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From Moss Point to the Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker Has Had Superstar Written All Over Him

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A film-based look at why Devin Booker has next

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Draft night 2015. Barclays Center; Brooklyn, New York. Commissioner Adam Silver announces the Phoenix Suns selection, “With the 13th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft the Phoenix Suns select Devin Booker from the University of Kentucky.” A moment that would forever shift the fortunes of the Phoenix Suns franchise. A pick that would give a hopeless fan-base their own superstar, Devin Booker.

Long before Devin Booker was scoring 70 points in an NBA game, or gaining praise from all-time greats; he was the first one up for 4am beach runs in Mississippi and the last one to leave the gym after late night shooting drills. The professional work ethic was instilled into Booker; moreover, he learned the grind of the NBA and the attention to detail needed to succeed. From the time Booker was 15 years old he had the drive to become an NBA star.

To truly understand why Booker is such a special talent, you have to understand how his father trained him from a young age. Entering his sophomore year in high school Melvin Booker, a former journeyman pro basketball player, moved his son from Michigan to Mississippi. Booker often speaks about the transformation he had to go through on and off the court. Playing AAU basketball for his local team, Booker said, “Coming from Mississippi I have to prove myself, all these kids from Chicago and L.A. think these are the country boys, so you have to go out there and play your best every game”.

No matter how much success Booker will have at the NBA level, he will always play with that chip on his shoulder, looking to prove people wrong just like his days as a high school player in Mississippi. Booker plays with a competitive fire that was honed playing pick up games at the park in Moss Point, learning the art of trash talk has given him a reputation in the NBA.

Devin Booker has all the tools; fundamentally sound footwork, natural shooting ability, and 3-Dimensional Scoring. Booker scores like a 10 year veteran in the NBA, a direct influence of training with his father. As a highschool-er, Booker mentioned the impact Melvin Booker has had on him, “I think I’ve gotten as good as I have is just cause having a father in my life teaching me everything, just being on the next level...he’s taught me things that not many kids get to see.” Booker has been taught how to play basketball the right way, not a coincidence he has broken scoring records as a 20 year old in the NBA.

Natural Shooter

Coming out of Kentucky, Booker was labeled as the best shooter in the draft by many scouts and executives. In his lone season at Kentucky, Booker shot 41% from 3PT territory according to hoop-math.com. Watching his college film it was evident that Booker was a natural shooter.

One of the biggest signs of a natural shooter is how the ball never comes below the waist after the catch.

This is a great clip showing how his pure shooting translates to the NBA level.

Early on his second year Booker was really showing his ability to shoot without the ball coming below his waist, shooting the ball effortlessly with a quick release. Booker shot the right corner 3PT at 58.6% about 20 percentage points higher than the league average 38.8% according to stats.nba.com

If you ever watch Booker warm-up notice the attention to detail he has with his hips, it translates to the games. Booker creates rhythm into the shot with his hips, why he looks so effortless with the shot.

It’s rare to come across a young shooter with such great mechanics and attention to detail.

The elevation Booker gets on his shot, both off screens and out of PnR, is what makes it impossible to contest. The majority of great shooters naturally bring the ball from the left side of the body, Booker has the ability to shoot from both sides.

He loves snaking PnR action going to his left. The amount of elevation he gets on the shot shows he’s a natural shooter.

My favorite stat on Booker is that he lead the league with six quarters scoring more than 25 points. If you want to be a superstar in the NBA you have to be a streaky scorer with the ability to take over games, he has that natural talent.

Repeatable Patterns

Similar to the clip above Booker has been trained to play with repeatable patterns of play. From scoring in the post to attacking off the dribble, everything about his game is trained patterns of play.

This is a clip of Booker shooting in the Final Four. Attack on the catch, one dribble rhythm to his left, you can tell he’s done it thousands of times in empty gyms.

Now with John Calipari sitting courtside, Booker goes to a very similar rhythm pull-up. This is why his shooting numbers will eventually translate to the NBA level as early as this season. Fundamentally sound habits, going straight to his rhythm off the catch.

Attacking off the dribble, Booker’s best rhythm pattern is the between the legs dribble going to his left plus attack defenders outside foot.

