PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns turned to an 18-year-old sharpshooter with the No. 13 pick in the NBA draft.
Devin Booker came off the bench for national champion Kentucky as something of a designated shooter.
“We just feel that he’s the best shooter in the draft,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said, “and that’s obviously something we need.”
The 6-foot-6 Booker averaged 10 points per game. He shot 47 percent from the field in his one season at Kentucky, 41 percent from 3-point range, 83 percent from the free throw line.
Booker also was SEC sixth man of the year. Also second-team all-SEC, Booker was the fourth Kentucky player chosen in the first 13 picks overall.
But Booker didn’t expect to be among the “one-and-done” college players.
“I unpacked my bags fully at Kentucky. I thought I was going to be there two or three years,” he said in a conference call. “But it just shows you what hard work and dedication to the game gets you. And also a winning attitude. When everybody’s winning, everybody looks good. So when we all brought that winning attitude to the team, it made us all look good.”
The youngest player in the draft class, Booker won’t turn 19 until Oct. 30.
“When you look at a kid who is 18 years old you have to kind of wonder is he really ready for this,” Hornacek said. But after talking to him and running him through psychological tests, “you realize this kid is a very mature 18-year-old.”
“This kid can step right in and play,” Hornacek said. “He’s very confident in the way he plays.”
Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough both noted that the NBA champion Golden State Warriors won on shooting, and shooters are getting more difficult to obtain because they are so in demand.
“In the draft, you have to pick them higher. They tend to go pretty quickly,” McDonough said. “In free agency, they tend to cost a lot more money.”
The selection Thursday night gives the Suns a true shooting guard to play behind their anticipated point guard duo of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Booker joins fellow former Kentucky players Knight, Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin on the Phoenix roster. All four are guards.
“I feel at Kentucky we had a really talented team and I fit in real well with the team. I found my niche,” he said in a television interview moments after his selection. “At the next level I know I’m going to have to create more for myself and I know I think I’m already surprising people a little bit (with) athleticism so I guess stay tuned.”
Booker’s father, Melvin, played 32 games in the NBA with Houston, Denver and Golden State.
The Suns chose yet another Kentucky guard, Andrew Harrison — the 44th pick overall — but, according to a person with knowledge of the deal, is sending him to Memphis for F-C Jon Leuer. The person sought anonymity because the deal could not officially be announced until it had been cleared by the league office.
There were multiple reports that the Suns attempted to trade up to get Charlotte’s pick, the ninth overall. The Hornets used it to select Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Hornacek said the word was Charlotte was going to take Booker and the Suns were relieved when he still was there at No. 13.
Hornacek compared Booker with Golden State’s Klay Thompson as a spot up shooter that also has the ability to dribble off screens and shoot 15-footers. Hornacek said Thompson wasn’t the greatest defender when he came out of college “but he worked at it.”
“At 18 years old there’s some things (Booker) can obviously grow in to,” Hornacek said.
The coach said when he has a player who can shoot, it’s a lot easier to teach the other parts of the game.
The Suns have not made the playoffs the last five seasons. After a surprise 48-34 record in the first season with Hornacek and McDonough, the Suns went 39-43, overhauling the roster during the season with trades that sent Goran Dragic to Miami and Isaiah Thomas to Boston. The Suns’ big prize in those trades, Knight, is a restricted free agent.
Hornacek was one of the game’s best shooters. Is Booker better?
“We’ll find out,” Hornacek said. “He can play, though. I can’t.”
Booker joked that he was ready for that H-O-R-S-E game against his new coach.
“We can schedule that,” he said. “We can actually do that tomorrow. I’m hearing he’s a great shooter, but I feel the same.”
Booker was scheduled to be introduced at a news conference in Phoenix on Friday.
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