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All-Around All-Star
Devin Booker has put up monster numbers his whole career — now he’s silencing doubters by doing it for the team with the NBA’s best record

By: Trevor Booth

Rubbing his hands together, Devin Booker turns his head toward Chris Paul, who is laughing after the Suns’ 123-110 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

The reason? Booker, who is just 25 years old, was asked by a reporter what it means to him to inspire a future generation of basketball stars. Paul, who is 36, wasn’t having it.

“You just as young, man,” Paul says to Booker. “He’s still young.”

As young as Booker is, his stardom is unquestioned. The seventh-year shooting guard is coming off his first NBA Finals appearance and second All-Star berth. He has established himself as one of the top scorers in the game and a “killer” on the court, akin to his idol, Kobe Bryant.

This season, Booker has led Phoenix to a 30-8 record while leading the team in scoring (23.9 points per game) and ranking second in assists (4.5). He is more than likely on his way to a third All-Star appearance with the prime of his career incoming.

With those points in mind, it’s not why Booker is so impactful at this age that causes Paul to chuckle. It’s how quickly he has performed, along with other key factors that have elevated him to become the face of the Suns’ franchise.

Last summer, Booker looked toward the center of the court at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee and while untucking his jersey says one word:

“Damn.”

The Suns’ magical 2020-21 season came to a close in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in July, an emotional moment for Phoenix that seemed almost impossible to comprehend.

But Booker – as mature as he has been at a young age – was wise in how he reflected on the Suns’ run after the game.

“It was a great experience for us,” Booker said. “I think we set a foundation and a base for our team.”

For Booker, that foundation had been a long time coming. The Suns’ top player endured a challenging first four seasons with the franchise, when it had three seasons ranked at the bottom of the Western Conference and he was criticized for being a player with “empty stats.”

However, Booker’s peers knew they were seeing a special player. Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said he would be a “really, really, really good, All-Star player in the league.” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Booker in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Japan, said in 2016 he is a “fine player.”

Now in an environment that complements his immense talent, he is thriving and proving he can still produce gaudy numbers on a winning team. Booker is the leading scorer for one of the top teams in the NBA, and he is coming off a playoff run in which he scored the most points by a player in his first postseason (601).

It’s something that Suns coach Monty Williams, who commended Booker’s work ethic and desired to see him on a winning team when he joined the franchise before the 2018-19 season, is especially proud to see.

“To be able to have Book recognized in this way is special,” Williams said. “He’s one of those guys that didn’t get enough credit for how good he was because he hadn’t won the way that he wanted to, and now he’s leading the winning and still efficient and putting up the numbers. I think that’s pretty cool as a coach.”

When Booker was drafted by the Suns with the No. 13 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he was compared to Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson for his smooth stroke and proficiency from the 3-point line.

Booker quickly established himself as far more than just a shooter and is now recognized as one of the game’s most potent “three-level” scorers, who can get buckets from inside, mid-range and from beyond the 3-point line. Booker and Paul George are the only players in the NBA this season averaging at least 2.5 field goals per game from each of the paint, the midrange and 3-point distance. His skill from beyond the arc has been especially impressive this season, as he has shot a career-best 42.0 percent there.

It has helped the Suns have the sixth-best 3-point percentage in the league (37.0) and unlock a much-needed aspect of his game: the pull-up 3-point shot.

“Still trying to improve my game at the same time,” Booker said in an interview with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Everybody from the outside is the only people that have seen my three-point percentage, and obviously it’s something that I wanted to get higher and be a more efficient player, which I always try to improve at every year.”

Booker’s work ethic has never been questioned. He and his father, former Big Eight Player of the Year Melvin Booker, have worked extensively on his craft since he was a young boy, and several of Devin Booker’s coaches have commended his resiliency throughout his career.

“I never worry about the work that he puts in,” Williams said previously. “Now, it's just a matter of doing it. ‘Well done’ is much better than ‘well said.’”

Outside of his game, though, Booker’s growth as a leader has been especially impressive. He and Paul were each vocal about their desire to push Suns starting center Deandre Ayton, and Booker has been very active in the team’s huddles despite his young age.

That communication has especially impressed Williams, who has preached that ‘well done’ is better than ‘well said,’ as Booker has grown into “the piece” of Phoenix’s success.

“We talk about everything,” Williams said. “Basketball, life, art. That’s where I’ve seen him grow, is I think he trusts us, trusts me more. He’s always been a good basketball player, he’s always shown leadership qualities.

“I think our communication and relationship has probably grown more than anything.”

Booker is not only a standout on the court, but off it as well.

In 2019, the shooting guard introduced the “Devin Booker Starting Five,” a $2.5 million commitment over five seasons that grants five local nonprofit organizations $100,000 each to continue improving the lives of youth and families throughout Arizona.

Throughout his career in Phoenix, Booker has also provided significant support to youth and families across the Valley through COVID-19 relief and holiday shopping sprees. He served as a guest coach for wheelchair and youth basketball programs and makes annual visits to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. In 2020, he was named a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, actively promoting inclusion through sport and continuing to participate in events with Special Olympics Arizona.

Booker was named the winner of the 2020-21 Season-long NBA Cares Community Assist Award, an honor that recognized his great outreach of the Phoenix area and his desire to engage throughout the Suns’ culture.

“I don’t do it for the recognition, but I’m glad that the foundation is getting this type of light and this type of exposure,” Booker said. “It means a lot to this community, it means a lot to my family, it means a lot to my brother being on the board at Phoenix Suns Charities. It’s what we get most excited about.”

Booker’s success at a young age has captivated the Suns and the NBA at-large.

Among other feats, the Suns’ star recently became the seventh-youngest player to reach 10,000 points in his career. He has already set franchise records for points in a game (70) and career 30-point games (122 and counting), among other statistics, and was part of the team’s 18-game winning streak this season, the longest in franchise history.

This season, the Suns rank second in the West and are looking to defend their conference title, something that seemed improbable when Booker entered the league just six years ago.

It might be hard for Paul and others to believe just how much Booker has affected the Suns’ franchise and community at large. But for a young kid from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and later Mississippi, it’s been part of his goal to keep inspiring younger generations, something he is continuing to achieve.

“That’s what this league’s about man,” Booker said. “Without those guys like you said, like (former Detroit Pistons guard) Rip (Hamilton), Klay, that I idolize and went in the gym and pretended to be, I don’t know if I’m in the situation I’m in. So that’s a big compliment, for somebody younger, for somebody in college or high school, to say that they model their game after myself.”

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