Here’s how Suns G Devin Booker can become a 1st-time NBA All-Star
There’s growing agreement in Phoenix and beyond that Devin Booker is an NBA All-Star this year.
The numbers are there for the 23-year-old Suns guard.
He’s ninth in the NBA at 26.5 points per game while adding 6.3 assists (21st) and 4.1 rebounds a night.
It matters a ton that his 18-26 team, after a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, remains 2.5 games out of the last Western Conference playoff spot. Phoenix was already out of the race at this point last year.
It matters that coaches who scout Booker on a consistent basis will vote for the reserve spots after the starters are named Thursday night. Based on the aggressive blitzing we’ve seen from opponents over the last few years, Booker probably terrorizes their gameplanning.
Players have respect for him, too.
“His game is pure art,” Suns teammate Kelly Oubre Jr. told reporters Wednesday night. “If you’re looking at Devin Booker play basketball and you’re saying he’s anything but a superstar in this league then, let’s be real, man, don’t talk to me. He should be an All-Star because he’s worked for it. He has a talent, too.
“It sucks that political-wise, whatever happens from the votes and everything, we have to go through that system. But this guy’s a supernatural talent.”
Oubre knows how it goes. Making it as a reserve comes down to a numbers game.
Why might Booker not make it?
Before we get into it, here’s how the All-Star teams are chosen:
— Fan voting (50%) is combined with media (25%) and player voting (25%) to choose five starters of two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference. The top vote-getters in each are named captains.
— Reserves will be chosen by NBA coaches. They will choose seven more players to get each conference represented by 12 total players. Coaches must choose three frontcourt players, two backcourt players and then have two more players of any position to fill out the roster. Reserves will be announced Jan. 30.
— Captains will pick teams regardless of position or conference after reserves are announced.
— The commissioner will choose replacements due to injuries, etc.
Who’s Devin Booker up against?
Let’s begin with the starters.
Guard — James Harden, Rockets
G — Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Frontcourt — Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
F — LeBron James, Lakers
F — Anthony Davis, Lakers
There are two frontcourt players and one guard locked in to reserve spots, leaving one frontcourt, one guard and two open spots to fill.
(Disclosure: I did steal this list from ESPN’s Zach Lowe because I agree and it seems safe to conservatively assume. Listen to the latest Empire of the Suns podcast attached above and you’ll hear why Kellan Olson and I think Chris Paul and Donovan Mitchell might also fall into this category)
F — Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
F — Rudy Gobert, Jazz
G — Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
Jokic and Gobert get in because they’re the best players on sure playoff teams. Lillard is probably in by averaging 27.9 points and 7.6 assists per game. Even though his team is struggling to remain alive for the playoffs, he should be in the All-Star game based on reputation.
And those “reputation picks,” as Lowe calls them, could be trouble for Booker’s chances.
It appears there are seven players up for consideration for the remaining four spots:
G — Devin Booker, Suns
F — Paul George, Clippers
F — Brandon Ingram, Pelicans
G — Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
G — Chris Paul, Thunder
F — Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
G — Russell Westbrook, Rockets
Mitchell’s Jazz are the hottest team in the NBA having won nine of their last 10 games. He’s averaging a fine 24.7 points, 4.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, and nobody would be surprised if Utah gets two players in. Mitchell has never been an All-Star, but he has a building reputation.
Ingram has the numbers (25.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists) and a lot of All-Star juice as of the week of decision-making.
The reputation picks that are questionable come in here.
George is a sure-fire All-Star by talent but has played in 26 of 45 games. He remains sidelined for the 31-14 Clippers and could only get in a game or two before reserves are finalized.
Towns is now healthy but has only appeared in 27 games. The big man’s numbers are off-the-charts as usual playing for sinking Minnesota (15-29), but he’s not even registering in the statistical rankings because he doesn’t reach minute qualifications.
Both Towns and George could make it on reputation. It’s a matter of if coaches give them the nod despite so much time missed.
Now we’re on to Paul, one of the most respected players but notably without an All-Star berth since 2015-16. He’s at the heart of why the Oklahoma City Thunder (26-19) are the most surprising team in the NBA after trading Westbrook and George over the summer. You would think the Thunder deserve an All-Star, but Paul is averaging a so-so 17.0 points and 6.4 assists — though advanced metrics and coaches unsurprisingly love his impact on both ends.
Westbrook has the stats stuffed at 25.3 points, 7.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a night for the 27-16 Rockets, but his erratic chucking might be hurting Houston. Still, you can’t discount his reputation as a threat to steal a spot.
How does Booker stand out?
Booker has appeared in 41 of Phoenix’s 44 games. He’s undoubtedly their best player.
The dip the Suns experience when he’s off the court sticks out considerably, both in the on-off stats and the eye test. Here is his importance and impact visually.
Towns aside, every one of the non-locks listed above have one teammate either in the All-Star game as a lock (George, Mitchell, Westbrook), a former All-Star helping them on the roster (Ingram) or a teammate who might earn All-Star consideration this year (Paul).
Efficiency is the name of the game. It matters that Booker is putting up high volumes of points and assists despite relatively little usage (the rate of team possessions ending in that player’s shot, foul drawn or turnover).
Of 29 players with usage rates of at least 25% who are averaging 20 or more points and more than five assists per game, Booker has the second-best true shooting percentage (63%), which accounts for three-point shots being worth more and free throw accuracy. That only trails Towns, if we disregard his minutes qualifications and count him.
Booker’s usage of 29.4% sits 19th on the list of 29, a sign he is doing more with fewer possessions. Giannis Antetokounmpo (37.9%), Harden (37.6%) and Doncic (37.3%) lead the league.
Booker is shooting 35.8% from three-point range, but it’s his two-point shooting (56.8%) and free-throw volume and accuracy (91.9%) making him a monster this year.
At 6-foot-6, he is 16th in the entire NBA by hitting 66.7% of his shots inside 10 feet from the hoop. For context, freak athlete Derrick Jones Jr. (66.1%) is the only perimeter player joining Booker on a top-25 list of most accurate interior scorers in that category. The rest are big men, freakish athletes and guys who score with the help of others.
To summarize: What must happen for Booker to make the NBA All-Star Game?
In some combination, coaches will likely need to do three of the following things:
— Ding Towns for missing games
— Ding George for missing games
— See Westbrook’s box score production as empty
— See that Booker does more for the Suns at a more efficient rate compared to Ingram with the Pelicans
— Snub Oklahoma City from any All-Star because Paul shares contributions and credit with second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, backup Dennis Schroeder and forward Danilo Gallinari
— Believe Booker’s value to the Suns is greater than Mitchell’s is on a much better Jazz team led by another All-Star
Asked Wednesday to give a compelling case for Booker, Suns head coach Monty Williams didn’t want to wade into waters of disrespecting others.
But he did say this:
“I know he’s worthy of it. When you look around the league, there are guys that have a record similar to us and they have guys that they’re saying should be on the team. Devin’s right there with an Ingram with New Orleans and those guys who have to probably get picked to be a part of it. I’ve done all I can around the league to let everybody know how good … I feel he is and how good he is and what he’s done on the floor.
“I’ve done a lot to promote our guy, and I wouldn’t do it if I feel like he wasn’t worthy of it. It’d be hard-pressed to name another guard that’s that much better than Devin, that is that efficient and plays the way he plays and means as much to our team and where we are as much as Devin.”