Shootaround (Oct. 23): Devin Booker ready to rise with young Suns
Devin Booker ready to rise | Nets hope to bounce back | Warriors have a “scoring” issue
No. 1: Devin Booker ready to rise — The NBA.com poll of general managers revealed the GMs have a man-crush on Devin Booker. By all indications, Booker seems poised for a breakout year and his scoring average could be in the 20s. It has been a rapid rise for Booker, still a teenager. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic on the young Suns franchise player:
Fifty-one times last season, an NBA arena announcer bellowed “from Kentucky” when Devin Booker was introduced in the Suns starting lineup.
Booker was “from the Phoenix Suns” for other honors such as being a representative at the NBA draft lottery or participating in NBA All-Star weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge and 3-Point Shootout.
Booker rapidly arrived at success in college and the NBA, but his talent and temperament draw inspiration from other places and people over his first 17 years.
LeBron James predicts an All-Star future for Booker. Kobe Bryant told Booker to be legendary. NBA general managers voted Booker the leader to be the league’s breakout player this season.
That is where Booker is headed.
He is from a suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., and the small Gulf Coast town of Moss Point, Miss. He is from Veronica Gutierrez, who raised her three children on her own, and Melvin Booker, a father who ended his European basketball career to coach him. He is from Davon Wade, an older brother who fed Booker’s fire, and Mya Powell, a younger sister whose perpetual smile amid special needs kept his world in perspective.
“I know where I’m at right now and I know where I’m trying to get,” Booker said.
Booker is a Suns starting guard and their most popular player, even though he will not turn 20 until four days after the season opener. He is prominent on Suns billboards as well as opponent scouting reports after an All-Rookie season, but such status was never a given. At every step, he demanded the attention.
That began with his childhood in the eastern Michigan town of Grandville. Booker was fearless as the NBA’s youngest player last season because he grew up battling Wade, 3 ½ years older, and his friends.
Booker drew competitiveness from duels with Davon and paired that fire with the work ethic of his mother, a cosmetologist who prioritized her children while Booker’s father played professionally in Europe for 13 years. Devin Armani Booker was born after his parents had a relationship during Melvin’s 1995-96 season with Grand Rapids’ CBA team.
“Davon always said I wasn’t good enough,” Booker said. “Too young, too little at the time. But I always competed. When he was bigger, we used to always get in fights and he’d always win. He was bigger. It was unfair. Things have changed now.”
The brothers played relentlessly on a portable hoop they rolled into the street. Booker could mimic Wade’s abilities and hang with the older players.
Booker was just as good at football but they bonded over basketball. In second grade, Booker played on Wade’s three-on-three team because they needed him to win the tournament. Booker’s losses and hard knocks were kept to the neighborhood asphalt.
“I can think of countless times he’d go inside mad or whining,” said Wade, who lives with Booker in Tempe. “He just wanted to beat me so bad. He’s been so competitive for his entire life. He couldn’t beat me growing up but the gap closed quick.“
No. 2: Nets hope to bounce back — Perhaps no GM job in recent history has been tougher than the one Sean Marks inherited in Brooklyn. He’s working without a safety net, given that his roster lacks an abundance of assets and he doesn’t own his No. 1 pick outright until 2019. Still, Marks is determined to push the Nets toward respectability faster than anyone thinks. Here’s a take on the Nets as their rebuild commences by Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
Sean Marks inherited the unenviable job of leading the Brooklyn Nets to prosperity when in many ways the organization remains crippled by his predecessor, Billy King.
The new general manager will likely have to swap his first-round pick with the Celtics in next year’s draft, and then hand over his 2018 first-rounder to Boston to finally complete the compensation for the July 2013 deal that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Nets.
So what Marks has done since taking over is sign a handful of veterans to short-term deals, provide stability by signing Jeremy Lin, trade for prospects, and offer second chances to some who fizzled with other teams.
After the organization’s attempt to form its own Big Three was an abject failure, the Nets are rebuilding, hoping free agency can eventually foster the process. Until then they are just going to rely on new coach Kenny Atkinson, play hard, and compete.
Marks was hired away from the San Antonio Spurs. He wanted his own team, but he fully understands resuscitating the Nets, expected to be a lottery team, is an arduous task.
“It’s fun, at the same time all-consuming,” said Marks, who played 230 NBA games over 12 years. “But to be able to see things very, very slowly coming together and getting the players to buy in and the collaboration between the performance team, coaching team, front office — that’s been good to see.”
