At the spry age of 22, Devin Booker is on a trajectory not many young guards before him have trekked down. Every year, Booker has progressively made leaps in certain areas of his game that are making him nearly an impossible mismatch every offensive possession.
This year, Booker’s three-point shooting number has dipped down to 32.6 percent but in the process he’s become impressively efficient from all inside the arc. The 22-year-old scoring savant has raised his two-point percentage from 46 percent to 52.2 percent this season. That leap has resulted in Booker posting his current career-high true shooting percentage of 57.6.
Need a midrange jumper? Post-up? Cut to the basket through traffic that will either go in or draw a foul? Speaking of fouls, need around 10 per game? Booker is rounding into form in all of these facets, which is resulting in his ever-happening metamorphosis towards an eventual NBA scoring champion.
This recent stretch of play by Booker, though, which was capped off with his 59-point explosion in Salt Lake City, is the best we’ve ever seen him play in the league.
Since the All-Star break, Booker is averaging 30.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists (+1.4 AST/TO), 1 steal and 9.9 free throw attempts while shooting 51.2 percent inside the three-point line and 41.7 percent outside of it on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
If there’s one player who seems destined to be passed the baton as the next James Harden, Booker is the one who should immediately come to mind. Comparing the two head-to-head since mid-February is eerily similar.
Booker: 30.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists; 58.6 TS% 9.9 FTA, 51.2 2PT%, 33.0 3PT%, 33.9 USG%
Harden: 34.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists; 57.5 TS%, 9.6 FTA, 51.9 2PT%, 32.2 3PT%, 40.8 USG%
Nearly identical in every single category, and Harden’s scoring boost is due to his usage rate being 7.3 percent higher than Booker. If that’s not proof enough that Booker is primed to head down a similar path as Harden, I don’t know what to say because I’m firmly in belief of that now.
Booker’s advanced metrics have him in a realm where the two best MVP candidates also reside. The Suns’ star is carrying his aforementioned 57.2 true shooting percentage but also a free throw rate of 36.3 percent plus assist rate of 33.6 percent. With the thresholds of 57-35-30 established, only four others players this season are doing what Booker is pulling off: Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, LeBron James and Ben Simmons.
So, I also guess former Suns GM Ryan McDonough saw this coming when he told me on Media Day two weeks before he was fired about the prototype Booker was going to follow with his ceiling. And unlike Harden — who has ample to space to operate on the floor with Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and other veteran contributors who keep defenses honest — Booker has been doing more with less, especially from an experience standpoint.
“I think, yeah, in terms of the efficiency that Harden plays with. How he scores so efficiently from the three-point line, at the rim and the free throw line. That should be the prototype for Devin offensively, in terms of offensive efficiency,” McDonough said. “Harden has become a guy too as he’s grown and matured his playmaking has developed. Maybe led the league or was one of the league leaders in assists two years ago before Chris Paul came in and alleviated some of the playmaking from him.”
The numbers don’t lie that the only thing that could stop Booker during his max contract from becoming a bonafide superstar is continued good health. Booker missed 28 games last year and 15 this year so far (with seven to go). If those qualms are soothed over the next year, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be deserving of an All-Star nod next year and lasting over the next decade-plus.
Also, the company Booker joined on Monday night in Utah needs to be recognized as well. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Booker is only the fourth player in NBA history to have scored at least 59 multiple times within their first four seasons. The others were Wilt Chamberlain (30), Elgin Baylor (3) and Michael Jordan (3). All three of them are easily known as some of the best players of all-time, so that’s esteemed company to join.
Not only has the shot difficulty risen for Booker throughout his fourth season even with more help alongside him, but his percentages have risen mostly across the board anyways. It goes to show the growth Booker has shown while also realizing how special of a player we might be witnessing on an every day basis.
The ceiling for the 22-year-old from the University of Kentucky seems to be a 30-plus point scorer cut in a similar cloth to Harden and Kevin Durant in terms of proficiency. Even in Year 5, I wouldn’t bet against Booker going for 28-30 points per game. He has the work ethic to be one of the bests in the league, and his year-by-year progressions show me that peak Booker is nowhere close to showing itself yet.
You know Booker is a different type when he wasn’t just aiming for 40 against the Jazz, too. Booker was going to try for 60 or 70, and you realized that by the beginning of the second half.
Even looking at the month of March alone, Booker’s numbers are jaw-dropping. Three games already Booker has eclipsed 40 points, which is second to Harden who checks in with four.
You’ll hear plenty of the wrong narratives thrown Booker’s way over the next 24-48 hours as it relates to his latest historic scoring outburst.
“Doesn’t produce winning!”
Well, those people are laughably wrong — and if you still think Booker is more of a Monta Ellis or J.R. Smith type of player, then, sorry, I have to just consider you a hater at this point.
These last six weeks from Booker is just the latest chapter to his brilliance, but the sky seems to truly be the limit for him throughout his max contract. Surround him with even more legit NBA talent, then the Suns’ shooting guard will continue to make leaps and prove once and for all very soon that he’s everything you say he’s not.
The only players over the last 30 years to have career averages of at least 21 points and 4 assists on a 55 true shooting percentage through their first four seasons are Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Booker (via Basketball-Reference).
It’s time to put some respect on his name if you haven’t already and enjoy the ride over the foreseeable future with Booker as the face of the Phoenix Suns.