Most NBA players have patterns they practice, but Booker has patterns that translate to the games. He knows he can get to his spots regardless of who is guarding him.

I could look at all the different footwork and rhythm patterns Booker uses, however it is best to study how he operates on the right block.

This is Booker’s best move on the right block. One quick up fake to getting the defender to freeze and shoot over the top. Every elite shooting guard in the NBA is above 6’5, what separates Booker is his natural post game to go with the size.

Booker is a 3-Dimensional Scorer, he can beat you in the post, attacking off the dribble, and as a three-point shooter. In the post versus smaller guards Booker is able to shoot over them with this move.

Notice the quick ball fake on Smart getting him to freeze.

Every player at the NBA level has different ways to create rhythm in their head. Booker is very unique with how he trains rhythm patterns, Kobe Bryant was the same way. No one else in the NBA today has a rhythm as advanced as this quick ball fake.

With his back to the basket Booker understands how to attack based on a defender’s body position, creating angles to score.

Watch how feels Nelson here with his shoulders trying to get him to bite one way. The majority of the time you’ll see Booker go baseline. As he will deal with more double teams moving forward it will be the best aspect of his post game.

Later in the same game the Nuggets come back with Gary Harris, you can see how Booker gets Harris to move left allowing him to drive to the opposite side. Booker can control defender’s in the post with his shoulders.

This time on Patrick Beverley notice how he controls Beverley’s body position opening the drive baseline. That is way too easy for Booker.

Kobe Bryant was the best at using the shoulder feel to create different scoring angles. Devin Booker is the best I’ve seen since.

What makes Booker special is how he has had a bully post game to go along with the attention to detail.

The physicality and body control translates to the NBA level. Booker lead the league in And One Frequency at 5.8%.

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Booker also has good rhythm concepts with how uses the ball fake on the right block. Almost always goes to the two dribble rhythm pull up to his left after the ball fakes.

Watch how he uses the ball fake to create rhythm in his head. He is not trying to pass it is about a rhythm that he has trained and generating momentum into the shot.

Another great way to illustrate how Booker plays with rhythm patterns is how scores in Watson’s Zipper sets.

Notice how he comes off the screen attacking the defender’s outside foot with his right foot. One Dribble rhythm attack.

Now this time vs the Nuggets, it’s all a trained rhythm pattern with how uses his feet and dribbles. Booker has the most advanced rhythm patterns in the NBA at 20-years-old, you can just tell by looking at his eyes when he plays.

This is another great clip showing how at this point he subconsciously uses his right foot when it is completely necessary to create space.

Booker’s advanced rhythm patterns are the reason he broke LeBron James record of 16 consecutive games with 20 points. He will never have a season below 20 PPG, which is an above average player in the NBA, what will make Booker a superstar is how he can take over games with streaky scoring.

High IQ

Booker makes up for elite athleticism with a high basketball IQ, learning professional tips and tricks from his father.

The best way to illustrate Booker’s IQ is how he scores in Watson’s Zipper sets. Within each Zipper set Watson has different counter actions based on the defensive schemes and match-ups. At the same time, Booker has to make the right read based on what he sees.

A Zipper cut is when the guard (Booker) cuts towards the opposite direction of his basket facing away usually from a down screen. Teams elect to front Booker not allowing him to meet Chriss into the screen, watch how he points to Warren clearing out the weak side to come off the Chandler screen.

Wilson Chandler elects to front Booker, so he is smart to counter into the weak side double pin-down option. It turns into a pick your poison situation for the opposing teams with Booker’s high IQ.

The other option Booker does well is fading to strong side corner rather than continuing towards the ball handler. Booker is one step ahead of Reddick knowing he is going to spin inside as that is how he played him all game.

Booker like many elite guards has the ability to keep defenders on his hip. This was key at the end of the Thunder game last season. Watch how he has the IQ to keep Roberson on his hip and call for Bledsoe to flash middle. Perfect timing on the attack, creating the angle to score.

In PnR Booker is one step ahead of the defense. As soon as he see Henson hedge left he will cross-over attack left.

It was the same concept he used at Moss Point, points for the big to set the screen but rejects understanding how the defense was going to play him.

