Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, 19, is the youngest player in the NBA and began his rookie season somewhere between 5th and 6th on the Phoenix Suns depth chart at guard.
A few months later, the gifted Booker is the sixth youngest player in NBA history to have scored 900 points and is in line to win the NBA's Rookie of the Month for March 2016 and should be named to the All-Rookie team.
Booker leads all NBA rookies in points per game (22.5) and assists per game (4.9) for the month of March. This is the second time Booker has been top scorer for a month: he led all rookies with 17.3 points per game in January, but was beaten out for top rookie by Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT was barely behind Booker in scoring (16.9) while also leading all rookies in rebounding (10.9) and finishing second in blocks (1.6).
This time Booker leads in both scoring and assists, while Towns is second in scoring, tops in rebounds and fifth in blocks.
We will find out in a few days who the league names as Rookie of the Month. Towns has won all four previous monthly awards. A year ago ago, Andrew Wiggins won the award for the first four months, before Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood took the prize the final two months of the season.
No Phoenix Suns player has won an NBA Rookie of the Month award since Amare Stoudemire 13 years ago, and no Suns rookie has scored as many as Devin's 22.5 points per game in a month since Walter Davis 38 years ago.
We spend a lot of time talking about Booker's youth - first to do this, sixth to do that - so let's spend a few moments going over the league's history with players under 20 years old.
Devin Booker does have an advantage over his draft brethren. He turned 19 years old a couple days after the start of his rookie NBA season, allowing him to play the entire season as a 19 year old. Since the NBA instituted a rule requiring the player to turn 19 in the calendar year they were drafted, Booker is among a smaller and smaller group of players with the chance to play 82+ games while still a teenager.
From 1973 to 2006, the only NBA requirement was that your high school class had to graduate. Moses Malone was the first, in 1974, to join the ABA at 18 years old. Then Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby a year later. For the next 20 years though, the only two who went to the NBA without hitting college first (for at least a little while) were Shawn Kemp and Lloyd Daniels.
It wasn't until 1995 that going straight to the NBA from high school became more commonplace, starting with Kevin Garnett and followed closely by Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal. It's not that players couldn't have jumped to the NBA all those years prior. It's that they weren't ready. Their bodies and minds were not ready to withstand the rigors of the NBA.
In NBA history, only 33 players in history have played in more than Booker's 69 games so far before turning 20 (Dawkins doesn't count because he was in the ABA as a teen).
By the end of the season and counting the start of next season, assuming the Suns play one game prior to his October 30 birthday and that Booker plays in all of them (9), only 23 NBA players in league history will have played more games as a teenager than Devin Armani Booker. Booker will have outscored all but five of them.
Elite company, indeed.
Why so few? You can't just blame the league age minimum of 19, since it was as low as 18 from league inception to 2006. The reason there have been so few to play as many games as Booker is because they just weren't ready. They went to college, or they got spot minutes until they are mature enough to handle the pressure.
Booker has been ready since day one.
He opened the season by scoring 14 points as an 18-year old, the first to score that many points at the age of 18 since Amir Johnson in 2006.
Booker was the 7th youngest ever to score 14+ points in a game. He was fortunate the Suns got blown out by Dallas, allowing coach Jeff Hornacek the luxury of playing the league's youngest player much of the second half. Booker did not waste the opportunity.
Coming off the bench, Booker was making more than 60% of his three-point attempts for two months - and this was in spot minutes. People talk about players being rusty from lack of consistent minutes, but Booker was always ready, always hot.
After Eric Bledsoe went down in mid December, Booker entered the starting lineup and never left. In January, he became the third youngest player ever to post a 30 point game.
Then he became the second youngest ever to record a points-assists double-double (behind LeBron James). And this was against the Golden State Warriors, no less. Right before the All-Star Break.
He then represented the Suns on All-Star Weekend in the Rising Stars Challenge and came in 3rd in the annual Three-Point Shootout behind only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Booker was the youngest player EVER to compete in the Three-Point Shootout. By far. And he finished third.
Now he's the youngest guard in NBA history to post four separate games of 27+ points and 5+ assists. Only LeBron James, a forward, has more such games from any position before turning 20 years old.
And he's only played in 69 games so far as a pro, with just 49 of them for 20+ minutes of court time.
Age is just a number
I know many of you get tired of hearing about a player's age. You want a Suns player to dominate no matter what their age. And I agree with you.
Let's take a look at Booker in the landscape of all NBA players in March: Booker is 15th in the league in scoring for March and 32nd in assists. Not as sexy, right?
Let's look at Booker in the landscape of rookies of any age. He's the first rookie since Damian Lillard in 2012-13 to have five or more 30+ point games.
Let's just enjoy what we have, which is one of the best rookies in the league and one of the youngest ever to establish himself as a big time scorer. Kobe Bryant didn't lead the league in scoring as a rookie. Steve Nash didn't lead the league in assists as a rookie. And that's two of the very best in history at their top craft.
Enjoy Devin Armani Booker, and embrace how he's accomplishing so much so soon. We are only seeing Booker scratch the surface of his talent and impact on the game. Since Brandon Knight came back to the lineup to take some of the scoring load, Booker has actually increased his output. Next year, Booker will be even better.
Don't worry about Booker losing touches in the future - no team in the league would discount Booker's talents, especially this one. Coach Jeff Hornacek said off the record that Booker was his best bench guard back in October, and that he would be an All-Star some day.
This after only watching Booker in summer league and then preseason. Remember little Booker in summer league?
As soon as there was an opportunity, Hornacek made Booker a starter and helped him lead all rookies in scoring in January. Coach Earl Watson continued that trend and has given Booker the most minutes per game on the team.
The Suns future is still murky, but you can use permanent marker to fill in the starting shooting guard spot for the foreseeable future.
The Suns finally have lucked into a new foundational player around whom to build the team.
*All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com and nba.com