Devin Booker’s rise to superstardom with Suns a matter of when, not if

Sep 28, 2017, 6:13 AM | Updated: 3:59 pm
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker gestures after he scored a basket, as fans cheer him at TD Garden i...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker gestures after he scored a basket, as fans cheer him at TD Garden in the fourth quarter of the Suns' NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Friday, March 24, 2017, in Boston. Booker scored 70 points, but the Celtics wonp 130-120. Booker is just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a game. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Take a stroll down imagination avenue in basketball land for a minute with me.

You are 19 years old and you took 7.6 shots a game in your one year at Kentucky. While you were drafted in the lottery, you open your rookie season by playing 10 minutes or less in 11 of your first 17 games.

Fast forward a year.

You are still only 20 but now seen as not only the primary offensive option for your team, but there are talks of you becoming the next face of the franchise, a rarity for said franchise.

While trying to make strides forward as next up in your generation, the best players of the past generation are, in fact, anointing you next up.

Everyone knows about the 70 points scored in a single game, the nods from LeBron, Kobe, Durant and D-Wade, but the agile nature of Devin Booker’s rise looks to have some quick to criticize him in a time-warp.

A discussion that has engulfed basketball conversations is how good Booker really is, or moreso, if Booker is actually a “good basketball player.” Arguments arise because of Booker’s negatives as a defender and how valuable his inefficient offense really is.

An easy cop-out in some debates when it comes to the future outlook of a player is, “he’s only ___ years old!”

Well, in this case, that cop-out isn’t actually a cop-out.

Booker’s night in Boston in late March when Tyson Chandler claimed he “turned The Garden” springboarded him onto the international stage, not just the national one.

That made him a fascinating player to debate and project.

Because of the whiplash on those springs, it’s easy to forget where he came from. The role that was bestowed on him with the Suns went from zero to a hundred in less than a year and he can’t legally go drink at a bar until the day before Halloween.

The manic acceleration to Booker becoming the league’s best young perimeter scorer in such a short time has, undoubtedly, stalled out some of the other skills he would have liked to iron out.

He was, after all, seen as a sharpshooter coming out of the draft and flashed some point guard skills at the end of his rookie year. Instead of integrating those into his game in year two, he started out his November last year by taking 66 shots in three games. Booker didn’t reach 66 field goal attempts in his rookie year until his 24th game.

Booker’s role is not necessarily going to decrease in year three, but a year as “the man” for an NBA franchise will help him ease in better.

The weight of the load on Booker’s shoulders and his success with it for someone his age is unusual. He’s one of six players in league history to average at least 20 points and two three-point attempts a game before his 21st birthday, per Basketball-Reference, joining some of those aforementioned names in Durant and James.

There’s evidence to back up that Booker’s jump in three-point shooting percentage is coming. Per Basketball-Reference, of the players to average at least 15 points per game since 2006, five of the top-10 in that group ranked by their three-point percentage had shooting numbers well under their career averages in the beginning of their careers.

Career 37.8 percent three-point shooter Durant shot 28.8 percent from deep in his rookie year. Former Sun and career 37 percent three-point shooter Jason Richardson shot 33.3, 36.8 and 28.2 percent in his first three seasons, respectively.

Even Ray Allen, arguably the best three-point shooter of all-time outside of Stephen Curry, had underwhelming 36.4 and 35.6 three-point shooting percentages in his second and third years as he adjusted to becoming a team’s primary option offense.

Sound familiar?

Booker might not be as good of a shooter as Allen, but his 34.3 and 36.3 three-point shooting percentages from his first two seasons should be some of the lowest of his career like they were for the future Hall of Famer.

As for his playmaking, Booker was clearly focused on scoring first, second, third, fourth and 942nd when he got the ball. Once again, some analysts quick to judge Booker as a gunner will have the Confused Mr. Krabs face on when they see Booker balance out more of his game in year three.

When Booker was playing more within himself at the end of year one, he was combining his incredible scoring package for his age with the occasional right pass for his big. Expect Booker to run more of a two-man game this year with the likes of Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender.

In the last two months of his rookie year, Booker had at least four assists in 16 of his last 23 games. In year two, Booker had under four assists in 16 of his first 23 games. Booker didn’t wrap up his rookie year playing with Eric Bledsoe, but he was doing a better job mixing his playmaking into his game as opposed to this laser focus on getting buckets and nothing else in year two.

Above all else, Booker exudes the confidence very few people that have inhabited Earth could when it comes to his current situation.

He’s composed and flat-out ready to be the player many expect him to become.

When the Suns played in Las Vegas for Summer League, Booker was stepping in to play with the reserve team in practice. He was sitting on or near the bench at their games instead of courtside, placing himself right by the regular coaching staff and stepping into every huddle to give out advice when needed. When he’s out in New York City, he’s looking for the next open run. 

While juniors in college undergo the second half of their college experience, Booker is ready to become the player that ends the Suns’ playoff and championship drought. He’s ready to prove he’s not just the kid who scored 70 points — he’s the kid who is the next great player at his position and ready to eventually stake a claim as the world’s current best individual scorer.

He acts like it and plays like it. Years from now, we won’t be looking back wondering where his progression came from, but instead, we will be looking back asking ourselves, “where did this kid come from and why didn’t we recognize the clear signs of his future greatness earlier?”

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