These past few days have been quite memorable for Devin Booker as he has begun to reap the rewards of his hard work.
The 25-year-old guard agreed to a four-year, $225 million supermax contract extension with the Phoenix Suns that will kick in at the beginning of the ‘24-’25 season and he was also named the cover athlete of NBA 2K23.
This caps off an impressive two-year stretch that began with the Suns bursting onto the scene with an unexpected 8-0 record in the NBA Bubble. Chris Paul then joined them a few months later to complete their transformation into one of the best teams in the league, highlighted by an NBA Finals appearance in 2021 and the best regular season record this past season
The 6’5 Booker averaged 26.8 points, five rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.1 steals in 68 appearances for Phoenix in ‘21-’22 and was named to his third consecutive NBA All-Star team in the process. He was also fourth in the NBA Most Valuable Player voting and earned a spot on the All NBA First team for the first time in his career.
While the arrival of Paul contributed greatly to the team’s evolution into a contender, it has actually not had much of an effect on Booker’s statistics. His overall numbers are relatively unchanged from the ‘19-’20 campaign–the last one prior to Paul’s acquisition–though there has been a noticeably dip in his assists from 6.5 to 4.8 per game as his ball handling duties have decreased. This highlights that Booker, who has now averaged at least 22 points per game in six consecutive seasons, was already an elite scorer in his own right.
The 13th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft has established himself as one of the top shooting guards today, if not already the best, yet it should also be noted that this position is not as deep as it once was during its heyday a few decades ago. He has also turned into a solid defender and was 16th among all players in defensive rating last season per StatMuse.
Booker is practically unstoppable as a scorer in the regular season, however his playoff performances over the past two seasons still leave some room for improvement, particularly in terms of his consistency.
In their 2021 run to the NBA Finals, he averaged 27.3 points per game in 22 postseason games, almost two points higher than his regular season norm, and bumped it up further to 28.2 in the final round against the Milwaukee Bucks. Although his statistics were quite impressive on the surface, what it does not show are the bouts of inconsistency that plagued him during that stretch.
He had two 40-point games in their six NBA Finals contests, but also finished with less than 20 points in a pair of crucial matches. Booker had only 10 points on three-of-14 shooting in their 20-point Game 3 loss which was a crucial turning point in the series since they had a chance to wrest control and take a 3-0 lead. A few days later, he was limited to 19 points on eight-of-22 shooting in the Bucks’ Game 6 title clinching victory.
Booker was not much better in these past playoffs where a hamstring injury sidelined him for three first round games before they were humiliated by the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals. His scoring average dipped to 23.3 in his 10 postseason games, punctuated by his disappearing act in the last two games of their Dallas series where he scored a total of 30 points on nine-of-31 shooting and they were blown out by a combined margin of 60.
These are the kinds of games where a player like Booker has to step up, regardless of what the opposing defense throws at him, in order to enter the pantheon of the greats. Despite the gaudy statistics, the lucrative contract, and the distinction of being the coverboy of the premier basketball video game, he still has much left to prove.
The recent recognitions and milestones will all be for naught if Booker cannot translate it into sustained playoff consistency and success. The list of prolific shooting guards to have played in the NBA is littered with many forgotten names who have been unable to perform when the lights are at their brightest. There is still a long way to go in Booker’s career and his hard-nosed attitude hints that he should eventually get over the hump.
In the meantime, he will have to prove day-in and day-out that he is worthy of the ever-growing expectations that come with his rapidly rising stature in the NBA.