Devin Booker and That Damn Curse

As peculiar as it may seem some six years later, when he was a freshman at the University of Kentucky Devin Booker wasn’t a starter, although he played 21.5 mpg. In his lone year in college, Booker only averaged 10.0 ppg. Teammate Karl-Anthony Towns was a starter and he only averaged 10.3 ppg. As he likes to do, John Calipari played 8 players over 20 minutes. But aside from Towns and Booker, and Aaron Harrison, no one scored in double figures. Booker shot 41% from three, second-best on the team. Every scout predicted he was the best scorer in his 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 point and ability to create separation off the dribble makes him a very capable off the dribble shooter…He already shows range out to the NBA 3-point line, and hit 41% of his shots beyond the arc on a very high volume of attempts per-minute. (Draft Express)

So why did it take so long for Booker to become an All-Star when he is second in his draft class in scoring and ppg?

Booker had a legitimate shot as an All-Star his 3rd year (2017-18) when he averaged 24.9 ppg. Except the team was garbage and Booker played zero defense. 21 wins aren’t getting you anywhere. The All-Star guards that year were Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Klay Thompson. He wasn’t cracking that list.

The next season, more of the same Booker scoring. His team was still young and Booker still didn’t play any defense.  The team took losing to another level, winning 15 times when Booker played. He missed multiple games because of injury but too often when he played and was heroic it just didn’t matter. He scored 59 points against the Jazz and 50 points against the Wizards in consecutive games and the Suns still lost. His talent was being wasted because the team was at the bottom of the league in both offense and defense. Not a good situation for a 22-year-old.

Last season, Booker was an All-Star and what changed was a quality coach (Monty Williams) that could teach Booker how to defend and what the team needed from him on the offensive end. It wasn’t just the Devin Booker show. It helped that the Suns had a legitimate pg in Ricky Rubio which took the playmaking moniker away from Booker so Booker could concentrate on scoring and defense. He wasn’t perfect but he had greatly improved. His game was mature. In the bubble, the Suns played the best basketball and barely missed out on the playoffs.

So much was riding on this season with Chris Paul as a valued addition. But…

The Suns are cursed by the arrogance and mismanagement of feckless owner Robert Sarver. The last time the Suns were in the playoffs Steve Nash was gasping his last breath of NBA oxygen. Obama was president. Climate change hadn’t turned winter into an icy Armageddon. Outside of Phoenix, the Suns woes were silently applauded because Robert Sarver replaced Donald Sterling as the cheapest and worst owner in sports.

Chris Paul rises above all drama. He is gifted at taking a talented team and pushing them into the playoffs. As expected, the Suns are in the top half of the Western Conference standings. While Booker’s scoring is slightly down, his efficiency is almost 50%.  He’s making 45% of his jump shots and late in the quarter, he is deadly. As expected, Booker has thrived playing with Chris Paul and unless the Suns season just falls out the sky they will be in the playoffs, and possibly a number four seed.

Kobe Bryant in his last season demanded that Booker Be Extraordinary.

While he’s not extraordinary, he’s a terrific 24-year-old who hasn’t even scratched the surface of his prime. Defense is still an issue and Booker needs better consistency. He dominates in the first and third quarters and tails off a bit in the second and 4th.

How does he measure up to 24-year-old Kobe Bryant?

24 Years Old Points Field Goal% Offensive Rating Real Plus-Minus Rank (SG) All-Star Games
Kobe Bryant 30.0 45.1% 111 2 5
Devin Booker 24.9 49.7% 108 24 2

The largest chasm between the two players is on the defensive end. Booker’s defensive rating averages out to 115 while Bryant’s defensive rating the first six years of his career was 103.5.  For a peculiar reason, Booker has never played well against the Lakers. His 21.9 average is lower than his career average and there have been games in L.A. that have been a lot of forced Booker shots and bad misses. It always seemed as if in Kobe’s place he was trying a little bit too hard. But this older Booker has one goal and that is making the playoffs in his sixth season.

Booker has 12 reasons to have a chip on his shoulder. In the 2015 draft, these players were picked ahead of him: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, Justise Winslow, Myles Turner. Only Towns, Russell, and Booker have made the All-Star team. Only Towns, Turner, and Booker are still with the team that drafted him. A redo of the 2015 draft and Booker would be top-5.

In a strange quirk, shooting guards that make an impact in the league are either drafted 3rd or 13th. (Michael Jordan was the 3rd pick. Kobe Bryant was 13th)

  • Bradley Beal (32.8 ppg) 3rd pick
  • Zach LaVine (28.7 ppg) 13th pick
  • Jaylen Brown (25.0 ppg) 3rd pick
  • James Harden (25.0 ppg) 3rd pick
  • Devin Booker (24.9 ppg) 13th pick
  • Donovan Mitchell (24.5ppg) 13th pick

The first half of the season is almost over for Devin Booker. Now that he will be making back-to-back appearances in the All-Star game and with teammate Chris Paul, he can concentrate on something far more important. Ending the Suns 11-year playoff drought. Breaking the curse.