Devin Booker has taken superstar billing in leading the way for Phoenix Suns in NBA playoffs

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Nobody could have imagined the Phoenix Suns looking like this. Kevin Durant was supposed to be the go-to dominant star. Instead, Devin Booker has risen from being the best No. 2 option in the NBA to the MVP of the playoffs.

Through nine games, Booker is averaging 36.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 2 steals. His shooting splits are insane: 61.7 percent on field goal, 51 percent on 3-pointers, 65.2 percent on 2-point field goals, and 67.9 effective field goal percentage.

Is it time to declare Booker a superstar?

Many league observers predicted Durant would bring his career 29 points per game scoring average to the Suns and take control of the team, leading them as the favorites to win the NBA title. That happened. But then the playoffs arrived, and Durant faded back, giving way to Booker erupting to the most dominant offensive player in the postseason. That’s not to say Durant has also not continued to be a basketball God. Durant is maintaining a 30-point scoring average. Of active playoff performers, Booker is first in scoring. Durant is fifth.

But the Suns have primarily depended on Booker’s excellence. The Denver Nuggets have no answer for him. This is understandable, as Denver’s defense is schemed to contain Durant, allowing Booker single-coverage, a sin the Nuggets thought they could live with.

Devin Booker dropped 47 points in Game 3 and 36 points in Game 4, resulting in the Suns tying the series 2-2. Game 5 is Tuesday in Denver (10 p.m. ET, TNT).

With Chris Paul out with a groin injury and DeAndre Ayton being rightly outplayed by Nicola Jokic, it has come down to Booker bringing the Suns back. According to Stathead, Booker has become the first player in NBA history to score 30 or more points with a field goal percentage of 75 or better in consecutive postseason games. His Game 4 scoring output marked the sixth time he has scored at least 35 points in these playoffs, the most ever by a Phoenix player.

“I’m just trying to win. I always say, and this is something I tell (Kevin Durant), throw that efficiency (expletive) out the window,” Booker told reporters after Game 4. “I don’t care about that. Just keep going. Keep attacking (and) keep being aggressive. If it’s a product of getting open shots and knocking them down, that’s what I’m supposed to do. I feel like I’m supposed to make a lot of the shots I take.”

Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters, “That’s just Book. He looks for those moments to not just make those shots but to send a message to his team that he can carry us.”

Devin Booker’s star rating

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

So, is Devin Booker a superstar now? He is certainly acting like one in the playoffs. It’s the superstars who drag their team back from 0-2 to tie the series. Booker’s done that. It’s even more of a shocking twist that he’s doing so with Durant on the roster. Back home, in front of the fans he’s been playing in front of for eight seasons, Booker shot 14-of-18 for 36 points, six rebounds, a steal, plus a playoff career-high 12 assists. Those types of performances are reserved not for team’s first option.

Superstars also step up when the situation calls upon them to. In the two games Paul has missed, Booker is shooting 34-for-43. That’s a Shaquille O’Neal level of efficiency. They also match up against fellow superstars in seminal duels. The third quarter of Game 4 was when the Booker vs. Jokic shootout happened. In that quarter, Jokic erupted for 18 points and three assists. Booker countered with 17 points and three assists, giving the Suns the edge, 35-31. Jokic finished with a game-high 53 points, four rebounds, 11 assists, and a block on 20-for-30 shooting. But Booker’s output won the game.

Even Shaquille O’Neal had to comment on Booker’s output after Game 4, saying on TNT’s Inside the NBA, “Devin Booker, I’m sorry; I owe you an apology. I got on TV and said you won’t go 20-25 again; you messed around and went 14-18. So, sir, I apologize, and I love the way you’re playing.”

With Paul out, Booker also has stepped into the playmaker role. Before Paul went out, Booker and Durant combined for 18 total assists in Games 1 and 2. With the two having to play a more prominent role in facilitating in Games 3 and 4, they stepped it up for 35 assists. That jump shows Booker’s ability to match Durant in becoming whatever the team needs to win.

On the scoring side, Booker has now scored 331 points during this postseason, the most by any player through nine playoff games since Michael Jordan in 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the two home games to even the series, he’s made 20 of 26 jump shots (76.9 percent), ranking as the best over two playoff games in the decade. (Second Spectrum’s player tracking ranks this among more than 900 players who attempted at least 25 shots.)

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Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone has thrown every defense possible at Booker, failing to slow him down. That’s the type of dominance only superstars are capable of. If Booker has evolved into a superstar, that’s a scary proposition for the Nuggets, who would face two in their prime over the next three games.

What makes Booker’s emergence so special is that it’s homegrown. The Suns’ new ownership, front office, and the fans are watching Booker grow from the 19-year-old neophyte who survived losing season after losing season into a top-five scorer in the NBA. And, yes, a superstar as well.

Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo

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