A ridiculous idea started to percolate locally earlier this month when NBA All-Star rosters were due to be announced. Many people, from local radio to the comments section of this website, seemed to believe this year was Devin Booker’s best chance to make the All-Star game. They built up 2020 as the best chance Booker would have for years, ignoring the fact that he is young and getting better.
It was odd to hear it from folks who’ve spent the past five seasons marveling at Booker’s talent and, for the past couple seasons, arguing he already had a case to make the roster. It also felt like the same type of doubt that trickles in from people who haven’t paid attention to Booker’s rise to stardom in this league — unfounded and heedless.
Most seemed to believe that injuries to Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Paul George gave Booker a fleeting window in 2020 to snag one All-Star appearance before the “real” stars came back. It was a huge departure from the passionate arguments on behalf of Booker that emanated from the same corners of the media and fan community for weeks on end leading up to the announcement that Russell Westbrook had stolen Booker’s spot. And it made no sense.
Let’s start here: Does Booker not already have a case to be near Klay Thompson in the NBA hierarchy? Booker is already a higher-volume scorer than Thompson, but even if we were to choose not to punish Thompson for playing with excellent teammates, Thompson also has never touched Booker’s 2019-20 efficiency. The best season of Thompson’s career came in 2014-15, when he finished with a .591 true shooting percentage and a plus-3.78 Offensive Player Impact Plus-Minus (OPIPM). He’s lingered just below that level in the years since. Compare that to Booker’s 2019-20 season, with a .625 true shooting percentage and plus-3.5 OPIPM. The advanced stats also don’t show Thompson has had the same level of defensive impact during the regular season that shows up in the playoffs, though he’s clearly been substantially better than Booker on that end.
As Booker enters his prime, Thompson enters his 30s. Let’s not just pick on Thompson, a player who is an absolute joy to watch and who has earned his place in the NBA. Take the other guards who actually did make the Western Conference All-Star roster this season. How many among Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, James Harden and Russell Westbrook would you say are a lock to be better than Booker the next few years? Maybe Lillard, Harden and Doncic — that’s it. Of course, Curry will be a perennial contender as well, not only because his game figures to age gracefully but because he is always going to be near the top of the fan vote.
This appearance will also open the floodgates for Booker. Whatever contrived air of doubt circled him all these years will dissipate. For so long, it was easy to ignore him. After all, the Suns have won 109 games since drafting Booker in 2015. Everyone has gotten off their “looter in a riot” takes and written Booker off as a losing player. The Suns, by their own doing, are an easy target for national voices looking for their next take.
But as ridiculous as it might sound, an All-Star appearance holds weight. It means you have the respect of fans, your peers, and the league. It means you checked whatever artificial boxes all those parties expected of you and that you’ve been rewarded. It makes it a lot harder for those who never felt they had to consider you to ignore you.
Despite the negativity, Booker has done a great job the past couple seasons blocking out the noise that comes with playing in Phoenix. He became somehow a figure whom pundits wanted to render unimportant at the same time they built up nonsense into controversy. Like, say, the social media circus regarding whether or not it was right for Booker to call off a double team in an open gym last summer.
“I’m not going to take what anybody says too seriously,” Booker said at media day. “I’m going to criticize myself more than anybody can. I have goals that I’m not even close to yet that I have to reach, so that’s what motivates me.”
Check one of those goals off the list. Booker is an All-Star for the first time and not the last. And it’s getting harder to ignore him.