This time he reads Horford and spins away. Booker is a very underrated play-maker at this stage, he will average at least 6 assists a game at some point in his career. His high IQ coupled with his ability to keep guards on his hip is very reminiscent of James Harden.

Bread and Butter Moves

Booker has some of the best go to moves in the NBA, and with his high IQ he knows how to use his counters. All the great scorers in the last decade such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, all have moves that everyone knows which is what makes them good.

His bread and butter move from Moss Point to the Suns is his patented In-Out move.

As a rookie thrown into the fire this was Booker’s lifeline. Most elite guards in the NBA have a good In-Out, what separates Booker is how he can go laterally towards the baseline once he gets Bazemore on his hip. The hard sell to go along with the hesitation holds the big.

Booker has some of the best footwork in the NBA. Watch how he pushes with the left before right to create space while going laterally towards the baseline. High level move, he is the only guard in the NBA right now that can consistently use this footwork pattern.

Kobe Bryant used the same footwork pattern with the In-Out dribble, pushing with his left foot before right laterally to create space. Booker is the only guard in the NBA that has it and he’s had from a young age.

Not only does Booker have the In-Out to create space for a jump shot, he has the best In-Out finish in the NBA.

Watch the attention to detail here with the footwork for the quick off hand finish to beat Gobert. Off the charts hard to do.

It’s not by accident he has it in the NBA, Booker had been working on it for years with his father at Moss Point. The biggest thing for any NBA player is translating their play from a lower level of basketball to the NBA, Booker has done that and the sky is the limit now.

Like all the elite guards in the NBA, Booker is really good at keeping defenders on his hip. It doesn’t matter who you are, once he gets you on his hip it’s over.

Now what separates Booker is his footwork to keep defenders on his hip out of Post PnR. A player like James Harden does not have the footwork out of the post that Booker has, but Harden is the best at getting defenders on his hip.

This is one of Booker’s bread and butter moves on the left block. Watch how he holds his defender on his hip while reading Davis. The footwork and timing is key, once Davis goes left he creates an angle to score.

Footwork

Footwork is what separates elite scorers in the NBA today and has historically. The players with the best footwork are always the elite scorers of that generation. Booker has some of the best footwork in the NBA at 20-years-old.

You can tell footwork is his number one priority on the court because of Melvin Booker’s influence. Although he did not show much of his post game at Kentucky, many NBA teams missed on studying his film from Moss Point.

Notice how Booker works with his right foot staying on balance in the post.

Studying Kobe Bryant’s footwork you can see the similarities with how well they hold their pivot foot. In my opinion, Booker has the best footwork out of the post for a guard in the NBA right now. Even Bryant himself said after playing him, “I think his footwork is fantastic”.

Booker is fundamentally sound in every aspect of the game. Attacking on the catch and with how he uses his right foot, number one sign of a player who has good footwork.

Out of the post Booker has almost every move in the book. I do think this is the move he will have to use more, and will use more on the right block in the future. Simple footwork into a smooth release.

This was Bryant’s best move on the right block. Booker is one of the few players in the NBA today that can make this consistently.

Stardom

The idea that Booker will always be an inefficient scorer is not true. If you look at all the other great scorers in the last decade Booker had a higher eFG% than Kobe Bryant and LeBron James at the same point in their respective careers. The most critical year for any NBA player is their third year, it illustrates your future in the NBA. Booker will show a similar jump in his third year as these other players. He has a lot more to his game than people think.

Studying his film from Moss Point it is evident that Booker has a great feel for the game and is natural playmaker with a high IQ. Although the question marks still remain on the defensive end to become a true “superstar”, Booker will surprise this season with his defensive progress. Booker is a player where it has to click, once it clicks defensively in terms of understanding of angles he will become a much better defensive player. He was never a defensive liability at Kentucky and eventually that will translate to the NBA.

What do Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson all have in common? They all had a father that played professional basketball, fundamentally sound footwork, and are streaky scorers. Devin Booker checks all the boxes, the most critical aspect of having a former pro player as his father to teach him the fundamental of the game.

The majority of basketball fans will say the lineage is Michael Jordan - Kobe Bryant - ?. Many fans wonder who will be that next great scorer in the NBA. The answer is already here, Devin Booker has next.