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Devin Booker is mastering the art of drawing free throws

Booker’s biggest progression as a scorer comes from gaining the easy points from the charity stripe.

Milwaukee Bucks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Devin Booker might be the hottest scorer in the NBA right now averaging 35.4 points on an elite 61.5 true shooting percentage the last 11 games, but how did we get here?

Since Booker took on a higher usage role in the final portions of his rookie season, he’s proven capable of handling the heavy workload while it increases yearly. Even with the addition of No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, Booker’s usage percentage has risen from 31.7 to 32.8. No qualms on that, though, because the 6’6” combo guard is carrying a career-high 58.0 TS%, which is 1.9 percent higher than it was in 2017-18.

At this rate, Booker is truly capable of putting up 30 points per game starting in Year 5, the first of his $158 million max extension. I’m not going to set a limit on this special of a scorer. According to Basketball-Reference, the only guards over the last decade within their first four seasons to register at least 58 TS% and 3.5 offensive box plus-minus are Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, James Harden (2x), Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and now Booker.

As you all know, everyone listed ahead of Booker not only went on to be well-known stars but also leveled up to All-NBA territory. Outside of Thompson, whose never been above a No. 2 option with the Warriors, MVP conversations even surfaced. Yes, that’s the level we’re talking about when it comes to Booker’s offensive repertoire.

The secret sauce for Booker when it comes to his surge in scoring, though, might be free throws. In the month of March, Booker has attempted 146 free throws in 14 games. Over the previous two months in a 19-game sample size, the trips to the charity stripe was only 134.

When Booker said earlier this month this was the healthiest he’s felt all season, it’s backed up by his overall aggressiveness driving to the rim. All you have to do is view the monthly averages on free throws for the Suns’ star.

March - 146 FTA (14) = 10.4

February - 45 FTA (7) = 6.4

January - 89 FTA (12) = 7.4

December - 62 FTA (10) = 6.2

November - 62 FTA (14) = 4.4

October - 33 FTA (4) = 8.3

Would you look at that, the two highest points took place when Booker was playing at his healthiest points. And Booker’s own version of March Madness has been jaw-dropping, which features four separate outings scoring 40-plus points.

“That’s just hoop, man, trying to go out there and win,” Booker said when I asked him about his back-to-back 50-point bursts (surprisingly, the first time he’s ever done that in his career) against Utah and Washington. “Like I said, just put the work in and just get to display it when I’m out there.”

Simple enough, and that’s definitely what the 22-year-old has been doing on a regular basis.

Scorers benefit from seeing their points per game averages soar when they are able to get the easiest points possible: free throws when nobody is guarding you and can take your sweet time beforehand. To put it more clearly, of the nine players who are averaging 7-plus free throw attempts — James Harden, Paul George, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Booker — their composite scoring average is 27.9.

Since the All-Star break, Booker actually ranks second, barely trailing Harden with 9.9 free throw attempts. Personally, I think another reason why that number has spiked is due to him getting more respect from the referees. Stars tend to get the calls when needed most, and Booker is also becoming very savvy in the manner he draws them.

Compared to the 2017-18 campaign where Booker drove to the basket 10.1 times per game and shot only 43.1 percent on those opportunities, the numbers this year are unrecognizable if you labeled them as Player A and Player B. Booker has now vaulted his drives up to 14.1 while also converting at a 8.4 percent higher clip (51.5).

That’s the true definition of overall growth and player development right there.

At the age of 22, Booker is becoming must-see television where he’s capable of dropping 40-50 points like it’s nothing. I mean, he scored 30 in the first half of Wednesday’s game versus the Wizards with ease.

If Booker gives us another encore with his third consecutive 50-point performance, he will join Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to achieve that truly historic feat.

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