DA's Morning Tip
Morning Tip Q&A: Devin Booker
Phoenix's young sharpshooter still learning the ins and outs of NBA life
They just have a look, the guys who can put the ball in the basket. It is a look born out of a million jumpers and ballhandling drills. They have earned that look, almost all of them, and their skill ultimately comes out, on good teams or bad.
Devin Booker, all of 20 years old, already has the look. Even though he’s only played a little more than one NBA season with the Suns — he was first-team all-rookie last year averaging 13.8 points per game — and though Phoenix is struggling again to find a path forward in Earl Watson’s first full season as coach, Booker has gotten off to a rip of a start this season.
He scored a career-high 38 points against the New Orleans Pelicans the second week of the season, a mark he broke the following night with 39 against the Los Angeles Lakers. His shot preceded him into the pros and he spent one year at Kentucky in 2014-15, on a team that featured fellow Lotttery picks Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, winning its first 38 games in a row before losing in the national semifinal to Wisconsin.
Booker went into the Draft and was taken 13th overall in 2015 by Phoenix, which had to recalibrate its plans for a quick rebuild. The Suns fired coach Jeff Hornacek early last season and elevated Watson from his assistant coaching position. Booker came to his love for the game honestly; his father, Melvin, was the Big Eight’s Player of the Year in 1994 from Missouri, and briefly played in the NBA. He taught his son pro drills and training in Mississippi, where he lived and where Devin moved when he went to high school. Those lessons paid off, and the relationship continues to evolve. Melvin Booker now lives with his son In Arizona.
But Devin Booker has more learning to do on his own as a young leader still trying to find his way as he puts the ball in the basket most every night.
Me: The most important question I have is, how much of Jared Dudley’s bs do you listen to? (Ed: Dudley is stretching next to Booker’s stall.)
Devin Booker: I listen to a lot. I don’t really pay any attention to any of it. (Laughs) Nah, he’s a great vet, a great addition to the team. He knows how to the play the game. I’m glad we have him.
Me: What was your Year Two goal?
DB: To still prove myself and still win — well, win. I know people think last year was a fluke season because of the injuries, and being on a bad team and taking a lot of shots. But I don’t care what anybody says. Just trying to get wins. I know I belong. Just solidifying myself in this league, just knowing I’m a player in this league and I’m a threat on the floor.
Me: How did you accomplish that in a league where young guys’ play is so up and down — one night, you’re great; the next, you get busted.
DB: Opportunity. Opportunity. And a coach that trusts me. Once Coach Earl took over he put me in the starting lineup, and he just trusted me. He’s put me in big situations, clutch shots, everything like that. And I’ve missed a few and I’ve made a few, but he still always goes back to it. So having a coach that has that much confidence in you, that you are in yourself, helps out a lot. And the same with the team, the veterans. Usually the vets are like, I’m not going to let this kid be like our, kind of, go-to guy. They’ve accepted that. They told me. They give me my advice, and at the same time when people are praising me, they’ll be honest with me and tell me things I need to work on. That’s what I need.
Me: What do they tell you?
DB: Everything. If I’m slacking on the defensive end, they’ll let me know. Especially P.J., P.J. Tucker. ‘Cause obviously he’s a defensive specialist in this league. He tells me I’m almost there, but there’s a few things I still need to work on. Just having honest vets around, telling me I have to be more consistent every night, 100 percent focused, don’t get complacent. Tyson (Chandler) always says I can be great in this league, but it’s up to me to have that mindset every time I step on the floor.
Me: How did you deal with the wall last season?
DB: I definitely hit the wall. (Even though Booker averaged 19.2 points in his 28 post All-Star games last season, he shot just 40.1 percent and 28.7 percent on 3-pointers, after shooting 45 and 40.3 percent, respectively, before All-Star.) It was tough. It was just staying consistent, staying consistent with the rhythm, doing the same thing every day, keeping a pattern every day. And just keeping a focus.
