Mythbusters Series: Devin Booker Is Underrated
Let’s start this piece with saying that Devin Booker has an incredible offensive skill set. His level of scoring ability isn’t common in today’s NBA and the Suns are lucky to have gotten him at pick 13 in 2015. For being a late-lottery pick, nobody was expecting to see the numbers he’s been putting up. In fact, his numbers are so good, he’s one of only 14 players in the NBA averaging at least 23.0 ppg and 5.0 apg.
These numbers have lead many around the NBA to praise Devin Booker as one of the best players in the league, and I have no problem calling him that. However, when we look at the 13 other players averaging the numbers Devin Booker has, Booker is the only one on a team not even close to being in the playoff race. Here I want to specifically look at two of these players, Bradley Beal and Kemba Walker.
Starting with Beal, by the time he was 24, the Wizards made the playoffs 4 times in his young career with Washington. Obviously, the Wizards had John Wall, and played in the eastern conference, but Beal averaged 20 ppg shooting the ball at 44% from the field in those seasons.
Kemba Walker had made the playoffs twice by the time he was 25, and will most likely add another appearance this year. Similar to Booker and unlike Beal, Kemba is the star on his team. Not being surrounded by an all star in any of his playoff seasons, Walker is already considered the best player in Hornets/Bobcats history.
Booker has yet to come close to making the playoffs with the Suns, and even though they play in the Western conference, their record isn’t improving during Booker’s time with the team. Phoenix has had a top five pick the past three, going on four consecutive seasons and not only is the team not getting better, the Suns are getting worse. In Booker’s first season the Suns finished 14th in the west, in 2016 they dropped to last in the west with a .293 win percentage, in 2017 they dropped to .256, and this season they are again the worst team in the NBA (again) with a .180 win percentage. If Devin Booker is so good, why do the Suns keep getting worse?
Devin Booker recently signed a max contract extension to stay in Phoenix, where he will most likely continue to put up similar numbers, but can you say in the next four, five years, that Phoenix will definitely be a playoff team? Booker will make an average of $31M over the contract taking him to his age 27 season. Phoenix is not going to be an ideal free agent destination anytime soon, especially is they do not figure out how to contend for at least a top 10 seed with Booker.
Three other players I want to bring into the conversation are D’Angelo Russell, Luka Doncic and De’Aaron Fox. Russell and Fox are deep into the playoff hunt on their teams, and the Mavs have made a huge improvement this year. Starting with Luka, despite no chance of making the playoffs, the Mavs went and matched their win total from the 2017-18 season in February. Doncic is putting up similar numbers to Booker at 20.7 ppg and 5.6 apg, but the main difference between the two is that Dallas has won 15 more games this season.
The Kings, similar to Dallas, took a huge jump in the standings this season. Sacramento went from having the second pick in the draft to being deep into the playoff race. Fox, a strong candidate for the most improved player award, is at the head of this surprising Kings team averaging 17.2 ppg and 7.2 assists. Sacramento finds themselves only one and a half games out of a playoff spot, and without any stars on the team, the second year guard is giving them a chance to get somewhere they haven’t been since 2006.
Finally we get to D’Angelo Russell, who, like Fox, Doncic and Booker, does not have any all stars on his team, other than himself. Russell has been outstanding this season, putting up similar numbers to Booker at 20.5 ppg and 6.7 assists, and is another strong candidate for the most improved player award. It’s taken Russell a couple of years to find his rhythm but he finally found it and the Nets are being rewarded for their patience with playoff hopes. Booker, on the other hand, has been putting up these numbers since his sophomore season, yet the Suns have only won 11 of their first 61 games this season.
Obviously a lot more than one player goes into a team's success, you have to look at coaches and the players around Booker, but let’s look at the numbers. Going back to the list of the 14 players in the NBA averaging 23 or more points and 5 or more assists, Booker has the second most turnovers of the group behind Harden, the second lowest 3pt percentage behind Antetokounmpo, the least amount of rebounds at four per game and the lowest efficiency. Booker’s turnovers continue to rise, and his 3pt percentage continues to fall throughout his time in the NBA. In addition, his defensive numbers haven’t been improving. Booker is second to last in the league in opponents points allowed off turnovers, and is second to last in the NBA in opponents second chance points allowed.
I’m not saying Booker is a terrible player, I think he gets a lot of deserved attention for what he does with the ball in his hands, but for having a player as skilled as Booker, the Suns are an awful team, and aren’t showing many signs of improvement.