Devin Booker benefiting, learning the NBA’s touchy rules to draw fouls

Jan 4, 2019, 6:27 AM | Updated: 7:55 am

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers' Josh Hart (3) during the first ha...

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers' Josh Hart (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

PHOENIX — Devin Booker felt the flow, as stop and go as it was Wednesday against the Sixers, and decided to go with it.

The referees whistled 64 fouls by the end of a 132-127 loss for the Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena, but it was early on when Booker attempted to pull Phoenix out of sluggish start by gunking up the game himself. Officials, after all, were quick to whistle either team.

“Knowing how to get a foul, putting pressure on the referees, it’s kind of a scheme now,” Booker said on Thursday.

On the same day the NBA revealed that Booker was ninth in fan All-Star voting — with two of the vote-getters ahead of him longshots to make the game — Booker finished with 37 points on 10-of-22 shooting and just 2-of-7 accuracy from three came with a reminder.

The 22-year-old plays beyond his years.

This time around, it showed in working the officials and overworking his opponents.

Booker made 15 of 17 free throws by the end of the loss.

Just in the first quarter alone, he ripped a three-point attempt through the arms of Landry Shamet, hooked the 76ers rookie off the ball on a cut, used another scooping shot attempt on a drive to draw Shamet’s third personal and added another foul on Philadelphia when the Sixers’ T.J. McConnell put a palm on Booker’s back.

Booker felt the hand and dropped to the floor.

Of course, on the other end, it didn’t help that Philadelphia center Joel Embiid went 17-of-19, while point-forward Ben Simmons took 23 attempts and made 15.

All three players showcased how they not only seek out contact from opponents but force officials to blow plays dead.

“People do it all different,” Booker said. “Joel’s good at it on the block. Obviously, Ben was doing it yesterday with early seals … Scoop of the hands. There’s so many different ways to do it.”

This year, Booker is averaging 6.0 free throw attempts, tied for 13th-most in the NBA.

Booker said he has consciously thought about drawing fouls. He’s a career 85-percent foul shooter, so it’s the most efficient shot in his arsenal, but his abilities at drawing fouls weren’t apparent to this degree until after his rookie season.

Since, Booker has been in the 75th percentile or better among combo guards in terms of drawing shooting fouls per shot attempt, according to Cleaning The Glass. However, the distance between he and the game’s best, James Harden, is quite a distance.

The Houston Rockets star is taking 11.0 foul shots per game. And by the way, he’s sitting well in front of the field by averaging 33.6 points per game, in large part because of the foul shots he takes and the hands-off approach defenders take in response. That’s helped him push the boundaries of how the game should be played beyond the three-point arc, as The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote (while mentioning Booker as a player who could benefit) before Harden sealed a 20-point comeback overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

Oh, and by the way, Harden hit the game-winner with a three that arguably should’ve been an and-one.

Booker has been taking note and should. The numbers say he has been steady at drawing fouls over the last three years.

But as he gains more respect from officials and as the NBA pushes for more stringent physicality rules when it involves the hands, the future bodes well for a 22-year-old who is getting stronger and already averaging 25.5 points per game with a career-best true shooting percentage.

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Devin Booker benefiting, learning the NBA’s touchy rules to draw fouls