Devin Booker, The Top 5 Pick Who Wasn’t

When Devin Booker was drafted in 2015, there wasn’t much thought of him being the best guard in the draft. That was reserved for D’Angelo Russell or maybe Emmanuel Mudiay, if you like your rookies to have a little China experience. Booker didn’t even start for his Kentucky Wildcat team so how good was he really? That’s the distorted thinking that goes into the draft. There’s not much foresight as to development. History says shooting guards are a mixed bag. Some struggle with defensive adjustments, some don’t. No one thought Booker would be this good, this quickly, even as he entered the league at the same age as his idol Kobe Bryant. He and Bryant are the same height. He was drafted in the same lucky 13 slot as Bryant, and plays the same position as Bryant. He had a father who played in the league just like Bryant had a father who played in the league. And just like Bryant in 1996, 12 teams undervalued Devin Booker.

There are no such things as coincidences according to Freud. So, when Kobe Bryant gave Devin Booker his shoes and told him to Be Legendary, he understood exactly what he was doing, but more importantly what he was saying. It was intentional, his effusive praise. He was anointing Devin Booker as the next shooting guard star, one crafted in his image.

Ironically, Devin Booker’s father, Melvin played against Kobe during Kobe’s rookie year. Melvin had a brief NBA career, 32 games, 561 minutes. When he suited up against Kobe, he had 5 points, while the rookie Kobe had 24 points on 81.8% shooting. When the son Devin matched up against Kobe a couple of weeks ago, almost exactly 20 years later, ┬áit was Devin with bragging rights. He had 28 points to Kobe’s 17.

“Devin Booker is one of the best shooters in this draft class. He has gorgeous shooting mechanics, a quick, compact and repeatable motion complete with an effortless release and textbook follow through. His size, high release points and ability to create separation off the dribble makes him a very capable off the dribble shooter. He has outstanding footwork and balance, allowing him to be more than just a spot-up floor-spacer as someone who makes shots running off screens, attacking closeouts and punishing defenders for going underneath on the pick and roll. Booker is a very intelligent prospect, showing impressive maturity and fundamentals despite being the youngest player in this draft class.” (Draft Express)

Devin has a multi-geographical background to match his mixed heritage of Puerto Rican and African American. His father, Melvin Booker, a star at Missouri, traveled the world as a professional player while his mother, Veronica, raised him in Grand Rapids. In high school, after his father retired, the younger Booker went to live with his father in Mississippi where he was the willing student to all of his father’s basketball lessons, particularly that basketball was about i.q. more than it was about athleticism. Thinking is at a premium.

“I just think Devin has a throwback mentality. He can handle the ball as well as catch-and-shoot as the two-guard position. He could be something special.” (Earl Watson, Phoenix Suns coach)

Once in a high school game, Booker scored 54 points. Then 32 points. He was the South Mississippi Player of the Year as a sophomore, the second 10th grader to grab that honor. After scoring 48 points as a junior, a reporter for the Sun Herald wrote:

“He’s extremely athletic, can shoot the lights out and plays with a high degree of energy, no matter if he’s on offense or defense. Booker uses his quickness and long wingspan to deny pass after pass. When he gets his hands on a steal, he knows exactly what to do with it.”

He was Gatorade Player of the Year and the second player to win the Sun Herald Player of the Year in back to back seasons. A few months later, after scoring 38 points, he became the all-time career scoring leader for his high school, Moss Point. He averaged 30.9 points as a senior. In the state finals he lost, even though he scored 42 points and 26 points in the fourth quarter.

Best Guard 2015 Draft Draft Pick PPG 3-Point % Contested Shot % PER
D’Angelo Russell 2 13.2 35.4% 41.1% 13.9
Emmanuel Mudiay 7 12.3 30.8% 31.3% 9.5
Devin Booker 13 13.3 35.1% 48.7% 12.3

His debut in the NBA was memorable in that his 85% shooting and 14 points against the Dallas Mavericks turned a lot of heads. Luck/fate entered his orbit when Eric Bledsoe was injured in December and he was suddenly a starter. When he scored 21 points against the Kings, he was in elite company. Only Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant scored 20+ points at a younger age. When he had a double-double in a win at Charlotte, he was the fifth youngest player to do so and the youngest in Suns history. When he scored 30 points against the Pacers, he was the third youngest player in NBA history to have a 30- point game and the youngest in Suns history.

“I like the fact he has a really good all-around game. He can get assists, he can pass the ball, rebounds the ball, he can shoot it from three, he can get to the basket, he’s got a nice little mid-range game. He’s got a complete game. They’ve got a gem over there.” (Lakers coach, Byron Scott)

Devin Booker is the youngest Suns player to have multiple 30+ games. Walter Davis, Alvan Adams and Devin Booker are the only Suns rookies with three 30+ games. He and LeBron James are the only teenagers to have back-to-back 30 point games.

Devin Booker’s most inspiring moment was when he played against his idol and even though they were just matched up for one possession, it was a thrill for Booker, particularly afterwards when Bryant talked to him in the locker room for 15 minutes. Bryant loves Booker’s game and thinks his potential is whatever Booker wants it to be, but Booker is a little more humble about it.

“I’m still trying to figure it out honestly. That’s one thing about the NBA. It’s about consistency. I know there have been a lot of rookies that have been in this league and had a good first year and the next year(s) you never hear about them again.”

You’ll be hearing about Devin Booker for a long, long time, starting with Rookie of the Month for March.

 

photo via llananba