Devin Booker Is Not For Sale

When Devin Booker was drafted in 2015 there wasn’t much thought of his long range future, or, that he may be talked about two years later in a deal to acquire a phenom scorer. Back then Booker wasn’t supposed to be 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.  But two years later, it is Booker and not Russell (who has already been traded) and not Mudiay, who would definitely seal a Kyrie out of Cleveland deal.

But Booker was not part of the package the Suns offered to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. The pieces the Suns were going to send back would not have cost Phoenix much. Eric Bledsoe is on the back end of his deal, a free agent in 2019. Josh Jackson, though full of potential, has not played a NBA game and no one knows who he will really be.  A bunch of draft picks no one can slot into anything rounded out the package.

The Suns are smart not to give up the farm. Irving has said he is not committing anywhere; he will have a player option in the summer of 2019. So why gut a team for a player who may not even stay, particularly since, even with Irving, the Suns aren’t contenders or even a playoff team. They will score a lot of points and Robert Sarver will benefit from a packed house but the defense will be atrocious. Bank on it.

Last season, Kyrie Irving’s Defensive Rating was 112 and he was ranked 67 out of 78 point guards when measuring defensive impact (Defensive Real Plus-Minus). Eric Bledsoe had the same Defensive Rating but he was ranked 37 out of 78 point guards when measuring defensive impact. While the Suns would be an offensive nightmare with Kyrie, their defense would make everyone cover their eyes. They still would be a couple of years and a veteran power forward away from contention.

But back to Devin Booker. Around his neck is the sign hands off to anyone who asks. Yes, his 70 point game made him untouchable.  Elite scorers are hard to find. Draft Express was all in on Booker’s shooting talent pre-draft.

“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)

2016-17 Shooting Guards Points 3-Point % Usage Rate Real Plus-Minus Rank (SG) Offensive Rating
Devin Booker 22.1 36.3% 28.6% #45  103
Bradley Beal 23.1 40.4% 26.5% #5 117
C. J. McCollum 23.0 42.1% 27.5% #12 114

Booker is not yet ready to be included in top shooting guards in the league. His three ball needs to be more efficient and he needs to create opportunities for teammates since Booker is correctly targeted as the number one player to stop.  As face of the franchise, he has to lead his team into the playoffs. He has to do more. But every game pencil in Booker for 22 points.

“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)

He is special now. Special enough to not be included in a deal for the extraordinary Irving.

Bradley Beal and C.J. McCollum earned $100 million dollar contracts; Booker will cash in too. You don’t trade the most important piece of your franchise since Steve Nash for another great scorer who is more established but is also five years older.

Guards 2015 Draft Games PPG 3-Point % Usage Rate PER
D’Angelo Russell (#2 pick) 143 14.3 35.1 25.2% 14.1
Emmanuel Mudiay (#7 pick) 123 12.0 31.7% 24.4% 10.3
Devin Booker (#13 pick) 154 18.0 35.4% 26.2% 13.4

Booker’s 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 of 2015 and Booker 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.” (former Lakers coach, Byron Scott)

Kyrie Irving made a remarkable shot to win the title in 2016. He is a magician at the rim, finishing with his right or left, creating in the air. He has great footwork and change of direction and can beat anyone off the dribble and get to the rim. He was a 46% midrange shooter this year, 50% midrange shooter last year. His three ball goes in 40% of the time. He is an elite offensive scorer, not just in his generation but in the history of the league at his position. But as great as it would be for the Suns to have Irving, he won’t commit to anyone and so he can walk and leave the Suns high and dry.

Try to grab Kyrie. Do what you can. But Booker stays.

photo via llananba