Game Preview | In Swift, Timely Fashion, Booker Getting Down to Business
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - The look felt like it was an appropriate fit for Trevor Booker.
Following his 76ers debut Saturday in Cleveland, there the forward was, sporting a gray suit and white dress shirt, collar open, as he left the locker room.
Going into Tuesday’s match-up with the Minnesota Timberwolves (9:30 PM EST; ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia+, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), Booker hasn’t even spent five full days with the Sixers yet. But on the heels of being acquired in last Thursday’s trade with the Brooklyn Nets, he’s already left a clear impression. The eight-year veteran means business.
Just watch how he plays - fearless, assertive, tough, on each end of the court, no less.
Booker displayed these traits at his previous stops, in Washington, Utah, and Brooklyn, and they’ve certainly been ever-present through his first two appearances with the Sixers. The Clemson product went for 12 points and 8 rebounds (4 offensive) Saturday against the Cavaliers. Then, for an encore Sunday, he tallied 16 points and 9 boards (5 offensive) versus the New Orleans Pelicans.
While rapidly adapting to new surroundings, Booker has still managed to make significant contributions.
“I think one of the things that makes him unique - it’s the reason he’s stayed in the league so long and plays - is he knows who he is,” Brett Brown said over the weekend. “He’s not trying to reinvent himself. It’s a simple game, it’s a man’s game, it’s a physical game, it’s a move the ball game. And, he defends.”
Amidst an early-December stretch in which the Sixers have been tasked with overcoming injuries to some of the most leaned-upon players (Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric), Booker’s addition has been both impactful, and timely.
Consistent with his approach in 18 outings this season with Brooklyn, during which he was averaging a career-best 10.1 points, plus 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, Booker has so far continued to live mostly in the lane. Offensively, he relies on a heavy dose of opportunism, manifested by tip-ins and putbacks, as well as drives to the hoop.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Booker’s made shots plot with the Nets, and the one he’s now compiling with the Sixers. As you can tell, a similar distribution is developing:
Defensively, Booker provides a rugged, pesky presence. He’s someone who’s unafraid to battle inside, and clean the glass.
“I play aggressive, especially on defense,” Booker said Saturday in Cleveland. “I try to be a pest, disrupt things, and just play with high energy.”
To date, Booker has done just that, even while navigating a whirlwind set of circumstances. Thursday’s trade call sprung him from the pre-game nap he was taking in Mexico City, where Brooklyn was set to play its next two contests. He then caught an 8 o’clock flight to Houston, where his connection back to New York was delayed until midnight because of...snow? Yes, snow.
Booker finally got back to Brooklyn by around 5 o’clock Friday morning, packed a few bags, slept until eight, then took a car to the Sixers’ training complex in Camden. Shortly after 10 a.m., Booker was taking his physical, and doing light work on the court. By 4 o’clock Friday afternoon, he was in the air again, on the Sixers’ plane, ready to roll for a 3-game road trip.
“Once I got to Cleveland,” Booker said, “I slept.”
As smooth as Booker has made his transition seem, the 30-year old father of four has been working hard behind the scenes. He’s been meeting daily with coaches, reviewing verbiage and schemes.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said Booker, which makes how well he’s played that much more impressive. “I’m still trying to learn the offense and defense, trying to learn the calls so I can communicate, just get more comfortable. Once I get comfortable with everything, I look to make a bigger impact.”
Staying true to the qualities that originally put him on the Sixers’ radar several months ago, however, Booker has come in, and produced, at a much needed juncture of the season, too. As Brown put it, Booker is a someone “who plays the way he plays, and has stayed in the league and played in the league for those reasons.”
It’s all business, and Brown is thrilled that Booker’s on board.
“God, he plays hard,” Brown said Sunday. “He’s so athletic, deceptively strong. He has a bounce. I feel like we’ve inherited something that’s going to help us, and I think his energy has been excellent.”
Bidding for their first winning season since the 2004-2005 campaign, the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-11) enter action Tuesday with the fourth-best record in the Western Conference. Karl-Anthony Towns is pacing the Wolves with averages of 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. The 2016 Rookie of the Year Award recipient also shares the team-lead with 35 3-pointers made.
• Video: ESPN / NBC Sports Philadelphia+ / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network