If you haven’t been following the Devin Booker hype train in the past year, here’s a list of what’s been going on for the 19-year-old Phoenix Sun following his rookie year.
For some, this is becoming a bit much. Sure, the No. 13 overall pick in last year’s draft has far exceeded expectations and has a bright future, but we shouldn’t go too far and start penciling him as an All-Star for the next decade.
Actually, we should.
Booker was a tough evaluation coming out of Kentucky. He played with two ball-dominant — and when I say ball-dominant, I MEAN ball-dominant — guards and the No. 1 overall pick, along with one of the most stocked up Kentucky rosters of talent ever assembled.
We knew he was a sharpshooter who could shoot off screens with a low degree of difficulty, that he’s intellectually sound on the court and he made the right plays like the extra pass and a backdoor cut. What we didn’t know, is, well, anything else.
Unlike with Jamal Murray the next year at Kentucky, teams didn’t get to see how Booker would operate with the ball in his hands as a possible combo guard, thus holding off judgment. For some, this meant Murray sliding down their draft boards. It would have most likely been the opposite for Booker.
What he showed in his rookie season is far more than anyone could have imagined for his skill set in three years, let alone right out of the gate.
The easiest place to start is his ball-handling. Booker can run the offense, and in fact, he did just that numerous times last season. The reason he can do that is because he’s one of the most advanced pick-and-roll players the franchise has ever seen under the age of 21.
The most important facet of establishing himself as a threat in the pick-and-roll is his ability to finish at the rim. Booker’s not a high leaper or incredibly agile, but he’s tough, crafty and has some decent touch when there’s contact.
The final clip you see is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green — one of the three best defenders on the planet — having enough of the young buck and his rim takes. Green over-rotates to provide weakside rim protection, only to whiff because the 19-year-old was ready for him.
Booker is not the quickest player, but he knows his angles, has just enough of a tight handle to limit his turnovers, can finish at the rim in a variety of ways and is an above average passer for a two-guard.
Where that transitions to is giving him an entirely different avenue to cruise down in order to open up his most deadly weapon, his gorgeous three-point stroke. Shooting off the bounce is something that becomes a hindrance for some elite shooters, but not Booker.
The next step is for Booker to develop his shot attempts in-between eight feet and the three-point line, but what he has already done is prove he can flat out get buckets.
Once again, we end with Green getting absolutely cooked with the Suns up seven and the first-team All-NBA player having enough of it and guarding Booker himself. Didn’t matter.
With Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight both being injured for large portions of the season and presenting the rookie with a tremendous opportunity, Booker was playing shy as a scorer when he first received heavy minutes in the rotation. He was hesitant to attack off the dribble in any matter and looking to let the game come to him as a floor-spacer.
Either Booker or the coaching staff decided that was hogwash, and as a result, Booker was able to showcase his advanced development as an offensive player. Him thriving in that role was the best thing to happen to the Suns all season.
What this turned into in several games for the Suns was Booker putting on a display of all these skills at once, including his passing to the bigs once defenses adjusted to him throughout the game.
He continued to grow, this time trying to take over games late despite being on a very bad basketball team that made it very challenging to come away with a win.
While Booker’s comeback in Atlanta never came to fruition, watch the frustration he brings to Hawks wing Kent Bazemore, a very good defender, at the end of this clip.
In that moment, Bazemore doesn’t care that his team is up 14 and about to pick up a win. He’s livid that a kid who can’t drink legally for another two years is roasting him.
Remember when Dwyane Wade was one of the first to give Booker a shotuout?
Wade is only guarding Booker in the first clip. Miami put Justise Winslow, one of the best young defenders in the league, on him after he reached 20 points in the game. Booker got his anyway, finishing with 34.
There are reasons to be gun-shy on Booker. He needs to get much better on defense, is probably starting on the bench despite the season he had and now teams are going to be ready for him. Some will point at his 42 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent from three.
For most players, this would matter. Booker, however, is the rare exception. He’s not only flashing a complete offensive game, but he did so as the youngest player selected in the draft in an extremely advanced role for a rookie, averaging over 35 minutes a game played after the All-Sat break.
How do you project growth for a player that’s already showed elements of his game that some promising young players usually are adding in years three, four and five of their career? You don’t, because it’s fairly impossible, and that’s a tantalizing thought for the Suns and a horrifying one for every other team in the NBA, especially for most of the teams that passed on him last summer.
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