Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns is finishing up an unexpectedly brilliant rookie season.
Drafted 13th overall out of Kentucky last June, not much was expected this season from Booker. After all, at just 18 years of age on opening night (he’d celebrate his 19th birthday two days later), Booker was the youngest player in the NBA during the 2015-16 campaign.
And considering he didn’t even start one game for Kentucky in his one college season, it was very easy to throw Booker into that “project” category.
Injuries forced him into increased action, and Booker has delivered. In his 47 starts this season, the guard is averaging 17.5 points per game and he has scored 30 or more points six times.
Booker’s success got us to thinking about the best rookie seasons in the history of Arizona sports. It’s this week’s “Friday 5.”
5. Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks (2007)
Young, who came to the D-backs in a trade with the White Sox in December of 2005 that sent right-hander Javier Vazquez to Chicago, made his big league debut in 2006, but became an every-day player in 2007.
The outfielder played stellar defense and clubbed 32 home runs while stealing 27 bases. In fact, Young is one of only two rookies in MLB history with more than 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases — Mike Trout is the other.
Young hit two home runs in the D-backs’ NLDS sweep of the Chicago Cubs, including a lead-off shot against Rich Hill in a series-clinching 5-1 win in Game 3.
Interestingly enough, Young didn’t win the NL Rookie of the Year in 2007. In fact, he finished fourth in a deep class behind Ryan Braun of Milwaukee, Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado and Houston’s Hunter Pence.
Young never reached super-stardom despite his rookie season, although he put in six solid years in a D-backs’ uniform before being traded to Oakland in 2012. He did make the National League All-Star team in 2010 when he drove in a career-high 91 runs. The next season he helped the D-backs to another division crown, their second in five years.
4. Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (2011)
In his first NFL contest, the Cardinals and Carolina Panthers were tied at 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter. A Carolina drive stalled at the Arizona 47-yard line and Jason Baker came on to punt. Peterson caught the ball at the 11, broke a couple tackles and took it to the house — 89 yards for a touchdown. The score held up and the Cardinals notched a 28-21 Week 1 victory.
It was a sign of things to come. Six weeks later in Baltimore, Peterson took a punt back 82 yards for a score that gave the Cardinals a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. They’d lose that game 30-27 on a last-second field goal by Billy Cundiff, but the league was taking notice of the Cardinals’ dynamic rookie.
The very next week, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Peterson did the unthinkable. The Cardinals and Rams were tied 13-13 in overtime. St. Louis’ first possession in the extra period hit the skids at their own 45-yard line. Donnie Jones boomed a 54-yard punt down to the Cardinals’ 1-yard line, where Peterson fielded it — a major no-no. Peterson caught the ball, started right, split two defenders at the 8-yard line, cut upfield and slipped a tackle at the 15. He’d break two more tackles at the 30 and spun away from the punter at the 35. There was nothing but green grass in front of him, and Peterson raced the rest of the way to the end zone for a 99-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 19-13 win. It was the second-longest punt return touchdown in the history of the National Football League.
Three, apparently, wasn’t enough. In Week 11, Peterson got the Rams again. In the third quarter, Jones punted a high-hanger that stayed in the air for nearly six seconds. Peterson caught it at the 20, started right, stumbled, then got his balance and jetted 80 yards right down the middle of the field for another touchdown — this one gave the Cardinals a 20-10 lead in a game they’d hang on to win, 23-20.
With the score, Peterson tied the NFL record for most punt returns for touchdowns in a season — a record that still stands.
Interestingly enough, Peterson hasn’t returned a punt for a touchdown since — a span of 129 tries.
Peterson was named a First Team All-Pro at punt returner by AP, the only time he’s earned that honor as a special teams player.
3. Walter Davis, Phoenix Suns (1977-78)
A year after shocking the world and advancing to the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns took a step backward. Phoenix won only 34 games and missed the playoffs. The good news is they earned the fifth overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft and got smooth-shooting swingman Walter Davis out of North Carolina.
