As the Phoenix Suns go through one of their very worst stretches in franchise history, one of the few bright spots has been the maturity, consistency and production that has rookie Devin Booker - the youngest player in the NBA - in the Suns starting lineup.
Many thought Booker would be a shoe-in for the annual Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star weekend, where 20 of the league's best rookies and sophomores compete in a friendly. But the only American-born rookies named to the team were the top 3 picks in the draft: Karl-Anthony Towns, DeAngelo Russell and Jalil Okafor. booorrrringg.
The last Suns youngster to be named to the event - under different roster rules - was 2011 pick Markieff Morris. Since then, due to injury or lack of playing time, the Suns young players have rarely been considered. Last year, Alex Len was rumored to have been a finalist as an injury replacement but rolled his ankle prior to All-Star weekend and missed out.
But alas, despite ranking FIRST among ALL rookies in minutes per game (33.6), three-point attempts (4.9) AND free-throw attempts (4.3) per game in January, second in scoring in the month of January (16.8 per game), and third in overall shot attempts (13.1), Booker was left off the roster.
NBA Rising Stars World & U.S. rosters for All-Star weekend. pic.twitter.com/O7JIyu2rbR— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) January 27, 2016
Here's some fancy pics.
Booker's problems include the format (there can only be 10 US-born players between the rookies and sophomores) and his early-season playing time while the Suns started Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe ahead of him.
On one hand, you can't blame coach Hornacek for wanting the league's youngest player to warm up to the league slowly. Booker played 12 minutes per game in November, then 19 minutes per game in December and now 33.6 minutes per game in January.
But on the other hand, the Booker we see now is the same Booker that got spot minutes in November. He's a pure shooter who also shows the ability to put the ball on the floor and score at the rim or dish to the open shooter. Even his defensive rotations are smart (for the most part) though he's got a long way to go on that end to be good.
Still, despite the slow playing time emergence, most insiders around the league already know that Booker is one of the best rookies in the league.
Some expressed their surprise when he was left off the roster.
I know I'm late to this, but I'm really stunned Devin Booker didn't make Rising Stars roster. One of few, if any, bright spots for #suns— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 28, 2016
Jeff Van Gundy just specifically mentioned Devin Booker and said he was shocked he wasn’t on the Rising Stars roster.— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) January 28, 2016
Just realized no Devin Booker for the Rising Stars game. Not sure what Assistant coaches have been watching the last few months.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) January 27, 2016
Fellow Suns guards took to twitter as well.
Wow! No book??— Eric Bledsoe (@EBled2) January 27, 2016
Book shoulda made it— Archie Goodwin (@A1Laflare10) January 27, 2016
But then again, it's only just a game. And a silly one at that.
Any time the roster rules dictate a player like Raul Neto (no disrespect meant to Neto) to get named ahead of Booker, or Justice Winslow for that matter, you know the rules are broken.
Neto has started 43 games this year vs. Booker's 16, but even so he plays fewer minutes on the season, scores less, shoots worse and does everything worse except passing the ball. Neto, a full time point guard, nets 2.3 assists per game to Booker's 1.4.
But there has to be 10 international players vs. 10 US-Born players. And Neto is one of the better international players among rookies this season.
Anyway, it's just a game. Don't sweat it. I'd rather see Booker in Suns colors for the next 15-20 years than in any 'Rising Stars' Challenge no one watches.
Booker has the best take of all, per Paul Coro who travels with the team.
"It's not really a big deal to me," Booker said. "My respect comes from all the players that I've played against, people that are in the game who say I should be in it. There are some other players who I think should be in the game. It's kind of a messed-up format but, at the end of the day, I've got to get better. We'll see in the long run."
The players know who the best are.