Phoenix Suns rookie guard Devin Booker didn't even start at University of Kentucky last year as a freshman, but wound up the Sixth Man of the Year in the SEC anyway by scoring 11 points per game off the bench.
NBA scouts saw the shooting talent in Booker, and some teams even had him going in the Top 10 of the Draft last spring (he was rumored in the final cut at 8 and 9), before the Suns took him with the 13th overall pick.
Still, he was seen as a shooter extraordinaire but not much else. And that he had a long way to go, as the youngest player in the NBA.
"Devin Booker, coming into the draft, everyone thought he was just a catch-and shoot player," interim coach Earl Watson says.
Watch the video attached to this article to see that Devin Booker is MUCH more than a catch-and-shoot player. The Suns knew they had a gem as soon as Booker hit the court in Summer League. He scored 14 in his NBA debut as an 18-year old. He spent a lot of time on the bench behind Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, though coach Jeff Hornacek hinted Booker could be an All-Star someday.
Now several months and a host of injuries to the guys ahead of him later, Booker looks to be a cinch for the All-Rookie Team.
He joined the Suns starting lineup after Eric Bledsoe went down and ranks third among rookies in scoring (16.3 per game) and 4th in assists (2.8 per game) since January 1. On All-Star Weekend, he scored 27 points in the annual Rising Stars Challenge as one of ten rookies selected for the game and finished third in the Three-Point Shooting Contest (behind only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson).
Now, he's scoring 34 points against one of his childhood idols in Dwyane Wade. ESPN's Michael Wallace shared some quotes from Wade after it was over.
"I was impressed with him the first time we played him, and I'm very impressed tonight," Wade said of his message to Booker, who averaged 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in two games against Miami. "When you've got a young guy going through a tough season like that, he's just out there having fun. He's out there getting better, and he's one of the future [top] two-guards in this league."
Wade is a 12-time All-Star who's been a top two-guard since he came into the league in 2004. The only year Wade wasn't an All-Star was his rookie season, where he "only" put up 16 points a game with 4.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds. Wade was three years older (22) than Booker when he entered the league.
"If he continues taking steps, he's going to be very, very good," Wade said. "I like him. I like him a lot."
Booker has played well against many of his childhood idols across the NBA this season, especially since he's still basically a child himself. Heck, Andrew Wiggins, the #1 pick of the 2014 Draft, could be one of Booker's childhood idols.
Now facing the opponent's best defender on any given night and playing the most games of his life, Booker suffered a bit of a lapse in February (shot only 33% from the field). He's come up short on a lot of shots and was blocked at the rim more than he'd ever experienced.
But the game against the Heat and Dwyane Wade woke Booker up again.
"Obviously, Dwyane is a living legend, especially when he's here in Wade county -- everyone knows that," Booker said in reference to the nickname Miami-Dade County adopted to honor Wade six years ago. "So I just tried to take that challenge on. I like to have fun with it. Those are the games I live for. People I grew up watching and learning from. Now, I get to play against them. It gives me that extra oomph."
Booker is now one of only two rookies with multiple 30+ point games this season, along with #1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns. DeAngelo Russell of the Lakers scored a rookie-high 39 the other night and celebrated every shot, while Booker may have hooted a bit but is the perfect example of acting like he's been there before.
Booker is now the first Suns rookie since Richard Dumas in 92-93 to score 30+ in multiple games. Only Walter Davis (12), Alvan Adams (3) and Cedric Ceballos (2) have ever had multiple 32+ point games as rookies for a 48-year old Suns franchise.
And, across the entire NBA, only LeBron James and Kevin Durant have scored 34 or more points at a younger age than Booker in the past 54 years.
Again, I implore you to watch the video to see all the ways Booker is scoring. He's not just a catch-and-shoot scorer. Since all the Suns distributors went down to injury, Booker's been force-fed into playmaking duties and creating his own shot.
Coach Earl Watson remained stoic as always.
"We played him at the point guard position, and he made a lot of plays," Watson said. "He played defense against Dwyane Wade, and I think it was a good challenge for him."