Davis fit in nicely with the Suns. He scored 20 points in his first NBA game — a season-opening 100-83 win over the Golden State Warriors at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. That kind of output was commonplace for the man they called “The Greyhound.” Davis scored 20 or more 61 times, and had 17 30-point games in his first season. The rookie never scored fewer than 13 points in a game all year long, and the Suns improved their win total by 15 games, going 49-33 and heading back to the playoffs, where they would lose to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
But Davis was a keeper. He averaged 24.2 points per game in 1977-78, which ranked ninth in the league. It’s also the 15th-highest per game scoring average by a rookie in NBA history behind a small group of players that includes Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and David Robinson.
Davis won the Rookie of the Year in 1978, the second member of the Suns to win it in a three-season span. He’d go on to play 11 years with the Suns, helping them to eight playoff appearances and two trips to the Western Conference Finals. Davis is still the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 15,666 points.
2. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals (2003)
The Cardinals made waves in the 2003 NFL Draft by trading down to acquire an extra first-round pick and by passing on Valley high school and Arizona State product Terrell Suggs in the process. Arizona would select wide receiver Bryant Johnson out of Penn State with the 17th pick, and piggybacked that with the choice of Wake Forest defensive end Calvin Pace one slot later.
The jewel of their draft would be found in the second round. With the 54th overall pick, the Cardinals got Anquan Boldin, a productive wide receiver out of Florida State. Boldin was the sixth receiver picked in 2003, but he made the biggest immediate impact.
Boldin’s splashy debut came in Week 1 on the road against Detroit. He’d catch 10 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yarder early in the third quarter that gave the Cardinals a 21-14 lead. Unfortunately, the Arizona defense wasn’t up to snuff, and the Lions won 42-24. It was just a sign of things to come for Boldin, who finished the season with 101 catches for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns. He made it to the Pro Bowl and was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, becoming the first and only Cardinals player to win that award since its inception in 1967.
Boldin played seven years with the Cardinals, helping them to their first NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance in the 2008 season. He’s second in franchise history with 586 catches, fourth in yards (7,520) and fifth in touchdown catches (44).
1. Alvan Adams, Phoenix Suns (1975-76)
After a 32-50 season in 1974-75, the Suns got the fourth overall pick in the 1975 draft. They had the opportunity to pick a hometown favorite — guard Lionel Hollins had finished a storied career at Arizona State — but they passed.
Instead, the Suns selected versatile big man Alvan Adams from the University of Oklahoma. While initially an unpopular pick, it worked out well for the fledgling franchise. Adams teamed with Paul Westphal, who was picked up in a trade with the Celtics, and gave the Suns a formidable 1-2 punch. In his first game, the rookie scored 14 points as Phoenix beat the Portland Trailblazers 89-88.
He was just getting started. In his first two months as a pro, Adams produced eight 20-point games, including a 35-point outburst against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers on Nov. 14.
With Adams in the middle, things clicked for the Suns down the stretch. After a loss to the Bucks on Jan. 29, the Suns were 18-27 and 15.5 games behind the Pacific Division-leading Warriors. The rest of the way, they went 24-13 to lock up a playoff spot. Adams averaged 19.9 points per game in those 37 contests.
The Suns’ playoff run was magical. They’d knock off the Seattle SuperSonics in six games in the first round. They’d shock the Warriors in a memorable seven-game series to win the Western Conference title. And in their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals, they gave the mighty Boston Celtics everything they could handle before succumbing in six games.
Adams was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. During his speech accepting the award, he showed humility and humor in thanking David Thompson, the number-one overall pick, for going to play in the ABA.
Adams played his entire 13-year career in the purple and orange of the Suns. He was an All-Star once — in that memorable rookie season. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, minutes, offensive rebounds, total rebounds and steals. He’s second on the Suns’ all-time scoring list, behind Davis.
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