Early signs suggest rival star has been unlocked by departure of new Golden State Warriors' guard

Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

The Golden State Warriors aren't just two pacific division rivals battling for a spot in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but they're also inexplicably linked given the careers of future hall-of-famers Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.

After trading for Durant -- the former Warrior and two-time Finals MVP -- during the middle of last season, the Suns made another blockbuster deal in moving Paul for Bradley Beal early in the offseason. Shortly after, Golden State acquired the veteran point-guard in a trade with the Washington Wizards on draft day in June.

It's only early but Chris Paul's departure from the Phoenix Suns to the Golden State Warriors seems to have unlocked former teammate Devin Booker.

After the Suns defeated the Warriors in a close-fought outing on opening night, the fortunes of both teams were quite contrasting over the first few games. Beal and fellow Phoenix star Devin Booker missed time through injury, and the team unsurprisingly struggled to find offense outside Durant as a result. They suffered two shock losses at home to the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs and still sit with just a 5-6 record through 11 games.

Despite his own shooting struggles, Paul proved vital to a revamped Warrior bench that helped push the franchise to 6-2 through eight games. Golden State have lost five-straight since that point, with the 38-year-old averaging 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists on the season.

After question marks on their point-guard play post Paul's tenure, the Suns looked a completely different outfit in Booker's return game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. Although the Wolves entered on a seven-game winning streak, including back-to-back victories over the Warriors, Phoenix took care of business in a 133-115 victory.

Chris Paul, Devin Booker
Former Phoenix Suns' teammates Chris Paul and Devin Booker celebrate during the 2023 postseason. / Harry How/GettyImages

He's only been limited to three games so far this season, but Booker's game looks to have unlocked further as the Suns embrace the 27-year-old as their full-time point-guard. Booker never averaged more than 5.5 assists during Paul's three years with the franchise, but he's already averaging 8.7 to go with 31.3 points in a small yet impressive sample size this season.

""He looked great. The pop was there, just playing with pace. That's what we need. It's good to have our point-guard back.""

Kevin Durant on Devin Booker

Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports noted that Booker has "succeded the Point God" after learning from the 19-year NBA veteran. If he can stay healthy, Booker's new found offensive freedom could lead to genuine MVP candidacy.

The Suns and Warriors will meet three further times this season, starting with Paul's return to Phoenix next week. Given the storylines and intricacies associated with both teams, it feels like a playoff battle could be brewing if each can find and sustain their best form.