After finishing third in the Three-Point Shooting contest as the youngest player ever to participate, 19-year old Devin Booker is now a household name across the country. The league's youngest player is already considered one of the league's best shooters and is riding up the ladder as one of the best rookies from a great draft.
For a Phoenix Suns team with precious little going right for them this season, or over the past six years for that matter, Booker is white-hot beacon of light in their dark world.
Count new Suns coach Earl Watson among Booker's fans.
"When Booker came out of college," Watson said. "We all thought he was just a catch-and-shoot player. Then as we see Booker put the ball on the ground, make plays, make great passes, last game he had a left-hand pass in transition to Archie Goodwin for a dunk. That was exceptional."
Booker's old coach, Jeff Hornacek, is a fan too. It was Hornacek who had Booker in the rotation from day one. And it was Hornacek who put Booker in the starting lineup when Bledsoe went down for the season, giving Booker the opportunity to set records and put himself among a small cadre of players who've accomplished so much at such a young age.
"He's got a good knowledge of the game," Hornacek said. "We feel we can put the ball in his hands. He's going to have to make plays for us. He can come off those high pick-n-rolls, and he's one of the guys who has the size. It's great for us that we can now put the ball in someone else's hands and maybe make some plays."
Seventh youngest ever to score 14+
Booker's first ever NBA game came when he was still 18 years old on October 28 in a loss to Dallas. Only seven prior NBA players had ever scored more than Booker's 14 points before their 19th birthday. But Booker is the first 18-year old to score 10+ point in a single game in the past decade (Amir Johnson, 2006).
Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Bill Willoughby, Tracy McGrady, Andrew Bynum and Amir Johnson all scored 14+ points at least once before turning 19 years old. Most of those occurred before the league implemented an age-minimum (must turn 19 the year you are drafted). Booker did that in his first-ever NBA game, making 6 of his 7 shots.
Youngest Sun ever to record double-double
Booker isn't just a shooter. On January 6, 2016, Devin Booker scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, becoming the youngest Suns player ever to record a double-double of any kind, and the second youngest NBA guard to ever get a points-rebounds double-double.
Double-Double for @Dbook! #SunsVsHornets #WeArePHX
Third youngest ever with 30+ point game
Just two weeks later, Devin Booker became the youngest Suns player and third youngest NBA player ever to record a 30+ point game. He scored 32 points against the Indiana Pacers on January 19.
The only NBA players ever to score 30+ at a younger age than Booker's 19 years, 81 days old? How about two dudes named LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Second youngest ever with points-assists double-double
There have been a lot of teenagers with 10+ points and 10+ assists in a game (11, including Booker). Not all of them became stars, let alone Hall of Famers. But when he got his points-assists double-double last week, Booker became the second-youngest ever, across the entire NBA, to reach that milestone.
Only LeBron James had 10/10 at a younger age, and only James and Stephon Marbury had 10/10 along with 7+ rebounds as a teenager (18 or 19 years old) at all.
Youngest ever in Three-Point Shootout on All-Star Saturday
Booker started each round slowly, but made it all the way to the Final Round against the Splash Brothers, first beating out his first-round competition and then winning a shoot-out againt J.J. Redick and James Harden.
Along the way, Booker got a lot of praise from fellow All-Star participants as already ranking as one of the game's best shooters.
Not a complete player
Okay, you get it. Booker is young. This is the same dude who looked like this just two years ago.
...and still today looks like he's 13 years old. Get used to the "youngest ever" memes. Booker still has at least another 28 games to accomplish more teen feats.
In 23 games as a starter this season, he's averaging 15 points, 3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 32 minutes per game and getting even better as time goes along. In 13 January starts, Booker produced 17.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 33 minutes. In five February games under Watson, he's putting up 16.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 36 minutes.
But he's not a complete player, and at 19 years old still has a long ways to go. Once Brandon Knight and Ronnie Price return from injury this month, Booker's minutes will be a lot better regulated.
"He can't hold himself for offense," Watson said as he'd been forced to play Booker 36+ minutes a night. "He said he's not. This is a great challenge for a 19(-year-old). When he was coming off the bench, he played 20 minutes, he left it on the court. Now when he's playing 38-plus minutes, you have to learn to play your minutes as hard as you can and not be worried about coming out to get a rest. And he can't pace himself. But it's something that he has to learn through experience instead of being talked about throughout this process."
The rest of the season will be an opportunity for Booker to find the balance between being a sparkplug off the bench and being the #2 option in the offense. Having Brandon Knight around will ease the pressure on Booker to run the team's offense when he's on the court.
"I think he is a starting two guard eventually," Watson said. "When that comes, who knows. He's 19. Throughout his career, hopefully it's a long career, a 20-year career, he obviously would be a starting two guard.
"But right now," Watson continued. "He has to play his role and the role has been fluid from the entire season. With Bled being out and BK coming back, Knight going back to the one, he has to be that starting two-guard next to him."
Booker will continue to start at shooting guard with Brandon Knight taking back over as the starting point guard ahead of Archie Goodwin. Goodwin will shift to backup shooting guard and potentially share time with Booker in the second unit depending on how Knight and Price are doing.
Just like most young players, Booker's defense leaves the most to be desired. On a team of bad defenders, Booker has the worst defensive rating, tied with a handful of his teammates. He's been even worse in the starting lineup - which is to be expected for such a young guy - posting a net -15.3 points per 100 possessions as a starter.
To become an eventual All-Star, as predicted by a few in the Suns organization since he's been drafted, Booker will have to play enough defense to stay in the starting lineup for a winning team.
"Like Klay, Booker has to work on his defense as Klay [Thompson] did early in his career," Watson said. "Klay's become a great defender at his position. He's an underrated defender at his position. He uses his length and his height. He's not the quickest, he's not the fastest, but he has the will to stay in front of players, and that's something Booker has to learn."
He's got a long way to go, but Devin Booker is already the most exciting young player the Suns have drafted in many, many years. Drafted 13th by the Suns in June, Booker is already being ranked as the 5th best rookie in the league this season by nba.com and could rise even higher before the season is done.
As the hurtle toward a top draft pick by losing most of their remaining 28 games, take some time to enjoy the emergence of Devin Booker on the league's landscape.