The Phoenix Suns are a week away from the 2018 Draft with the #1 pick, likely coming out of the draft with a #1 or #2 scoring option for the Suns going forward next to Devin Booker.
Who that scorer is, remains to be seen to some extent. Sounds like it will either be Deandre Ayton, Slovenian Luka Doncic or (1% chance) a very high level veteran acquired in trade for that pick. McDonough had just last week said he wouldn’t trade the #1 pick for a rental — that it would have to be a young star on a long term contract (meaning, either signed the rookie extension already or is in line to sign one).
McDonough has also said that the Suns are done with being the worst in the league, and that he’s ready to build a real team.
“I think we’re shifting a little bit,” he said. “As we get past #1, rather than just best available. Obviously the talent is important, but how does he fit with other four or five young guys.”
He reminded us the Suns will have major roster turnover this summer.
So this begs the question. Is that #1 pick plus Devin Booker and Josh Jackson really a good enough core to say you’re done building the core?
McDonough says that now it’s time to secure veteran parts to help them win games. For sure, some of those veteran parts will require “assets”, and hopefully those veteran parts will help the Suns win more games — which means lower picks.
Is Devin Booker good enough to be a #1 or #1a scoring option for a GOOD team?
We don’t really know for sure, until we see it.
But we CAN at least try to answer a smaller question:
Is Devin Booker the best young shooting guard in the league?
Let’s start some comparisons. I searched basketball-reference.com using the following factors, just to set a minimum baseline:
- 25 years old or younger
- 22 minutes or more per game last year (to include the likes of Bogdan)
- Played G or G/F last season, but no taller than 6’8” (so as to exclude Ben Simmons)
- True Shooting Percentage of 54% or higher (includes threes and FTs)
That returns as many as 19 eligible shooting guards (plus 4 point guards who meet that criteria to make a total of 23 coming back in the query), ranging in shooting guards from Booker to Donovan Mitchell to David Nwaba to Quinn Cook.
But most importantly, the list includes those players most often compared with Booker on the twitterstage by their own team’s fans, including Donovan Mitchell, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Bradley Beal, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Interestingly, the age restriction ruled out C.J. McCollum (who is now 26 years old), but I still think the 25-or-under is a fine cut-off for grouping the ‘young shooting guards’. C.J. McCollum is officially mid-career now.
I only went up to age 25 because of recently seen suggestions from the Sactown Royalty boys regarding Buddy Hield’s resemblance to Booker, so I had to include Buddy.
If I’d just limited the search to guys 23 or younger (which is more reasonable), the list of comparable players shrinks all the way down to FIVE players: Mitchell, Murray, Harris, Booker and Josh Hart.
If I went 21 or younger, the list would only include Murray, Mitchell and Booker.
But I’ll be benevolent and raise the age max to 25, which balloons the list to 19 shooting guards.
I ranked the results on a per-36 minutes per game basis, to level the “playing field” between a high-minutes guy like Booker to mid-minutes guys like Buddy Hield and Quinn Cook.
Of those 19 qualifying players, Booker ranks:
- #1 in points per 36
- #1 in assists per 36
- #1 in free throws and attempts per 36
- #1 in usage rate (USG)
- #2 in offensive ‘box plus minus’ (OBPM) — behind Oladipo’s break out season
- #3 in player efficiency rating (PER) — behind Oladipo and Beal
And Booker did ALL this scoring and playmaking while being the focal point of opposing defenses for a team whose BEST point guard last year was Isaiah Canaan.
Booker has a ways to go defensively, but on the offensive side he just has no peer among young shooting guards.
Ok so OFFENSIVELY, Devin Booker is one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, by this measure. Booker leads in scoring and passing and overall offensive impact (Offensive Box Plus Minus).
Harris, Murray and Victor Oladipo are more efficient with a higher TS%, but it’s important to note that Oladipo took four years to get here and might have experienced his apex season already.
Where Booker struggles, as does Murray in this elite group, is on the defensive side of the court. Booker is not someone who will hold his own defensively. He can get smarter, and get more focused, but he won’t make a difference on that end of the court.
The Suns will have spend their assets to acquire defensive help, and maybe Josh Jackson can provide that in year two. I’d hope the Suns eventual full-time point guard is big and quite capable defensively, and that the power forward they choose to sign/acquire has those talents as well.
But if you don’t put defense around Ayton/Luka and Devin Booker as your #1 and #1a options, then you’re never going to win more games than you lose.