Suns’ Devin Booker comes up with 51 points

Somehow we’ve reached the quarter mark of the NBA season.

The Phoenix Suns (15-6) can’t say it went smoothly, but their basketball this 2022-23 season looks damn like a top-notch product. Of late, a more energetic Deandre Ayton has performed without Chris Paul and Cam Johnson.

However, Devin Booker hasn’t let us forget that he’s been a constant this season.

He has a week. Although it was already enough for the Chicago Bulls to blitz him on Wednesday night, the Suns’ two-guard has pressed himself to the heart of very early MVP talk with a 51-point reminder that he’s that guy Wednesday.

After scoring 44 goals against the Sacramento Kings on Monday, Booker told The Athletic’s Sam Amick he’s “not even in this race,” largely because he doesn’t really care. He’s wrong.

Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer narrates Bickley & Marotta on Arizona sports that he was working the phones to learn of fresh trading crashes on Tuesday. There was nothing there. But there have been talks about how Booker’s reputation has changed.

“Honestly, even before the 51-point game, after what he did against Sacramento Monday night, I heard a lot of people talk about how this ‘loser player who didn’t make the playoffs’ put the label on has definitely melted away for Booker,” said Fischer.

“I don’t really like the awards culture and the debates around it, but to me he’s the league’s MVP right now doing what he does, #1 Phoneix in the West without Chris Paul, without Cam Johnson, without Jae Crowder… He has really, I think, turned a lot of naysayers into supporters.”

Last night alone highlighted just how competitive the MVP race is going to be.

Booker had his 20-of-25 shooting night for 51 points before the third quarter ended.

The NBA’s top team, the Boston Celtics (18-4), saw Jayson Tatum pick up 49 points with 25 shots and 11 boards. He hit eight threes and got 11 points from the foul line.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 37 goals with 13 rebounds and seven assists. He also made 25 shots.

Parity in the Western Conference, along with the Celtics and Bucks trying to retire in the East, has set the stage for an unpredictable season in terms of MVP voting.

You could call it a mess. You could also call it a super fun collection of starting talent that at this point almost half of the league could become an MVP candidate.

Here’s a quick look at the top cases so far, loosely ordered by a guy who, like Fischer, wants to educate about good basketball players rather than reinforce the worst parts of the debate culture.

NBA MVP leader, a clear top 5

(Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Stats: 34 PPG, 9 RPG, 9 APG, 2 SPG (51 FG%, 32 3FG%)

If Dallas wasn’t 10-10 this year, he would be the runaway MVP leader at this point. The Mavericks bet a lot of on him and he is delivered and some more. Doncic, in particular, has taken his defensive assertiveness to another level while taking on a lot of offensive responsibility, skipping overtaking lanes and using his anticipation and quick hands to blow up opponents’ possession. If there were a season where the guy with a mediocre team would win the MVP award, that would be the kind of accomplishment required.

Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Stats: 32 PPG, 8 RPG, 5 APG (49 FG%, 37 3FG%)

Boston lost its head coach at an NBA Finals, and that hardly seems to matter. The Celtics are, and have become, No. 1 in offense an excellent jump shooting team – even better than the Warriors and Nets. After winning 14 of 15 games, MVP Tatum will lose if Boston runs away with the league. Or is it?

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Stats: 31 PPG, 12 RPG, 6 APG (53 FG%)

Antetokounmpo has a strong case with better numbers and a less impressive supporting case than Booker with the Suns. He was Milwaukee’s scoring leader in 15 of 20 games, the rebounding leader in 12 of 20, and the assist leader in 10 of 20 Bucks games with a 15-5 start. Khris Middleton is just returning and Antetokounmpo has been flanked in the starting line-up by Jevon Carter and Grayson Allen for much of the season.

Devin Booker, Suns

Stats: 29 PPG, 6 RPG, 5 APG (49 FG%, 38 3FG%)

Statistically, Tatum’s season is similar to Booker’s, but the team context surrounding the former — with Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart pulling the rope — could support Booker’s case in a one-for-one comparison. Phoenix misses Paul and Johnson showed how much the team needs Booker.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Stats: 23 PPG, 10 RPG, 9 APG (63 FG%)

Jokic has quite a number of players around him and has fired four fewer shots per game compared to last year. He’s also seeing a minute reduction this season following his 2021-22 MVP campaign. Denver is second in the Western Conference at 14-7 and has a chance to run away with the conference. He could be the favorite if that’s the case because while the aggression has subsided, the efficiency is insane.

People who might join the conversation when their teams are running

(AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Stephen Curry, warrior

Stats: 31 PPG, 7 APG, 7 RPG (52 FG%, 44 3FG%)

Golden State is trying to find his legs. At 34 and getting better, Curry has already found his. If the season ended now, he would have his best true shot percentage (which accounts for three-pointers and free throws), despite having the second most shots per game in his career.

Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers

Stats: 28 PPG, 5 APG, 4 RPG (49 FG%, 42 3FG%)

Cleveland (14-8) is looking legit, and Mitchell has been more efficient alongside Darius Garland now than he was in his Utah days. But does Garland’s equally outstanding game affect Mitchell’s potential MVP case?

Kevin Durant, Nets

Stats: 30 PPG, 7 RPG, 5 APG, (55 FG%, 36 3FG%)

Durant has progressed quite well from that off-season trade request. Brooklyn has won four out of five.

Joel Embid, Sixers

Stats: 31 PPG, 10 RPG, 5 APG, 2 BPG (51 FG%)

Embiid has answered the bell with James Harden injured this season. Philly just needs to get better.

Yes Morant, Grizzlies

Stats: 28 PPG, 6 RPG, 8 APG (47 FG%, 38 3FG%)

Memphis could be stuck where it is — a certified top-six team in the conference — until Morant finds ways to take it to another level. He has a high turnover rate, which is a sign he can grow, as Booker has done in recent seasons.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Donner

Stats: 31 PPG, 6 APG, 5 RPG, 2 SPG (51 FG%, 34 3FG%)

I am just saying, the Thunder are two games away from a play-in spot. And Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the top two-way forces in the league and is on the verge of winning NBA Most Improved Player honors despite hitting 24 points per game over the past two seasons.

Anthony Davis, Lakers

Stats: Stats: 26 PPG, 13 RPG, 3 APG, 2 BPG, 2 SPG (57 FG%)

I am actually just said that the Lakers are also two games away from a play-in spot. Davis’ historic night against the Suns was a sign he can still do, making him a consistent MVP contender. He obviously needs to stay healthy.

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