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Devin Booker responds to open gym double team controversy, defends winning mentality

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Booker had to respond to all the online backlash eventually, and took it in stride by explaining himself and joking around about it. What else could he do?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s so much going on inside this one little controversy regarding Devin Booker’s denial of a double team during an open gym this month.

While training at the Samson Center in Atlanta with guys like Joakim Noah and Ben Simmons, all eyes turned Booker’s direction after a video went viral of Booker telling the guys on the court not to double-team in an open gym. That led to every person with an account on Twitter dot com to go ahead and give their take on what is and isn’t allowed in pickup basketball or open gyms, from the guy with a pair of Jordans who lives above you at your condo to real basketball coaches and former players. It was all super silly.

My take is that NBA players should probably be the ones who set the ground rules for what’s allowed at the YMCA or your local blacktop, not the other way around. Also, while we’re on the topic, Booker is super reasonable to say something as basic as passing out of a double-team is probably not a skill any pro needs to be honing in August. As he says, they’re all there to get some shots up, get their conditioning back where it needs to be, and play against high-level opponents.

It’s 100 percent not my place to make the rules here, but I at least get where Booker is coming from.

We all know Booker is extremely focused on basketball, having added to his game every summer since entering the league. Whether you agree with his decision, Booker was also one of the first guys to decline the opportunity to join Team USA in China for the FIBA World Cup. Using this as a way to challenge Booker’s dedication to basketball is misguided. There are a bunch of holes you can poke in Booker’s career so far, but dedication isn’t one of them.

Past that, there are a lot of other underlying feelings about Booker that come from his competitors around the league (as well as fans and media) that feel much deeper than basketball. A lot of them seemed to burst to the surface in this controversy.

Many people put Booker’s accomplishments in a context that tries to paint him as a pretty boy or a guy who cares more about how he looks in a game than who wins it. Others were probably just bored because it’s August and men’s basketball doesn’t start again for over a month. Regardless, the argument makes very little sense.

Anyone who’s seen the Suns at all the past couple seasons would not be surprised to see Booker get doubled. In the post, in the pick-and-roll, off the ball, around the basket — anywhere Booker is, the attention he sees is exponentially more than his teammates. The Jump on ESPN put out this data, which shows Booker was double-teamed more than any NBA player last season. At the same time, he posted the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his career and found a way to create efficient shots for himself as well, with a career-best 58.4 true shooting percentage.

The guy can clearly handle extra attention.

And he knows it. So he joined in on the joke in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying his dad was in the gym to help him put some work in on those doubles.

As the chatter online continued, Gilbert Arenas chimed in with a lengthy (and well-intentioned) post about how handling that sort of attention, even in a workout, is what separates the best. Again, Arenas knows a lot more about scoring in the NBA than me, but I don’t really see why practicing against double-teams ahead of the fifth season of someone’s career is the difference between some having a killer mentality and an average Joe.

Booker pushed back there, too, telling Arenas that being underestimated by older dudes created the fight inside him. He added that he wasn’t trying to work on the mechanics of passing out of a double-team in that situation when he can do it anywhere:

The whole discussion has been weird, likely a product of the NBA dead zone we’re in right now. If no one had a phone on in there, it wouldn’t have ever mattered to anyone, and the proof of Booker’s NBA tape would speak for itself. Instead, people used this random spat in an open gym to go off about Booker’s career and put on their Pickup Basketball Doctor’s hat on to drop some knowledge.

Hopefully, all those new Twitter followers are treating those take doctors well. Booker will have to continue to prove himself on the court to get rid of all this misplaced hate that comes his way constantly.