We all know Devin Booker has to get better at defense, but no one knew he’d get so much practice on that end this summer simply by logging onto Twitter.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, minutes after Team USA suffered a near-death experience at the hands of Cedi Osman and the Turkish National Team, yet another media personality went at Booker.
This time it was Bill Simmons, joking that he hoped Booker’s training this summer was more valuable than an experience like the FIBA World Cup in China.
I hope Devin Booker is watching this OT game before his intense workout with some 5’9 trainer who just keeps feeding him uncontested threes. Cuz that’s a better way to prepare for the season.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) September 3, 2019
This isn’t the first time Simmons has jeered young players who bypassed the FIBA tournament. Earlier in the year, he criticized second-year Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for sitting out the event. Gilgeous-Alexander later explained lingering pain kept him out, and basically told Simmons to settle down.
This also isn’t Booker’s first time hearing noise from the media this summer. Rarely do guys who’ve kept as low a profile as Booker has this summer get so much criticism, but to be fair, the low profile is the point here. Many people want to see Booker back up his skill with wins, and in Simmons’ case specifically, the Ringer CEO is outspoken about how valuable he believes international competition is for building relationships and playing with other incredible players.
Booker likely would have benefited greatly from representing the United States this fall in China. He’s never played on a team that talented and perhaps could have improved the perception of the Suns organization by evangelizing during the tournament. Easy is the construction of a case why Booker should have participated.
Tougher to understand is the idea that Booker should be the first recipient of criticism after a roster of NBA stars was unable to dismantle a team whose best player was Ersan Ilyasova.
Somehow, Booker hasn’t lost his temper with any of it, and stays joking. Just after Simmons launched the missile toward Booker, forward Jayson Tatum of Simmons’ favorite team, the Boston Celtics, fell to the ground grabbing his ankle. Viewers understandably cringed at yet another young star getting hurt overseas, but Tatum later said it was a minor sprain.
As any fan would, Simmons panicked, and he tweeted through it. Booker saw his opening, pulled up from 30 feet, and splashed in the perfect response.
Before we close this chapter of Bully Booker Summer (the NBA fan equivalent of Hot Girl Summer), let’s quickly acknowledge something else, in the name of balance. Getting hurt is an obvious concern for anyone in Booker’s position who has to consider whether or not to play grueling FIBA games just weeks before NBA training camp starts. But all along, it felt more like Booker was focused on training and improving more than staying healthy.
Late last year, Booker said he felt better than ever before in his pro career. For the first time in three seasons, he entered the offseason without a lingering injury. That’s not to say an athlete protecting their health is ever a bad idea, but from my vantage point, it felt like buckling down for a summer of training to try to help the Suns take a leap was the bigger reason behind Booker’s absence than health.
It’s obviously a combination of the two, but nevertheless, time will tell whether Booker believes it was a better decision to sit out. People who think Booker would help Team USA but also is not a winning player also have some explaining to do. This whole conversation is playing out in hypotheticals.
As is often the case with the fifth-year guard, he is a canvas for projections of what people believe about score-first young players, the Suns organization, or whatever else people believe him to be, more so than a target for genuine criticism.