When a few buddies and I convened at my house to watch some hoops and slug back a few brews on a frigid Friday night over Christmas break, I revealed to my friends how I had recently become a huge fan of Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker.
“He’s like Klay Thompson,” one friend retorted with a grin on his mug.
I jabbed back with an inquiry, “Why? Because he’s light-skinned and can shoot?” We both looked at each other and cackled.
At the University of Kentucky, Booker was overshadowed by some of the more prestigious members of John Calipari’s All-American Basketball Army, averaging a modest 10 points, 2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He was a significant contributor on a behemoth of a basketball team that went 38-0 before having their title aspirations curbed by Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Booker was selected by Phoenix with the No. 13 overall pick, after teammates Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 1 overall), Wille Cauley-Stein (No. 6 overall), and Trey Lyles (No. 12 overall), but saw uneven amounts of playing time early in the season as Suns head man Jeff Horancek sifted through a slew of lineups.
Phoenix’s season has started to gyrate from playoff-hopeful to tumultuous, but Booker has proven to be one of the bright spots for the Suns with his recent stretch of strong play.
In his last seven games (five starts), Booker is averaging 14 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2 assists on 50% field goals and 40% on threes. He’s even manned some point guard duties due to the devastating knee injury that’s shelved guard Eric Bledsoe for the season.
In Booker’s first 30 games of the season, he tallied a total of 20 assists. In his last seven games, he’s racked up 14 helpers, dispelling the notion that he’s “just a shooter.” The 19-year-old kid from Grand Rapids, Michigan played arguably the best game of his career this past Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets, recording the first double-double of his career as he dropped 17 points (3-for-5 from downtown), and 10 rebounds in the 111-102 victory.
Hornacek is content with what he sees from Booker, especially for a player at only the age of 19.
“We were trying to get Devin in bits and pieces,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek. “Obviously with Brandon (Knight) and Eric those two guys were playing the majority of the minutes. There was some back up time for Devin against bench guys and kind of get his feet wet. Without Eric he’s thrown to the fire and he’s done pretty well for a young guy put in that situation. I think that bodes well for his future and going down the line.”
Booker is beaming with confidence, and since Christmas Day he’s been in the upper echelon of rookies in terms of scoring and shooting efficiency.
When looking at NBA.com/stats, their Player Tracking metrics echo that Booker is a darling amongst his fellow Association babies. Again, since December 25th, Booker is tied for first in pull-up field goal percentage (50%), third amongst rookies in catch-and-shoot three-point field goal percentage (42.9%), and first in drives per game at 4.9, which is indicative of a level of aggression that’s swelling.
Phoenix is trying to salvage a season that has fallen by the wayside, as they are currently 4.5 games back of the Utah Jazz for the Western Conference’s 8th seed. Clinching a postseason berth may be out of the realm of feasibility for the Suns, but continuing to watch the maturation of Devin Booker will entice fans to keep a pulse on this team. In addition to Booker, Phoenix boasts some other potential young studs in TJ Warren and Alex Len, who has finally shown some flashes after coming painstakingly close to hovering around the “bust” bin high picks typically get placed in after not validating a high selection.
Devin Booker is on his way to becoming a very good NBA basketball player, and the Suns have to be giddy about the fact he fell to them at No. 13. This past year’s NBA Draft could prove to be one of historic proportions, and Booker is doing whatever he can early on to make sure he becomes one of the more revered selections of this pool of youngsters.