Devin Booker’s Dead End Path to All-Star Sunday

A few days ago, scorer extraordinaire Devin Booker dropped 46 points against the glamour kids, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and carried the forgettable Suns to a win in the City of Brotherly Love. Afterwards, Booker’s performance had many wondering if the Grand Rapids/Mississippi 21 year old was going to end up in the Los Angeles love fest, the February All-Star game. In Philly, he scored 42 points in three quarters and made Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons seem irrelevant. Booker got everyone’s attention.

Booker, a great scorer, is a streaky scorer. He can start hot, then hit a dry spell, but when it is money time and the lights are brightest, that is when he shows up and shows out. It’s all good for Booker except he’s buried in Phoenix, and the main reason he isn’t an All-Star is that Devin Booker is all about Devin Booker.

His scoring talent takes your breath away and then you look at Booker’s numbers outside of his 24 points a game. He plays 34 minutes and averages four assists, four rebounds, three turnovers. As great a scorer as he is, his offensive rating is only 109. His defensive rating is 114. (When he’s on the court, the other team has an estimated aggregate of 114 points.)

Of all the guards in line for an All-Star bid, no one is as bad defensively as Devin Booker.

Defensive Ratings:

  • Devin Booker: 114
  • Klay Thompson: 109
  • Steph Curry: 105
  • Damian Lillard: 105
  • James Harden: 103
  • Russell Westbrook: 100

Devin Booker is the best player on a bad team and he takes 18 shots a game because who else do you want to shoot? But that is nothing like being on a team of talent and having to legitimize your teammates and make others better, to pick when to be the scorer and choose when to be the playmaker, to be as Derek Fisher once put it, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X.

As far as shooting guards go, Booker is ranked 28th (Real Plus-Minus). Ahead of him at 25th, 26th and 27th, are Justin Holiday, Buddy Hield and Pat Connaughton. Victor Oladipo is number one.

Booker’s usage rate is in the 30% range, the same as Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and James Harden, players he is chasing for an All-Star berth.  However, they are doing more, he is doing less.

Curry averages 6 assists and 5 rebounds and has a defensive rating 9 points lower than Booker’s 114. Westbrook averages nearly 10 assists and 10 rebounds and his defensive rating is 14 points lower than Booker’s. Like Curry, Lillard is dropping six dimes and pulling 5 rebounds and has a defensive rating 9 points lower than Booker’s; it’s been a career year for Lillard’s defense. Even as bad as Lillard has been on defense in his short career, he has never had a defensive rating of 114.

In his MVP campaign, Harden is averaging 9 assists and 5 rebounds and the normally lazy defender Harden has a defensive rating of 103. Harden’s offensive rating is 14 points higher than Booker’s.

Year Three Points Assists Rebounds Team Losses by December (6th) All-Star
Devin Booker(2017-18) 24.3 4.1 4.5 17 ?
Steph Curry (2011-12) 14.7 5.3 3.4 strike year, games delayed No
Damian Lillard (2014-15) 21.0 6.2 4.6 4 Yes
Russell Westbrook (2010-11) 21.9 8.2 4.6 8 Yes
James Harden (2011-12) 16.8 3.7 4.1 strike year, games delayed No

Curry, Westbrook, Lillard and Harden are older than Booker’s 21 years and they have more experience. But in their third year, their assists were more than the 4 a game (except Harden who came off the bench for OKC) than Booker drops. It’s the weak spot of Devin Booker’s game, the fact that right now he is a specialist, a very dynamic one, a very talented one, but a specialist just the same. He does one thing extremely well: he scores. But All-Stars have to do more than score. Stars and superstars have to do more than score.

The Suns are 29th in assists. They are following the lead of their best player. He sets their identity, how they function: give Booker the ball and watch.

The change in All-Star voting is doomed to hurt players like Booker because the media gets a say in the vote. They are not going to vote for the best player on a miserable team. Booker can’t escape blame for the Suns first game of the season where they trailed in the fourth quarter by 50 points. Nor can he run and hide from the Clippers beating the Suns by 42 points. He lacked leadership in the first week of the season, something that a 46 point outburst against the Sixers, who aren’t deep in shooting guard defenders, isn’t going to change.

The great thing about Devin Booker is he knows who he is. After the Philly game he said, “Shooters never stop shooting. I’ve been living with the motto since I was 3.” He will be sidelined for two weeks but when he returns from injury, so does the familiar strategy.

The Suns depend on Booker to make buckets, to dig them out of holes, to rescue them, to be their savior. The work in progress that Devin Booker is has to do with making his teammates better, taking less and doing less so they can do more. Ultimately Devin Booker will be judged by winning, not how many 40 point games he can drop.

Winning makes you an All-Star, not highlight oohs and aahs.

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