Attention to Detail and Efficiency: The Keys to Devin Booker's Offensive Bag of Tricks

During Jay Triano’s time as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, which spanned the overwhelming portion of Devin Booker’s third NBA season in 2017-18, he periodically entrusted the sweet-shooting guard with play-calling duties during huddles. Triano promptly identified the high-level feel evident in Booker’s game, so he established a collaboration of sorts with the 21-year-old to help further cultivate that feel.

Triano wasn’t the lone member of the Suns organization to spot Booker’s basketball instincts early in his career. Various members of the front office did as well. It’s partly why they were steadfast in his stardom being inevitable, even as outside noise foolishly questioned Booker’s impact on winning while Phoenix trudged through various tumultuous seasons during his formative years. 

Roughly 4.5 years after moonlighting as offensive coordinator, Booker is months removed from an All-NBA First Team appearance, a fourth-place MVP finish and piloting top-seeded Phoenix to a franchise-record 64 wins in 2021-22. Prior to suffering a left groin strain late last month, he’d continued to assert himself as a premier NBA guard and amplify his stardom.

Through 29 games, the 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 27.1 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He’s shooting 47.7 percent from the floor, 37 percent beyond the arc and 85 percent at the charity stripe, which coalesce for 58.5 percent true shooting. The past 1.5 seasons are a culmination of the shooting gifts he’s holstered since entering the association seven years ago. 

As Booker’s game evolves, he’s become increasingly selective in where he seeks out shots. He’s inventive in how he arrives at a few specific spots rather than being inventive by exploring a vast array of spots, a trait that distinguishes him from some of the other foremost shooting guards around the league. 

It’s an approach accelerated by the arrival of Chris Paul -- who is seemingly impossible to prevent from reaching his preferred right elbow for pull-ups -- and bolstered his interior aptitude. Over Booker’s first three seasons, he shot 45.5 percent on two-pointers. During the past four seasons, he’s shot 53.3 percent. 

“Once he took that on, is when he really unlocked the hyper-efficient version of himself inside the arc,” said Ryan Resch, Suns Vice President of Basketball Strategy and Evaluation. “It's just so impressive to watch the maturation of that game because that kind of change from, ‘I'm going to shoot all over the place,’ to, ‘I'm going to be hyper-focused, and should instead be creative in how to get to these spots.’ It's not something that you see very often with the scorers, guys who are just used to shooting the ball so much.”

That brief list of habitual spots include the left wing and elbow pull-ups. When Booker frequents those regions, his start-stop quickness and elevated release point render his assignment’s job more arduous than it already was. He’ll stomp on the brakes at a moment’s notice to manufacture space and can alter the height of his release or arc based on the circumstances. What could constitute a viable contest against many does not always remain as such against Booker.

Even if he’s drifting side to side, his body is almost always squared toward the rim. He often decelerates and rises before defenders are ready. It’s truly remarkable how he maintains such delicate touch across a spectrum of angles, releases and arcs -- a testament to his meticulous footwork and upper-body mechanics. Conventional thought may suggest that the farther the ball is from one’s body, the harder it is to influence the accuracy. Booker’s shot-making portfolio rejects that sentiment. 

“He’s really, really into the details: footwork, game-plan discipline, tendencies of players, tendencies of the defense and being able to take advantage of it,” said Suns assistant coach Jarrett Jack. “When you have somebody as talented as he is just naturally, and then, he’s engulfed in small nuances to get an advantage, I think it takes him to an entirely different level.”

Much like his backcourt mate, the intermediate zone is Booker’s utopia. According to Cleaning The Glass, he hasn’t ranked below the 83rd percentile in midrange accuracy the last five seasons, nor has he dipped below the 86th percentile in midrange frequency during that span. 

His scoring isn’t confined to the midrange, though. It’s merely the foundation through which everything flows. He’s a genuine four-level scorer. Since 2021-22, he’s shot 37.9 percent from deep, blending off-the-bounce bombs and spot-up snipes. On pull-up triples, he’s shooting 35.6 percent; off the catch, he’s shooting 43.3 percent. His free-throw rate (.255 in 2021-22, .304 in 2022-23) has been above league average each season. He’s shot 68 percent at the rim both years, placing in the 72nd and 74th percentiles among wings.

“He’s probably the best, most difficult shot-maker in the league,” Jack said. “He probably has the most deadly midrange game in the league. And then, he can also, to complement that, he can shoot the long ball.”

Booker’s prolific shooting is the result of streamlined mechanics that generate power from the forearm and wrist. There’s no superfluous motion; he’s economical. Resch compared those aspects to accomplished gunners like Stephen Curry and Joe Harris. The three-time All-Star’s compact technique, with torque produced from a discernible area, painted a rosy outlook within Suns brass for his long-term shooting projection. Booker’s mechanics are easily replicable. There’s consistency in each shot. That’s a vital indicator for sustained success. 

Phoenix incorporates those skills prominently into its motion- and screen-heavy offense. Booker is a dynamite off-ball scorer who keenly sets up, reads and utilizes picks. They love to deploy him as a screener in Spain pick-and-rolls and feed him touches on the move, often via Chicago action (pindown screen into dribble handoff) or staggered screens. Screen-the-screener sets are also part of the playbook.

His body control and footwork shine in these scenarios. He takes concise routes around picks that ram his defender into the obstacle and grant him an advantage. Much like he doesn’t need to be on balance for pull-up profits, the same applies to his off-ball presence. As long as his body is squared toward the hoop, he’s comfortable. 

Although Paul’s integration to his Southwest digs reduced Booker’s playmaking burden, he’s nonetheless sharpened his facilitating in recent seasons, especially with the way he optically manipulates defenders to fashion opportunities. He can laser cross-court skip passes from a live dribble, cast lobs against pressure and is better equipped to set up bigs with well-placed interior feeds nowadays. His willingness and capacity to deliver reads through narrow windows inside have emerged as assets.

“He’s really punishing teams with the pass, keeping teams honest, making the proper play that’s necessary within the possession,” Jack said. “So many guys that are extremely talented, they’ll have their mind made up and kind of preconceive the read a little bit. And he takes it as it comes to him.”

According to Cleaning The Glass, his 9.2 percent turnover rate this season is a career-low (82nd percentile), while his 24.7 percent assist rate is in the 96th percentile. When Paul missed a month of games from early November to early December, Booker assumed a grander creation role, merging his scoring weaponry with multifaceted, albeit frugal, passing. The former has long existed in his playmaking repertoire; the latter is constantly blossoming. The Suns’ braintrust always believed it would, too.

“One of the biggest indicators of passing is … the ability to get to the spots to make the pass,” Resch said. “He's able to get to his spot, slow down, and, then, figure out where he's at."

Booker was 18 years old when he debuted in the NBA. He’s averaged at least 22.1 points per game every season since 2016-17. He notched his first All-Star berth at 23. His silky, vibrant scoring package prevented him from ever really hiding in the shadows of anonymity, despite Phoenix’s collective struggles.

And yet, he is just now entering his prime. These next few years should be his finest. He’s shooting, passing and defending at the most impactful levels of his career. He is the figurehead of this club, just like he was all those seasons ago, drawing up plays for the Triano-led Suns.