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3-point champion Booker stays upbeat as Suns losses mount

By BOB BAUM

AP Sports Writer

PHOENIX (AP) After Devin Booker hoisted the trophy for winning the 3-point shooting title over All-Star weekend, he said he was bringing it home for the Phoenix Suns fans .

They can use any good news they can get.

The losses are mounting yet again for the young team, with the talented Booker - mature and poised beyond his years - a beacon of hope that someday things will turn around and the Suns will be the exciting, vibrant franchise they once were.

Booker is 12th in the NBA in scoring at 24.2 points per game but, in the talent-laden West, he didn't make the All-Star Game.

It didn't help his chances that the Suns are tied with Atlanta for the league's worst record (18-41).

Instead, he was one of the 3-point contestants, and won it with a record 28 points in the final round, making 20 of 25 shots, to defeat 2016 champion Klay Thompson.

"It feels really good," Booker said afterward. "I wanted to go out there and make a name for myself."

He wants, he said, to be the best shooter in the game.

The Phoenix guard, in his third NBA season but just 21 years old, has never been shy about his desire to be the best, and his game has been praised by some of the NBA's biggest stars.

"I love Devin Booker, man," Golden State's Kevin Durant said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. "He'll rough you up. ... You better watch out for that boy because he's nice. He's next, I'm telling you."

There is a nasty edge to Booker's game that belies his off-court demeanor.

"I always tell people don't judge me how I am between the lines," he said with a smile. "I'm a totally different person when I'm playing. I think it's just the grit and nasty. It's not a pretty game. It might look like that on TV, where everyone's friends. They say the NBA game has gone soft, but it hasn't.

"People are out to take your job. It's like an eat or be eaten mentality. That's the mentality I have every I time I step on the floor."

Booker has 16 games of at least 30 points this season, and don't forget the 70 he got against Boston last season.

But his ability has not turned into wins. There isn't enough talent and experience around him.

The Suns have lost seven in a row and 13 of 14. Among those losses, a 48-point blowout at home against San Antonio, matching the worst loss in Suns history - set in this season's opener against Portland. Two games after the Spurs debacle, Phoenix lost at Golden State by 46.

Booker, out with a hip pointer, could only watch.

Phoenix will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year, but Booker insists on trying to see the positives and the big picture.

"Just turning around a franchise, I think that would make it that much better eventually when I start winning," he said.

"All these losses in the beginning, obviously they hurt now, but I think two or three years, looking back, it will be really nice to be winning and having to go through that growth with a good group of guys."

General manager Ryan McDonough has said he wants to accelerate the timetable of the team's growth by using some of the draft picks and considerable cap space the Suns have to work with. They've added Booker to the management brain trust.

"We've made him a partner in the process," McDonough said. "We've invited him and encouraged him to come around in May and June when we're working guys out for the draft and watch the workouts and give us feedback. And he's a basketball junkie. Everybody knows that."

Booker played one season at Kentucky, the team's shooting specialist off the bench. The Suns picked him at No. 13 overall.

"We had him rated higher than where he was selected," McDonough said. "But I'd be lying to you if I said we thought he'd be one of the top four or five scorers in NBA history before his 21st birthday, be able to put up 70 points in an NBA game a year ago and be able to carry a team offensively at a high level."

Now the Suns are using the Golden State Warriors as a model of what they want to do. The Warriors struggled in Stephen Curry's first three seasons.

Booker fills the role of Curry in those early days. He's even played a little point guard although shooting guard is his natural position.

"Every great player I've been around has that passion for the game, that dedication to the game," McDonough said, "and he checks all those boxes."

Updated February 19, 2018

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