Me: What are you seeing from defenses this season on your pin-down or single-double actions?
DB: A lot more attention to me than when I first started playing last year. A lot of teams are top blocking me now, trying to get me not to go off the pindown. The big is showing hard on pick and rolls, or sometimes trapping. I’ve seen a lot of defenses, a lot of schemes. I think once I go through these teams once and see how they play it, I’ll have a better understanding of what to expect that night.
Me: How much is Earl putting the ball in your hands so far?
DB: At the end of last year, I had the ball in my hand more. But I understand why it’s not. We have [Eric] Bledsoe and we have Brandon Knight back, and those are point guards that make the game easier for me. I like having the ball in Bled’s hands. It’s less attention off of me, and it gets me easier looks. I’d much rather have it that way than getting trapped off of ball screens.
Me: I know you knew how good Karl (Anthony-Towns) was going to be, but are even you surprised?
DB: I knew. I knew. Since the first day on campus. Just a combination of his work ethic, with skill, just the chip that he still had on his shoulder, being projected as a No. 1 pick, I knew —
Me: You can’t all have a chip on your shoulder. Y’all went to Kentucky.
DB: You have to have a chip on your shoulder. Each and every night, you know you’re going to get a team’s best. I respect everybody who goes to Kentucky. You know that once you sign with Kentucky, the same thing with Duke. You know each and every night it’s going to be a team’s Super Bowl. You’re going to get their best. And you’re going to be in the spotlight. If you play bad, people are going to let you know. But if you play good, that’s a good thing also.
Me: When do you need to tell Dad, I got this. I got it?
DB: I still have to tell him that sometimes. Since day one when I moved in with him, we used to get into it sometimes. But we have a relationship where it’s more like a friendship than anything. It’s not something that I take personal or he takes personal. If he got hard on me sometimes, I let him know, and he let me know you need to do better. I needed that. I needed an honest voice in my life and someone that’s not going to just kiss my ass my whole life. That’s what my dad did for me.
Me: How does someone who won a lot deal with losing a lot?
DB: It’s tough at first. You realize in the NBA, it’s not easy. Each and every night, you’re playing against that player that was the best high school player, that player that was the best player on his college team. There’s no nights off in the NBA. That’s what makes it so special. That’s why everyone loves the game.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
https://t.co/vFPpX3Xfv6 im sorry little Polish Wizard fan !:( sorry u had to see this tonight i Really am:(((
— Marcin Gortat🇵🇱 (@MGortat) November 17, 2016
— Wizards center Marcin Gortat (@MGortat), Wednesday, 7:32 p.m., apologizing to a young Washington fan he saw on video after the Wizards were thumped in Philly by the 76ers. The boy looked in slightly better spirits afterward, via his mom’s Twitter.
THEY SAID IT
“I know Phil’s in a position of power in our sport, but to criticize me and my guys over that is nonsense. If he says it out to the media I can only imagine what he says when the camera is not on him.”
— LeBron James, to local reporters Tuesday, responding to Phil Jackson’s characterization of James’s business partners and managers as his “posse” during an interview with ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan.
“You have a good heart, but you also have to use your head. Learn to say no and practice it often. Even better, choose a financial advisor very, very carefully, and put him between you and the people asking you for money. It’s O.K. to try to make some money outside of basketball, but make sure that a third party who is not part of the deal can warn you of the risks. You’ve worked as hard as anyone to get where you are. Protect what you’ve earned.”
— Former All-Star Antoine Walker, in a “Letter to My Younger Self” on The Players’ Tribune in which Walker details how he wished he’d said “no” more often as he blew through $108 million in career earnings.
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. We’ve got a new guy in charge. This is like our 19th new guy since I’ve been here, but I’m cautiously optimistic things will change. I haven’t seen evidence of that yet.”
— Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, to the Boston Globe, on his current assessment of the league’s officiating — long a Cuban punching bag — now that the league has put longtime veteran referee Bob Delaney in charge of its Referee Operations Development/Performance Group.
Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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