his career by far — to go along with 29.2 points per game.
“I think if that’s possible, James will open up the door for (Booker to be a point guard),” Watson said. “You definitely see him with the ball in his hands down the stretch. It depends on the roster and creativity and vision of the program.
“He plays at his own speed. He plays not fast, but it’s quick. Not blazing, but somehow he dunks on you. He can shoot, he can handle, he can pass and he can post up. He’s very versatile.”
The Suns have the second-worst record in the NBA, meaning they are likely to get a high pick in a draft that is loaded with talented guards. If they end up drafting Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, it will be interesting to see who plays the point. Based on the way Watson defended Booker against criticism over Booker’s 70-point game, you might conclude the former Kentucky star has the early upper hand.
NBA Instagram: It’s where the action continues even after the game ends.
Some Boston Celtics were bothered by the Phoenix Suns’ tactics in padding Devin Booker’s stats on Friday night after he scored 70 points in a defeat to Boston.
After the game, Jae Crowder threw some shade at the Suns for celebrating after a defeat. Crowder commented on a photo posted by the NBA’s official account of the Suns celebrating in their locker room around Booker. He said “never seen so many guys happy after an ‘L'” in the comment.
Booker responded in the comments saying that Crowder couldn’t guard him. Both Marquese Chriss and Tyson Chandler chimed in, while Crowder also responded. He told Booker that he was talking about the rest of the Suns, not Booker.
Many others must feel differently, because stars like Chris Paul and John Wall liked the photo on Instagram.
The Suns have taken a lot of heat for their tactics, but head coach Earl Watson defended his actions.
Devin Booker had a game he will never forget and players from around the NBA had some great reactions to his historic night.
Coming into Friday, Booker’s career-high for points in a game was 39, which he has done on three occasions. Against the Celtics he bettered that number by 31.
The 20-year-old set a new Suns franchise record with 70 points, topping the previous mark of 60 set by Tom Chambers. Ironically, Chambers set the prior record on March 24, 1990. Booker had 19 points at halftime before exploding for 51 in the second half. It was the highest single-game point total since Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance against the Raptors in 2006.
Not only were fans in awe of Booker’s accomplishment, but other players from around the NBA were as well. Here are some of the reactions.
Here’s a photo shared by Jared Dudley of Booker holding a piece of paper with “70” on it while surrounded by teammates.
Last year, Booker said he didn’t think anyone would get to 81 points again.
He wasn’t too far off tonight.
Devin Booker made some history on Friday night by scoring 70 points in a loss to the Boston Celtics. But he upset some people on the way to the astronomical point total.
Celtics reporter Marc D’Amico says the Celtics’ coaching staff was left shaking their heads at the way the Suns tried to pad Booker’s stats in the game, which Phoenix lost 130-120.
Isaiah Thomas, who had 34 in the win, didn’t seem happy about Phoenix’s tactics.
Phoenix was down 128-115 with 44 seconds left and called a 20-second timeout. Booker was sent to the line by a foul from Isaiah Thomas and made all three of his free throws. Then after the Suns fouled Boston and Thomas made both his free throws to make it a 12-point game with 41 seconds left, Phoenix called timeout again.
The Suns were also fouling as part of a comeback strategy, unwilling to concede defeat despite the large deficit in the final minute.
Booker still had to play awesome to get that many points, and he did. He was 21-for-40 and made 24 of 26 free throws to get to 70 points. He probably would have scored in the sixties if his coach didn’t help out with the fouls and timeouts, but it seems like Phoenix did its best to get him to that pretty, round number.
Suns head coach Earl Watson certainly wasn’t apologizing for his tactics.
Even during his low moments, Devin Booker still has his fans in mind.
Booker was ejected at the end of his Phoenix Suns’ loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday after picking up his second technical foul during the game. But the Suns guard was so chill about the ejection that he still signed an autograph on the way out:
What a thoughtful gesture from Booker. The second-year guard from Kentucky is averaging 20.2 points per game this season.
There are some times when NBA players hit the jackpot and find the rare nexus where talent, opportunity, and circumstance all intersect. You can have all the talent in the Western Hemisphere, but with no opportunity and poor circumstantial luck, you’re basically rookie-year D’Angelo Russell: imprisoned in a cell built entirely out of parting Kobe Bryant bricks and guarded by Byron Scott’s folded arms.
With ample opportunity but questionable talent and equally questionable circumstance, you’ll faceplant and find yourself in The Anthony Bennett Zone, forever haunted by The Ghost of No. 1 Overall Picks Past. Talent and circumstance without opportunity turns you into pre-Enes-Kanter-trade Rudy Gobert or worse, Darko Milicic: selected No. 2 overall by a championship-caliber Detroit Pistons team but perpetually thumb-tacked to the end of their bench and finding himself cursing the mothers of European referees just four years later.
Even talent and opportunity sans circumstance guarantees you nothing if, say, you’re drafted onto a Washington Wizards team run by a competitive maniac named Michael Jordan, who shatters your psyche and your confidence in yourself from the moment you enter the league (sorry, Kwame).
But for these five players, the stars will align in 2016-17, and they’ll find themselves in prime position to achieve what so many before them for whatever reason couldn’t: a full-fledged breakout year.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Performing in front of a packed crowd in Phoenix on Tuesday night, hip-hop deity Drake decided to throw the local fans a bone.
The Champagne Papi played the Talking Stick Resort Arena as the latest stop on his “Summer Sixteen Tour” with Future and did so while sporting a jersey of the Suns’ own Devin Booker.
Needless to say, Booker appreciated the love.
The connection between the two runs deep as Booker is a product of the University of Kentucky, Drizzy’s noted basketball program of choice.
For the 19-year-old guard, who will look to build on his rookie-year averages of 13.8 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, and 2.6 assists per game, it’s great to see that somebody is finally putting some respeck on his name.
Devin Booker is the sharpshooting young 2-guard the Phoenix Suns drafted No. 13 overall last summer. Devin Butler is the Notre Dame cornerback who was arrested over the weekend on preliminary felony charges of battery to law enforcement and resisting arrest. ESPN ran into a bit of trouble making that distinction on Saturday.
The Worldwide Leader in Sports had a rather embarrassing gaffe on an episode of SportsCenter when they used an image of Booker to accompany a story about Butler’s arrest.
Of course living in the era of social media, the goof would not go unnoticed and wound up going viral, even coming to the attention of Booker himself.
The network quickly issued an apology within the hour, which was read on the air by anchor Zubin Mehenti.
Apparently, 13.8 points per game in your first NBA season, All-Rookie First Team honors, and a personalized gift from The Black Mamba isn’t enough to garner some respect around these parts. Keep grinding, Book.
Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
H/T For The Win