Devin Booker scored 43 points in the Phoenix Suns’ win, their eighth straight, over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. This was Booker’s 16th 40+ point game with the Suns, moving him past Amar’e Stoudemire for the most such games in franchise history. Booker is a relatively famous NBA player and someone whose name comes up a lot. But how good is he?
D-Book (43 PTS & 12 REB) was in his bag tonight in Utah 😤 pic.twitter.com/aFhTKcLhfm
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 27, 2022
First let’s just get the elephant out of the room. Booker is not only famous because of his hoops ability. He’s also dating one of the more famous people on the planet, Kendall Jenner.
Don’t believe me? LeBron James is a global superstar and has 110 million Instagram followers. Jenner has 216 million. People who don’t know anything about sports know Booker because of his connection to Jenner.
But we digress…
Basketball is a fantastic game, and there are so many ways to look at how good a player is and how he impacts winning. The thing that most fans and observers gravitate toward is the ability to score. Halfway through his seventh season in the NBA, he’s proved he can do that.
His five highest scoring games are 70, 59, 50, and 48 points (twice) respectively. Booker’s scoring average for his 50 highest scoring games is 45.9 points per game. Dude can get buckets.
But how does that compare to his contemporaries and other greats in the game? Is he the next Kobe Bryant, as some people on the internet have said?
Comparison is the thief of joy. Just because Kobe was someone he looked up to and he wears his shoes and has a couple moves like the late great Hall of Famer, doesn’t mean he is the next …
He’s not on the same level of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul and the great guards of this era in terms of impact on winning. We don’t need to compare him to those players.
Booker is very good and getting better.
Using accolades and awards without context to determine how good a player is a fool’s errand. But let’s mention and provide some context.
So far, halfway through seven seasons, Booker is a two-time All-Star and made the All-Rookie team his first year. Nothing to get excited about here.
However the Suns were a terrible franchise when they drafted Booker. Never winning more than 34 games until last season — more on that later — and constructing a poor roster.
The best player Booker played with before 2018-19 was Eric Bledsoe. By 2018-19 it was rookie center Deandre Ayton. He’s had three head coaches during his first seven and a half seasons and two different front office regimes.
That’s without getting into team governor Robert Sarver. Suffice to say, not exactly a stable environment.
But the label of “good stats, bad team” was being applied to Booker.
Booker put up very good scoring numbers, peaking in the 2019-20 season where he averaged 26.6 points per game, and six and a half assists per game on 48/35/91 shooting splits. His eFG% and TS% were 54 and 62, the best of his career. And he was a +3.1 in EPM.
They were 8-0 in the “bubble” but failed to make the play-in when the league restarted after the COVID-19 pause. But that was the same season Monty Williams became head coach and things were changing.
Last season the Suns finished with a 51-21 record and were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and Booker’s numbers were about the same. He averaged one less point per game and two fewer assists per.
But the team also brought in multi-time All-NBA point guard Chris Paul. With the “Point God” on the roster, Booker moved off ball, so a drop in his assists made sense. There was also a growing role for third-year big man Ayton.
With Paul and Ayton there would be a few less attempts. The Suns advanced to the Finals but lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. Booker averaged 28 points and four assists per game in that series, playing 40 minutes per game.
Booker’s ability to score and create off the bounce make him one of the better players in the league. That skill set in particular is the most valuable in the postseason when you are going up against elite defenses.
So far this season he is at +3.1 in EPM and having his best defensive impact. His scoring stats are in line with what he’s done so far in his career, though he’s taking more threes and scoring less at the rim.
Looking at his Basketball Reference similarity score, through six and a half seasons, Booker’s career arc in terms of win shares looks similar to Jalen Rose and Isaiah Rider.
I believe he’s better than both of those players and his ceiling is much higher.
Booker has the chance to be the No. 1A on a championship team.
Adding a future Hall of Fame and ball dominant point guard to the team took some adjusting. The fact that his counting averages haven’t changed much and that he’s playing better defense speaks to how well-rounded he is.
If he continues on this trend he will earn many more All-Star appearances and a few All-NBA selections as well.
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