It’s been a weird month for Devin Booker. Even as the Phoenix Suns have stumbled to a 4-10 record in December, Devin Booker has been both at his best and his worst in this stretch.
At his best, he has stomped on teams like New Orleans, where he posted 44 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists en route to a 7-point road victory.
Or you could point to just last Saturday night, when it took Booker’s late game heroics and flashy stat line of 32-3-10 to overcome the Kings.
But at his worst, a forearm injury really limited what Booker was able to do in the middle of the month. In his first week back after returning from injury, Booker posted 18, 19, and 11 points. Since his return (5 games), he’s shot just 2-21 from long range.
On paper, Devin Booker should be an All-Star. He’s averaging close to 25 points and 6 assists on a career high 62% true shooting. His advanced metrics are better than they’ve ever been. His team is better than it’s ever been. But this is the Western Conference. So as obvious as it seemed 10 games ago that Booker would finally make his first All-Star appearance in February, now things don’t seem so certain.
To clarify why that is, we need to make some assumptions.
First off: the starting backcourt for the West is set in stone. Luka Doncic, the seemingly positionless basketball savant, is being listed as a guard when you visit the NBA’s website to vote.
That means that Harden and Doncic will eat up the two starting guard spots. The starting “frontcourt”, as the NBA refers to it on the voting page, is a little more tricky. If I had to guess right now, I’d assume that LeBron, Kawhi, and Anthony Davis eat up those spots, but there are other contenders. We don’t really know until the first voting results come out.
Assumption #2: the roster composition will be 4 guards, 6 frontcourt players, and 2 wild card slots.
Under this system, picking out 6 deserving guys for the frontcourt is easy (LeBron, Kawhi, AD, Jokic, Paul George, Towns). All 6 have been very good and are clear faces of the NBA. Towns has missed the past several games, forcing his team to slide down the conference ladder, but he is still listed as day-to-day and shouldn’t miss too much time.
Then, we need to choose 2 more guards before getting to the wild cards. Here are the guys that pose the biggest threat to Booker:
I know, I know. This guy?
Look, if it were up to me there’s no doubt that I’d rather start a team with Booker over Mitchell. But we all know how important team success is to voters, and Mitchell once again has that clear advantage as the Jazz are 20-12.
Not to mention, he’s averaging close to 26-5-5 per 36 minutes on career best shooting splits.
You could make a very strong argument that Mitchell is not even the most impactful player on his team (more on that later). But, he scores the most points. He’s not a great defender, but he’s no traffic cone either. He’s got a very good shot of winning over a combination of old school coaches who value points and wins and analytical ones who value advanced stats.
I’m gonna say that he gets in.
Lillard is in a similar situation to Booker in that he’s straining his back just to lead his team to mediocrity. But statistically, he has a definite edge.
Lillard is a consummate pro in the prime of his career. He’s currently tying his career high of 27 points per game to go along with a career-high 7.6 assists. Meanwhile he’s kept his turnover rate steady and is scoring on a stellar 61% TS. His VORP of 2.0 ranks 9th in the NBA, and 3rd among Western Guards after Harden and Doncic.
Plus, his team is 14-19. As long as they avoid bottoming out, he should clearly get in.
Don’t count out this former MVP either.
Westbrook has no doubt struggled to find his fit next to Harden. Already a poor shooter, the 31-year-old is shooting just 42 percent from the field and 23 percent from long range. His true shooting of 50% is well below league average.
And yet, he’s still the volume seeking, stat stuffing animal that he’s always been. He’s averaging 24-8-7 and 1.5 steals per game on the 3rd best team in the Western Conference (22-10). From an advanced metrics standpoint, Booker only has a narrow edge over Westbrook in VORP (0.7 for Booker, 0.6 for Westbrook) because of how bad Booker’s defensive advanced stats continue to be.
And on top of all of that, Westbrook finally seems to be waking up. Over his past 10 games he’s averaging 29 points per game and even shooting 47% from the field. Just check out his shot chart from the past 10 that almost makes him look respectable (despite poor three-point shooting). The longer he keeps that up, the better his chances for a spot become.
Again making an assumption here, but as of now I’d predict that Mitchell and Lillard take the two guard reserve spots. That means that Booker and Westbrook could be the two wild cards, leading to an All-Star roster of 6 guards and 6 frontcourt player.
But that also carelessly neglects several frontcourt guys who could challenge for a wild card slot. Some promising names:
Ingram has been a high-profile prospect for a while now, but I don’t think many saw this season coming from the 22-year-old forward. While the Pelicans sit near the bottom of the conference and patiently await the return of Zion, Ingram has improved his craft both as a shot maker and a playmaker. Her’s averaging 25-7-4-1-1, and has even become a 40% three-point shooter.
As Suns fans know, coaches aren’t typically kind to players on such bad teams when it comes to All-Star selections. But the Pelicans are only a couple games behind the Suns in the standings. A well-timed run could be all it takes for Ingram to suddenly become a favorite for a spot.
For what seems like the millionth straight year, the Jazz are a top 10 defensive team. It’s true, Mitchell keeps them afloat on offense, but who is the engine of their elite defense if not the two-time Defensive Player of the Year?
In reality, it’s Gobert who is leading the Jazz in VORP (1.7), in BPM (4.3), in win shares (4.8), in RPM (3.8), and in PIPM (3.97). He’s doing pretty well with traditional numbers too, at 15 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. His numbers in December have been even more impressive.
Rudy Gobert over the last 11 games:— Dan (@jazzfandanman) December 27, 2019
17.8 points on 75% eFG
Also, offensive rating of 109.9, which I don't have to explain is excellent. Higher than many active players career including Westbrook and PG-13.
But he's not an all-star, right?
And yet the Frenchman, who has finished All-NBA twice, has never made an All-Star game. Even though by definition All-NBA (top 15) should be more exclusive than All-Star (top 24).
Perhaps this is the year.
There are other options I could go into, but I think I’ve laid out the basic competitors. In this hypothetical scenario, Devin Booker would need to beat out two of Russell Westbrook, Gobert, and Ingram, among others. That’s just for a wild card slot.
He can definitely do it. But it’ll require the Suns to keep pushing for wins above all else. If the Suns can get Ayton back and are still only on a 30-win pace, selling Booker to various coaches around the league could be tough.
If they can get back to a near-.500 pace, it almost seems like he’d be a shoe-in.
This game is all about narratives. What will the narratives say about the Suns a month from now?
Will Devin Booker make the All-Star game?
This poll is closed
Still too early to tell, let’s wait a few weeks