Talk to any Suns fan nowadays and they will be able to agree on one thing: Devin Booker is the freaking man. On the heels of last season’s outburst and his alpha male showing during Summer League, Booker has Suns fans in the palm of his hands, eliciting drool with every tickle of the twine.
Fans may be the loudest base for claiming Booker’s stardom (I just had a friend proclaim that he is going to be an All-Star as early as next season...), but the praise has been oozing from peers and coaches alike, including the player that most people compare him to.
The praise is universal and similar in kind: “He’s only 19, right? Wow.”
But how much praise is too much? Is there a line that we are all toeing in our slobbering over Booker’s potential? Athletes tend to thrive when they are pinned up against a wall, or the doubters outnumber the constituents, and with so much love so quickly, is he potentially at the mercy of a let down?
Take a closer look at what Summer League, last season’s scoring onslaught, and his stint on the Team USA Select Team this summer really mean, and you will realize that all of those bullets share no real correlation to Booker’s role on the Suns this upcoming season. As of now, he is still not slated to be the starter, his minutes and role could be time-crunched a la James Harden circa Oklahoma City, and there really isn’t a window for him to become the face of the franchise unless injury is involved.
The shady injury history of Eric Bledsoe and general inconsistent play of Brandon Knight leave a feeling of inevitability for Booker to find his way into starter’s minutes sooner rather than later. But the thing is, even the inevitable can sometimes not come to fruition.
For all of his offensive talents, Booker still needs to take a leap defensively to become one of the top two-guards in the game — the same kind of leap that Thompson willed himself to during the early stages of his career. Booker is already more of a creator and ball-handler than Thompson ever will be, so he may eventually be asked to do more on offense than strictly run around screens or spot up. Focusing more energy on creating offense will justifiably sap Booker’s motor and compromise his ceiling on that end, but if he is able to improve from turnstile to average, that will be more than enough when combined with his juicy offensive talents.
Let’s make one thing clear: I love watching Booker play, and everything I’ve seen of him this summer (at the facility, in Summer League, interacting with the coaching staff) presents nothing short of a humbly pleasant and motivated individual. He has all of the ingredients to be a star, and that is why people feel compelled to blow smoke up his a**.
Look, I get it, it is empowering to have a young, up-and-coming star to root for. It exhibits hope, excitement, and a different kind of street cred when interacting with other fans. It’s fun to puff your chest out about a likely draft night steal. But at the same time, let’s all slow our roll a little bit.
After all, Booker is still only 19, right?