Let’s start this thing out with the guns blazing.
I hereby declare that most defensive metrics are garbage, and anyone that uses them alone to make conclusions about individual players usually have an agenda they are pushing or leave out a lot of valuable information.
There is an infinite amount of context and situational plays that can be left out in defensive metrics. More specifically, on a play-by-play basis. For example, player A could play incredible, perfect defense and force a near impossible shot, but the opponent makes it. Other times, player A can leave their opponent wide-open after a defensive breakdown and they simply miss the shot. Along with that, defensive rotations and/or measuring responsibilities is an impossible task to translate into numbers.
There is no perfect way to measure defense, but I’m a strong believer that the eye-test is far more valuable than analytics. I don’t want to dismiss the numbers entirely, because they can absolutely be helpful, but they should never be the central point of any argument, rather used to support what you see on the court.
From a team construct, I believe most of these statistics can be massively inflated in one direction or the other depending on the other four players you are sharing the floor with. The nuance when discussing defense has always led to a difficult, multi-layered discussion that requires you to sit and watch the entirety of a game to catch the little things and use the eye-test to fully grasp a player’s defensive value.
So how does this all tie into Devin Booker’s defensive reputation?
Let’s dive in.
I’d like to fuse this notion into the premise: Devin Booker has not been a good defender by any means early on in his career. He has also not been put in the position to be one until last season, really. Both things can be true.
Here’s a telling quote from 2018 regarding his (Booker’s) key areas of improvement:
“I know that’s what I need to do. Playmaking and defense are my main priorities right now. I have to lock in on it. And I know I do if we want this team to take the next step.”
It’s also important to note that for most of his NBA career he shared the court with 3 or 4 teammates that were also sub-optimal defenders, which exacerbated the issues on that side of the floor for all parties involved.
90 percent of defense is knowing where to be and EFFORT.
Make no mistake about it, Book has the “dog” mentality and strength to battle and take 1 v. 1 matchups personally. We’ve seen these flashes throughout his career where he fights tooth and nail and shuts and opponent down in an isolation battle.
This year it’s been a much more frequent experience. Exhibit A versus Kawhi Leonard:
Look at this Devin Booker defense on Kawhi Leonard. pic.twitter.com/6KE8Ws4KcS— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 4, 2021
I clipped most of his steals and blocks this season to paint a picture of some of the progress he’s made both on and off the ball, and added some commentary over the clips.
Hope you all enjoy this compilation I put together— it took some time— subscribe to my brand new channel if you did:
Being surrounded (most of the time) by 4 defenders that know what they are doing goes a long way. Along with that, being in close games and playing in meaningful basketball games can help expedite that growth curve, as we’ve seen true for both Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton this season.
A major chunk of defense is competing or putting forth the effort, along with being in the right place at the right time. When those issues are compounded by more than 60+% of the team not knowing where to be on the court, things will get ugly for anyone, as we’ve seen on full display with Suns teams in the past.
When your team is down by 20 at half-time it’s not easy for a player to keep that level of tenacity and engagement both on and off the ball, that’s just the reality of the situation. For example, take a look at Bradley Beal in Washington now versus when they surrounded him with competence earlier in his career.
The Suns are in 5th in defensive rating in the NBA, and they would not be able to get there if Booker was as bad as he’s been labeled to be in the past. This season should quell that narrative for now, and hopefully for good. You can build an elite defense around Devin Booker. Two years ago that notion would’ve been scoffed at, but that’s the reality we’re living in now.
Here’s 30 seconds of Booker fighting through screens, chasing the ball, and also being aware of when to rotate on the second play. When he’s locked in like this it’s a beautiful thing.
James Jones and Monty Williams have done a tremendous job of instilling the culture and bringing in the right guys to insulate Booker defensively. That in turn has not only masked his deficiencies, but they’ve awoken a new (consistent) defensive drive in Devin Booker that we haven’t seen before.
Re: “Devin Booker has not been a good defender by any means early on in his career”
Things have changed. That starts with both what he’s been surrounded by on the court and maturity. Defense is culture. There’s no going back now.