Devin Booker’s 39-point outburst in Mexico is a blueprint for success

Jan 12, 2017, 11:59 PM | Updated: Jan 13, 2017, 1:25 pm

Souring the appeal of the Suns during their season of learning, guard Devin Booker’s sophomore steps forward have been hard to identify.

His individual defense remains troubling, but it’s assumed that will come with time and strength past his 21st birthday. The weakside defensive lapses, well, those are just concerning.

On offense, opponents have rewarded the Phoenix youngster with the respect of doing everything in their power to contest his jump shots. After all, they need not worry about defending other Suns considering the team’s standing as a bottom-tier three-point shooting squad. Still, Booker’s 41 percent shooting overall and 34 percent accuracy from deep have been troubling.

Perhaps he’s finally found his jumper.

A 39-point effort culminating from a 28-point fourth quarter in the Suns’ 113-108 loss to the Mavericks in Mexico could be viewed as a breakthrough. Even so, Booker was turning things around before Thursday by averaging 22.5 points on 45 percent shooting and 43 percent three-point accuracy in the four January games.

booker_shotchart

Booker’s shot chart (Jan. 12)

On Thursday, breaking Stephon Marbury’s franchise record for points scored in one 12-minute period came with an edge. Booker’s eyes lit up as Dallas pulled away from Phoenix in the second half, but it was more than attitude. It was about efficiency.

The 20-year-old went 14-for-20 from the floor with six made threes off seven attempts.

Booker, who with his lack of explosiveness has taken to the gospel of Kobe Bryant (the aged Kobe, mind you), has spent much of this season launching jumpers off the dribble or on the move. He’s dabbling in working out of the post and has come off weakside screens more than you might think.

But to take a page out of former Suns assistant Dan D’Antoni’s book, Booker tinkering with Bryant’s isolation game hasn’t been good for his efficiency, even if the Suns will play it off as good for his development.

The latter is an argument for another time.

This chart, courtesy of Synergy Sports, shows the efficiency issues for Booker this season.

Jumper Range % of shots Possessions Points per possession
Short (< 17 feet) 34% 129 0.806
Medium (17 feet to 3-point line) 27.4% 104 0.731
3-pointers 38.5% 146 1.068

For the year, Booker has an effective field goal percentage of 45.8 — the statistic accounts for three-point shots being worth a point more. That’s about five percentage points from being considered efficient.

Booker, according to Synergy Sports, compares well to other players in isolation, but isolation plays by default aren’t super efficient (he scores 0.883 points per possession). He’s better than point guard Eric Bledsoe in transition (1.198 ppp to 0.98 ppp) despite his lack of athleticism and pure strength because he turns it over much less.

He has struggled off screens at just 0.777 points per possession and a pick-and-roll ball handler, Booker scores 0.734 points per possession, an average number likely due to defenses forcing him to score inside the three-point arc.

But Thursday, he forced the action in the fourth quarter, picking only shots at the rim and three-pointers to attempt a comeback. He went 5-for-6 from three, got to the foul stripe for seven attempts in the fourth quarter and only scored six points at the elbows all game. It was, simply put, a better night of shot selection than has been the norm, even if he was getting tunnel vision.

Booker’s improvements and ability to take better shots more often has a bit to do with his teammates.

Still, there’s something to be said that his five threes attempted per game ranks 40th in the NBA. Is he not one of the better shooters in the league?

The Suns believe he can be a special midrange player, and that could end up being true.

But Booker’s sure-fire skill, the one that got him drafted in the lottery without much proof anything else in his game was NBA-caliber, was his shooting.

Phoenix can’t forget that.

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Devin Booker’s 39-point outburst in Mexico is a blueprint for success