Like any sport, there are exceptions to the rule people come across. When it arrives on the hardwood, it usually results in greatness for whichever team it lands on.
With Devin Booker, the signs have been there of this happening, but to have it occur and it being this soon is a rather historic trajectory we’ve now taken off on if the numbers preserve in the second half.
After digging up some more numbers, the All-Star discussion should continue to push more in his favor over the next few weeks. If he doesn’t make it, he would be one of the biggest snubs historically regardless of win-loss record. The Suns are 3-1 since Booker’s return, 6-3 in last 9, but they face a tough stretch over the next few weeks.
Through 29 games, here is how Booker’s advanced numbers shake out: 57.6 TS%, 51.4 eFG%, 20.8 AST%, 7.0 REB%, which includes 13 30-plus point outings (3rd in NBA behind LeBron James and James Harden).
The reason why I am focusing on those numbers here specifically is due to how rare it is for someone Booker’s age doing it. If over the next 40 games he continues to ascend in his all-around production, there’s a shot he keeps pushing his traditional stats even higher.
At this point, I’m not counting anything out, because Booker has a chance to join some elite company for players U21 in terms of these advanced metrics.
55-50-20-7 club U21: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James
Now, let me reel you back in with some 2017-2018 only results which include all possible MVP candidates with LeBron, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Harden, and DeMarcus Cousins when factoring in he also carries a 30-plus percent usage already.
Yes, there's a legitimate argument the 21-year-old Booker has jumped into top three as far as shooting guards league-wide go. And outside of Jimmy Butler, I believe there’s definitely a case that he’s been the best through the league’s first half of the year.
One more intriguing list I compiled includes all of the players who reached the 55-50-20-7 advanced numbers threshold from earlier since 2014-2015, and it’s a swell sign for Booker’s future, indeed. The names are LeBron, KD, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Stephen Curry, Giannis, Harden, Dame, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Draymond Green, and Chris Paul.
Expanding that out to the 1997-1998 season and including Booker’s usage rate of just above 30-percent, the list includes many future first-ballot Hall-of-Famers: Karl Malone, Jordan, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, LeBron, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Durant, Harden, Curry, Lillard (did so at age 26).
As general manager Ryan McDonough said Wednesday on the Burns & Gambo show, Booker is “the exception to the rule,” as far as players quick transitions to NBA success go. As he alluded to in September at Media Day, Booker had taken the jump to being an elite offensive weapon alongside an ever-improving all-around game.
He’s been proven right so far, and his rapid rise has caught many by surprise. The thing is, after Phoenix traded Eric Bledsoe, Booker has improved every month as he continues to carry even more of the weight offensively.
That is what elite players do, simple as that.
Below is a look at how Booker has fared over his last 10, 15, and 26 since interim head coach Jay Triano took over.
Since Bledsoe/Watson left: 26.2 ppg -4.3 rpg - 4.3 apg on 45-40-89 splits
Last 10: 29.5 ppg- 4.5 rpg - 4.1 apg - 1.25 steals on 45-42-89 splits
Last 15: 28 ppg - 4.2 rpg - 4.5 apg on 44-38-86 splits
All-Star numbers, folks, and since his return from a left adductor strain Dec. 26, he has started to take on more playmaking roles in Triano’s offense.
While Booker has averaged 31 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, his turnovers have ballooned up in the process. Against Atlanta on Tuesday, he finished with more turnovers (8) than assists (7).
As Triano hinted at following the Suns’ loss on New Year’s Eve to Philadelphia, the Booker - Troy Daniels combo would be seeing more looks outside of closing situations. We saw this Tuesday as Triano rolled out Booker at small forward alongside a backcourt duo of Isaiah Canaan and Daniels.
The experiment of Point Book will be one that is only seen in phases when it’s needed for a scoring jolt, but he has embraced the extra workload.
When I asked Booker following their 104-103 win over the Hawks how he had to adjust on the fly against head coach Mike Budenholzer’s traps and double-teams, much like Brett Brown on Sunday, he said it was a learning experience that will only help him out more long-term.
“Early there in the drop (a type of PnR coverage), they were low in the paint when I came off pick-and-rolls. They made the adjustment to be up," Booker said. “It kind of caught me off guard, a lot of turnovers tonight, but I’m still learning. I’m going to start seeing that a lot so I got to watch film and see what play is open and make the easy play. Keep learning from it.”
That’s the thing with Booker, the position of playing facilitator isn’t natural for him yet. He’s a professional bucket getter that will drop 30 at any given time, but the all-around repertoire still has to be molded over these next few seasons. He continues to progress in each facet, seemingly on a month-to-month basis.
In Tuesday’s outing, Booker finished with 34 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds in 42 minutes. He did that while in the second half deferring to T.J. Warren and Marquese Chriss. Booker only took three shots over the final two quarters, but he was able to do his damage by making the right, efficient reads while continuing to excel at drawing fouls (a career high thus far in FTA per game + foul rate).
To put Booker’s return from injury, more specifically his last two against the Sixers and Hawks, his performance had him placed alongside only Durant, James, and Russell Westbrook for players this season to have back-to-back games with at least 32 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Reminder, he’s only 21 years old. This isn’t normal what he’s doing this season for any guard his age to take the massive jumps he has continued to show.
Even though Booker had another great game and helped will the Suns to victory late, Triano said he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be. That’s a very good sign, and I wonder if Watson ever would have said such a thing if he’s still in charge. Triano is holding these young players accountable, and it’s starting to pay off with Booker alongside Warren and Chriss, too.
“Every time that he tried to do something, two guys were on him, and I think he was being unselfish and gave up the ball to the screener, and then we tried to play four against three. He plays basketball the right way," Triano said. “He’s not going to force it a lot of times. I thought he did a pretty good job of giving it up, but he wasn’t as sharp as he needs to be as well. But he made the big shot down the stretch after the timeout.”
Booker not only should be an All-Star this season but with the current path he’s heading down, he’s in line to be the next superstar guard in this league. As we have seen plenty of times in Booker’s short career, he can take over games whenever he wants to.
The thing is, now he’s doing it every night while making strides at all other ends of his craft.
Phoenix’s main pillar is now firmly in place once he signs his 5-year, $156 million extension this summer. Now, it’s on the Suns’ management to capitalize and build a championship contender for years to come around Devin Booker.