Marks’s first move was to hire Atkinson, whom many Hawks players credit along with coach Mike Budenholzer with their emergence as an Eastern Conference contender. Despite the lack of pure talent, the Nets have played hard and passionately during the preseason, a byproduct of Atkinson’s relentless style.
“We’re going to have to be scrappy, and that’s Kenny’s makeup,” Marks said. “He sort of exemplifies what it means to be that Brooklyn grit that we talk about.
He’s going to demand it from the players. The players respect him because he’s out there with the guys every day on the court. He means it. He cares for them, and I think that’s where you get that player buy-in.”
No. 3: Warriors have a “scoring” issue — Kevin Durant is on pace to become one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and Steph Curry is coming off a season where he destroyed the record for 3-pointers made. There’s also Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and … you get the point. The Warriors can find the basket. So: Who’s leading this team in scoring this season? And does it matter? Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle explored what may lie ahead for the Warriors’ offense:
On Sept. 17, three days before the official release of the video game “NBA 2K17,” Myles Turner shot a warning to his more than 38,000 Twitter followers.
“Gunna say this once and once only,” the Pacers’ 20-year-old power forward wrote, “if you use the Warriors on 2k we cannot associate literally unfair.”
More than two months later, Turner’s point stands: Golden State, which enters its season opener Tuesday as the first team in league history with four reigning All-NBA players, is capable of video-game performances any given night. After all, the Warriors added Kevin Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champion, to a group that led the league last season with 114.9 points per game.
Which makes for an interesting debate: Who will be Golden State’s top scorer? Durant? Stephen Curry? Klay Thompson?
“That’s the thing that’s kind of scary,” said one Western Conference executive. “It’s kind of a lose-lose situation because, if you double-team Steph or KD, someone else is going to be open.”
The Warriors are a popular betting topic in Las Vegas, and among the lines people can gamble on is, indeed, which player will lead the team in scoring.
Durant is the heavy favorite at -150 at online betting site Bovada.lv, while Curry is +110. It might seem a promising bet to anyone who followed Curry’s 2015-16 season. This is a player who shattered his record for three-pointers made, shot 50.4 percent from the field and became the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.
Still, the oddsmakers recognize that Durant is the more versatile scorer. Although Curry is an elite ball hander and perhaps the best jump shooter of all time, his offensive arsenal is somewhat limited. Durant, with his 7-5 wingspan and deceptive speed, is the rare player who is just as skilled at hitting three-pointers as he is banging in the low post.
The seven-time NBA All-Star was one of the best post-up players in the league last season, scoring 1.23 points per post-up on 60.9 percent shooting. Over the past month, while acclimating to a new supporting cast, he showed flashes of his offensive arsenal.
Durant led the Warriors in the preseason with 20.9 points in 25.1 minutes per game. With Curry and Thompson spacing the floor, he shot 54.3 percent from the field and 55.9 percent from beyond the arc. He also drew fouls with regularity and converted 27 of his 28 free throws.
“I’m trying to have a robot mind-set every single day, just stick to what I do,” Durant said. “I’m not worried about what type of game we’re playing or who we’re playing. I’ve just got to do my job.”
After averaging a career-high 14 points per game last season, All-Star Draymond Green appears content focusing on other aspects of his game. He finished the preseason sixth on the team in scoring but second in assists, rebounds and steals.
Thompson, a spot-up shooter who thrives off the ball, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Durant’s arrival. Free to work off screens and find looks in the flow of the offense, the two-time All-Star shot 50.6 from the field in the preseason and 42.3 percent from three-point range.
More reliant on dribbling than Thompson, Curry took longer to adjust to Durant. He attempted no more than eight shots in each of Golden State’s first three preseason games. But Curry gradually learned how to play in harmony with Durant, and in Golden State’s final two exhibitions the pair combined for 122 points (67 from Curry, 55 from Durant).
“We have a lot of great talent, and we just have to put it all together,” Curry said. “We’ve always been deep the last three years, maybe longer, but we’re just doing it with different personnel this year.”
Random Notes: For those who think Ricky Rubio is about to lose his starting job to rookie Kris Dunn, think again … Jerry West is a believer in Harrison Barnes, still … Is this the year Philly shows growth, or not? Some are skeptical … Warriors still talking about that Draymond Green story … Earl Watson is big on his former teammate and current Lakers coach, Luke Walton.