If you’re a Phoenix Suns fan, or a basketball fan for that matter, and you’ve been tuning in to enough games, it’s clear that you have seen shooting guard Devin Booker make the leap this year.
From young player on the rise to one of the best young players in the league to one of the best shooting guards in the league, we are seeing it from year one to year two to year three.
The question is if everyone else is seeing it, and we will find out the answer when the final All-Star rosters are revealed Jan. 18.
As was the case with former Suns Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the past, the starpower in the Western Conference makes it an immense challenge to become an All-Star guard in the West.
That shouldn’t matter for Booker this year.
He’s averaging 24.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game, shooting 44.2 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from 3-point range and 86.9 percent from the free throw line.
The players in the NBA this season posting at least 23 points, four rebounds and four assists a game on at least a 54 true shooting percentage (Booker is at 57.5 percent) are James Harden, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins, Victor Oladipo and Booker.
All those players are stars, making them All-Stars, and Booker should be in the same category.
Booker isn’t putting up bloated stats on a terrible team, either. The Suns are 13-19 when Booker plays during a season in which they fired their coach three games into the year and traded their then-best player, Bledsoe.
That win-loss record might not sound like the most glowing endorsement, but, please, let me sprinkle some context on top.
By mid-December, Booker had played with four different point guards, all of whom lack real NBA experience outside of Isaiah Canaan, and he has played in only 10 more games than Booker over his career.
Phoenix’s offense might be at its best when the fifth point guard in this equation, Booker himself, is running the show over one of those four.
Booker has improved his own shooting and his efficiency on drives without shooters spacing the floor. Canaan, Troy Daniels and Dragan Bender are the only players in the rotation shooting above 30 percent from 3-point range and they’ve spent only 20 minutes on the floor together this season.
The Rockets, by comparison, consistently have four shooters on the floor, and the Suns can’t even get four on the floor for more than 20 total minutes over 42 games.
Worst of all, Booker doesn’t even start the game with any of those three shooters. He’s had to play a majority of his minutes on a floor with virtually no spacing.
Tyson Chandler, who is either waiting near the basket or setting screens and being left by defenders outside the key when setting those screens, has taken THREE shots outside of the restricted area this year, per NBA.com. THREE.
Marquese Chriss, often standing on the perimeter to take catch-and-shoot threes, gets no respect from defenders to attack the basket at all because he is averaging 0.38 dribbles per touch and until lately, hasn’t shot the ball well from deep.
T.J. Warren is having a great season, but the dude is shooting EIGHTEEN percent from 3-point range this year and that allows a wing defender, usually the most versatile stopper on an opposing team, to help off him more than any other small forward in the league.
The Suns get eight points better per 100 possessions when point guard Tyler Ulis, a 28 percent 3-point shooter this year, is off the floor and the defense doesn’t need to scramble when he gets inside because he is shooting a disastrous 40 percent at the rim.
All of that adds up to limited space for Booker and making teams’ jobs much easier to put more of a focus on him, which has become a pattern as of late.
I mean, when the clock was winding down at the end of the first half against the 76ers on New Year’s Eve with Booker dribbling on the logo near half-court, watch what Sixers head coach Brett Brown had his team do.
Now, you probably paid your attention, rightfully so, to the instant double-team.
But I urge you, look at the help defense on the pass.
Ben Simmons straight up leaves Josh Jackson in the corner to help onto Jared Dudley and then when Booker gets the ball back, Simmons cuts off any sort of lane to the basket, leaving Trevor Booker — a slow 30-year-old power forward — to cover two players.
This is what Booker is dealing with!
These are not shots at the other starters’ ability or an in-depth analysis of what Booker’s teammates do well and don’t. It’s meant to serve as a representation of what Booker is working with night in and night out while putting up those numbers.
Oh yeah, and we haven’t mentioned yet that he’s 21 years old.
Let’s go back to that list of players putting up the 23 points, four rebounds and four assists per game on at least a 54 true shooting percentage, shall we?
Want to know who else has done that when they were 21 years old or younger?
Michael Jordan, LeBron James and that’s it. Just the two players we keep arguing about as the greatest basketball player of all time.
Yes, Booker needs to get in over someone like Paul George, Klay Thompson or Lillard.
I’m not going to outline and compare Booker to those three because it doesn’t need to be that complicated.
What Booker has done when factoring in his age, role and supporting cast makes him one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference this year.
That also makes him an All-Star.
The Valley’s next superstar is here and it’s time for the rest of the world to get to know him more. If Booker gets snubbed, though, it will probably be the last time we don’t see him in the showcase in a long, long time.
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