The Rise of Devin Booker

Devin Booker
by Cody Cunningham

Although he’s already in his fifth season, Devin Booker is still just 23 years old and is consistently growing his game and improving on the court year after year. Each season Booker has added to his repertoire and looks to have built quite the case to earn his first All-Star nod in the coming weeks. 

YEAR 1 – ADJUSTMENTS THROUGHOUT FIRST SEASON

Booker entered the league as the youngest player in the NBA at just 18 years old and, like most rookies, had to adjust to playing against players nearly double their age. His first few months featured inconsistent minutes, a few DNPs and varying opportunity to truly find his rhythm on the court. 

However, all that changed following Christmas. On Dec. 26, 2015, Booker notched a then-career-high 19 points, including three three-pointers and it all seemed to take-off from there. Suns fans got a glimpse of what the young shooting guard was capable of as he averaged 17.9 points, 3.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds throughout the remainder of the season. 

It was clear early on that Booker was a special talent, but his ability to adapt to the league so quickly proved what a steal he was at 13th overall. Booker closed out his rookie season with six 30-point games as he became the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to reach 1,000 points, behind only LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

YEAR 2 – ELITE SCORING THREAT

Booker was established in Phoenix following his rookie season, but now it was time for the world to see. He transitioned into a full-time starter for the Suns and became their go-to scorer, leading the team with 22.1 points per game. 

And of course, Booker truly made his name known across the league on March 24, 2017 in that special night in Boston. Still to this day, Booker is the only active player with a 70-point game and only the 6th in NBA history. 

Since '68: Booker's 70 in Boston

In just his second season, Booker developed into a premier bucket-getter with 14 games of 30-plus points and used his ‘microwave’ ability to heat up at any given moment, including three quarters with 27+ points. Booker led the NBA in the clutch with the most game winning buzzer-beaters in 2016-17 as his elite one-on-one ability made him virtually unguardable in the final seconds.

YEAR 3 – FACE OF FRANCHISE

Booker became the focal point on opposing team’s game plans and in 2017-18, he also became the face of the franchise. It’s a lot to ask of a 21-year-old, but Booker took the challenge and began leading in the locker room and on the court despite his young age.

Booker became a phenom throughout Phoenix as Talking Stick Resort Arena was flooded with Booker jerseys on a nightly basis. But being a local icon also came with added responsibilities, all of which Booker accepted with honor. Whether it was answering the tough questions after a loss, leading the team in a huddle or making special appearances throughout The Valley, Booker not only stepped up to the challenge, but also pridefully represented the Suns organization.

YEAR 4 – BALL HANDLER & PLAYMAKING

Booker was well established as one of the most automatic buckets in the league, but in 2018-19 his focus changed to getting his teammates involved. Throughout his first three seasons, Booker’s assists per game jumped at a consistent rate (2.6 - 3.4 - 4.7), but none as drastically as it did in his fourth season as he became the primary ball handler for the Suns, averaging 6.8 assists per game.

Devin Booker: 2018-19 Assists

Rewind back to college and throughout the draft process, Booker was looked at as purely a catch-and-shoot scorer and his overall ball handling had not been showcased. Fast forward back to 2018-19 season, and playmaking became an integral part of his game.

Booker’s ability to create for others while still maintaining his elite scoring kept defenses constantly on edge of what to expect. Booker tallied 11 games with double-digit assists, nine of which he scored 25 or more points. 

YEAR 5 – EFFICIENCY

Despite adding another floor general and other scorers around him, Booker has maintained his 26 points and 6 assists per game, but this time doing so at a historic efficiency. Booker is averaging the fewest field goals attempted since his rookie season, yet is still one of the league’s leading scorers. 

Booker is shooting 50.8% from the field and 91.5% from the free throw line with a 62.9 True Shooting Percentage. Booker has a chance to join LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West as the players in NBA history to average 25+ ppg, 6 apg on 50% shooting.

It’s become a head scratched for analytic junkies as he’s transitioned into more of a midrange scorer, but yet has managed to boost his efficiency to historic averages. Prior to this season, it was already clear that Booker was a scoring threat whether he was beyond the arc, pulling up midrange or scoring inside, but now Booker is using his plethora of offensive moves to his advantage and defenses have yet to find an answer.

A breakdown of Booker’s shooting within the arc:

Less than 5 feet: 71.8% on 5.5 FGA

5-9 feet: 44.1% on 1.5 FGA

10-14 feet: 46.2% on 3.0 FGA

15-19 feet: 50.0% on 2.2 FGA

Devin Booker: 2019-20 Scoring

Overall, Booker is shooting 70% on 2-point field goals, making 7.4 per game. Over the last 30 years, the only other guards to shoot at least 55% on a minimum 7 2-point shots per game are Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Gary Payton and Michael Jordan.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Booker is still only 23 years old and is already playing at an All-NBA level, but at such a young age, the ceiling is as high as he’s willing to push it. When Head Coach Monty Williams took over for the Suns, he had met Booker on occasion, but wasn’t fully aware of how coachable the young guard truly was. 

“His ability to be coachable, but also keep his edge,” Williams said. “A lot of guys can’t do that. They’re so coachable, they’re like robots. Devin can take something and implement it like that. If I talk to him about small things, it’s in his game. That, to me, was something that I just didn’t know about him, but I’ve seen it with great players."

As the bond between coach and player continue to grow, so does Booker’s game. While Williams has seen first-hand how unstoppable Booker can be offensively, he believes the next step is balancing his aggression on the defensive side.

“He’s pretty much a dominant offensive player when he’s rolling,” Williams said. “Defensively, he’s improved so much as most young guys have a tough time doing. I think understanding his value. There’s been times where he’ll pick up a foul after having two in the first half. He’ll be so amped up to stop the guy, he’ll pick up a third. When you understand your value to the team, sometimes you’ve got to pull back. That’s hard when you’re an alpha dog.”

Booker has already taken great strides in his defense this season that go far beyond the stat sheet as he’s consistently locked-in and always striving to guard the top player on the opposing team. Whether it’s guarding on the perimeter or switching onto a big in the paint, Booker’s putting in the effort on the defensive end and the Suns are benefiting mightily from it.

Booker's Game-Sealing Defense vs Orlando Magic
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