Devin Booker is ready to take on the world.
From their first game of this season, a 48 point pounding at the hands of the Portland Trailblazers, the Phoenix Suns have been in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons. Two of the franchise’s worst losses ever in the first three games. Earl Watson shown the door, fired from his seat as head coach. Veteran guard Eric Bledsoe‘s “hair raising” Twitter drama and subsequent team exile. Coughing up a whopping 90 first half points to the Houston Rockets. But for all of the negativity, the questions about ownership and rookie Josh Jackson‘s uneven play, there’s one sliver of light that not enough people are talking about: Devin Booker is poised to be a star.
Two years ago, it took Booker 37 games into his rookie season to give the world a peek of who he’d become. He hit 9 of 16 shots, including 6 threes, en route to a 32 point explosion in a narrow loss to the Paul George‘s Pacers. Up until that game, the baby-faced guard with the beautiful shot was coming off the bench for a measly 8 points a night; after his breakout against Indiana, Booker spent the final 40 games of the year slapping up 19-3-4. The Suns stunk, but the league took note: Devin Booker was a big time scorer.
Fast forward to now: at just 21 years old, Devin Booker is evolving, morphing from a raw volume scorer into a bona-fide offensive force.
In his first two seasons, Booker showed glimpses and flaws: while he had twenty games of 30 or more points, he was weak on the boards (only 2.6 a game), didn’t make anyone around him better (a measly 468 assists offset by 401 turnovers in his first 154 games), and showed a propensity for chucking (he tallied more shots than points in at least 40 of those 154 contests), but this season, we’re seeing a more complete Booker. Across the board, the multifaceted scorer’s numbers are up- he’s setting career highs in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage.
The numbers are spiffy, and not a moment too soon. Despite being only the second player ever to average at least 20 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists a game while shooting at least 36% from three at 20 years old, there’s a small but loud minority of smart NBA people who feel that, based on the advanced numbers, Devin Booker is not (or at least, prior to this season, WAS not) a good NBA player.
The idea that Devin Booker is somehow not good is a very weird thing that NBA Twitter has going on lately.
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) June 20, 2017
Devin Booker is not yet a good NBA player. He has a lot of room to develop into one, and I'd bet he will. He's not yet.
— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) August 9, 2017
But this season, digging into the advanced stats, the results are more promising. His true shooting percentage (which takes into account free throws and the value of threes), a mediocre 53.3% in years one and two, now sits at a healthy 57.3%. He accumulated only 2.5 win shares (a numerical estimate of how many wins he was directly responsible for) in his first 154 games; through 17 games, he’s already compiled 1.1 this year.
But more than anything, Booker can score the damn ball. The feathery jumper is still his fulcrum of his offensive attack, but he’s modernized its deployment, cutting his long twos and firing over a third of his attempts from deep, knocking down 38% of those triples.
Stats don’t do the man justice; to watch Booker operate is to watch a young artist discovering the breadth and depth of his talent. On or off-ball, going to the rim or elevating from deep, Booker’s scoring touch is a thing of beauty. Against the Lakers’ 4th ranked defense, he had the full arsenal at his disposal. His whip quick release punishes defenders if they blink, and his improved handle and shifty change of speed lets him find the slivers of daylight he needs to get clean looks for his array of step backs, pull ups, and runners. And even when the defenses gang up to clog his way, he’s more adept than ever in finding his teammates in scoring positions. Booker’s assist rate (how many of his teammates’ buckets he assists on while on the court) has spiked from the 16.1% of his first two years to a robust 22.4%, while his turnover percentage hasn’t budged.
After looking like one of the worst teams of all tome through their opening three games, the Suns have gone 7-8, a relatively big deal for a franchise that’s won less than 30% of its games the past two seasons.
Josh Jackson is a bundle of kinetic energy, and project big men Dragan Bender and Marqueese Chriss show glimpses of unicorn-like versatility. Success may be far in the future for Phoenix, but there IS a future there; the talent is on hand, as raw as it may be. As the Suns try to navigate their way out of the darkness of losing, fans can bask in the high wattage glow of the ascending star, Devin Booker.