Devin Booker is, in the sense that the object of basketball is to score points and he once scored 70 points in a game, good at basketball.
But on the other hand, basketball is a team sport and it doesn’t matter if you put up numbers higher than some professional golfers routinely put up in their sport if your efforts do not ultimately lead to your team scoring more points than the other team.
The Phoenix Suns are, to put it as charitably as possible, a garbage fire. I’ll leave it to your imagination to find less charitable ways than that to describe the Suns organization.
Booker, meanwhile, has been at the center of all that, and if we’ve learned anything from true great players, it’s that if your best player can’t at the very least drag your team out of picking first in the lottery, he might not be the kind of player that can get you to the playoffs no matter what you put around him.
That’s the point at issue here. Is Devin Booker useful as anything other than a one-dimensional scorer who’d be great as the third-best player on a team, or is he the guy you build a franchise around like his reputation and salary would have you believe?
The bar’s set high here. To clear it and get Confirmed, Booker needs to be definitively exonerated of the charge that he’s part of the problem or, put another way, if he was the best player on a better team, he’d be at least on the level of someone like Russell Westbrook or Paul George or…well, maybe not LeBron James, but not laughed out of the room when Bron’s name comes up.
Basically, top-tier All Star level.
The Counting Stats
Booker finally reached 52.2 percent on his two-point shots this season after shooting around 46 percent his first three years from inside the arc.
Sadly, his three-point shooting fell off a cliff, dropping to 32.3 percent from 38.3 in 2017-18 and, it should be noted, worse than the 34.3 percent he barfed out as a rookie.
Sure, his eFG% rose, all the way to 51 percent, but you have to be a special kind of awful from the perimeter to actually drag your eFG% down by shooting threes.
Per 36 minutes, Booker is scoring 26 points, exactly the same as last year, and he’s doing it on only 0.6 fewer shots in that time frame, not exactly a flying leap in efficiency.
Booker is averaging 6.8 assists a game this year because the Suns don’t have a point guard, but it’s come at the cost of turning the ball over a wretched 4.1 times; he has 388 assists and 134 bad-pass turnovers alone.
Oh, and as for that solid two-point shooting, part of it is because he’s doing a better job both getting to the rim (23.1 percent of his shots are inside three feet, a career-high) and making those shots (63.2 percent, his best mark since his rookie year), but the other part is an unsustainable success rate from 4-16 feet that lives in the aborted-drive/poor ball spacing zone and comes with about a 48 percent success rate, miles above his career marks from those distances.
Unless you’re LaMarcus Aldridge, you don’t make your bread and butter in the short midrange.
The Advanced Stats
Here’s where it all goes sideways.
Booker was a negative-VORP player his first two years in the league. That is not terribly unusual for a rookie guard on a bad team.
But his VORP last year and this year is just 1.2, which is lower than Darren Collison (1.7).
And I’m sorry, but when DC, who is not having an All-Star year by any stretch, puts up a better bottom-line advanced stat number than you do, you don’t get to call yourself anything resembling elite.
A 1.2 VORP is about 3 wins over a season better than if you get hurt and they have to fish a guy out of the G-League to replace you.
Booker also has just .064 WS/48, which would make him an average player on a 25-win team.
And he does all this with a 32.1 usage rate that immediately calls into question whether you really want him using all of your possessions.
All of this serves to explain why the Suns are just 2.3 points better in Net Rating (just a six-win swing over a season) with him on the floor than off.
Booker is also a disaster movie defensively, so putrid that he’s barely above zero Defensive Win Shares, and his DBPM belongs in conversation with Shaqtin-era Harden and fresh-out-of-college Steph.
Even when you account for the fact that he’s on the Suns, the numbers aren’t kind.
You know the question from the top of the show? If Booker’s not part of the solution but part of the problem?
Sure, he’s 22. But this is four years in the league and his improvement has been from “raw but with a ton of potential” to “if he’s your best player, you’re tanking.”
Busted, busted, busted. On his best day, he’s the rich man’s Lou Williams. He’d be the instant-offense sixth man on any team that doesn’t completely suck.
NEXT WEEK: James Harden, as IHAG pivots to the MVP race for the final four installments of the season. You can guess the rules.