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Devin Booker: The Most Underrated Defender in the NBA

Devin Booker’s defensive reputation deserves a lot more respect than he gets. The 26-year-old is a two-way superstar and should be treated as such.

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker is a two-way superstar. Yes, you read that correctly.

Either you already know this, or you’re late to the party, but if it’s the latter then welcome to reality. The stats prove it. The eye test proves it. What more do you need?

The only way you could deny the greatness we are seeing from him is if you aren’t watching what’s unfolding before your very eyes. It’s been time to put those old narratives to bed for good.

Devin Booker is playing like a man possessed on both ends of the floor, and it’s elevating the Suns at the most important time of the year.

At this point, everyone already knows about his offensive impact. He carries the workload for the Suns in terms of shot creation, isolation scoring, tough shot-making, and playmaking.

He is still getting it done at a ridiculous level offensively, as he is leading the 2023 NBA Playoffs in points per game on a 67% True Shooting. That absurd offensive output has not slowed him down on the other side of the floor in the slightest.

His defensive prowess has flown under the radar for far too long. He’s been shredding away at an unfair narrative that was based on his play surrounded by many horrendous defensive teams early in his career.

This isn’t a leap that’s happened overnight by any means. We’ve seen the defensive flashes throughout his career and as early as in the bubble back in 2020. Those flashes grew into positive habits and those habits developed into a system that allowed him to showcase that he can play on that end of the floor.

The Numbers

Booker has been everywhere defensively through the first four games of this Clippers series.

He is averaging 4.1 stocks per game (steals + blocks) and his 2.8 steals per game leads in the NBA Playoffs.

Booker has defended more shot attempts (96) than anyone in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Along with that, his opponents are shooting just 39.6 percent against him and just 48.8% within six feet of the basket.

Steph Noh of ‘The Sporting News’ did a nice breakdown below incorporating defensive highlights with the statistics.

This isn’t a flukey 4-game sample size where he’s just in the right place at the right time. He’s generating steals, applying pressure, and contesting everything in his vicinity.

The most impressive part about the steals and blocks is how he’s getting them. His anticipatory skills are shining through, as he’s hunting the ball through predetermined jumps into passing lanes or gliding into the lane like a heat-seeking missile to swat shots away.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The on-ball defense has always been a strength of his, as he has the size and strength to disrupt guards and wings in one-on-one battles.

His team defense has been where the dramatic improvement has taken place over the past 24 months or so. Whether it’s defensive rotations, weak-side help, catching bigs off guard and stealing it from behind, etc., he’s taken quite the leap in that department.

It should come as no surprise that his improvement in reads and rotations is taking place due to him being a basketball “junky”.

The Timeline’s Sam Cooper also put together a nice montage of the highs of Devin Booker’s defensive brilliance.

The impact Kevin Durant has on Booker’s defense may run deeper than one might think on the surface.

For starters, the offensive workload on Booker has lessened since Durant’s arrival in multiple ways. The opponent’s top defender has been tasked with Durant more often than not, which has to be a breath of fresh air for someone that has seen constant double teams and the top defensive player every night of his Suns career.

How does that translate to defense, you ask? Well, it’s quite simple.

Two of the most important aspects of defense are hustle and effort. Those are things you can control. When Booker was exhausting himself offensively while being the primary focus of the defense, it was more difficult for him to expend that kind of effort on a nightly basis. Now? He’s getting easier looks, he’s playing off the ball more, and he’s continuing to make the most of each possession.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Four Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Taking that type of pressure off one side of the floor can lead to more exertion on the defensive side without it impacting him offensively.

That workload balance has been the key, and the fact that it’s not taking away from his offensive brilliance is what makes the Durant-Booker duo so dynamic and deadly.

The Devin Booker we are currently witnessing is playing at an MVP level. Do not take what you are watching for granted.

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