Wardell Stephen Curry. Larry Nance Jr. Glenn Robinson III. Three NBA players with well known NBA dads. However, what many don’t notice is that even lesser known basketball players have kids, and one particular father, Melvin Booker, helped raise quite the child.
Devin Armani Booker. A name that’s becoming more and more relevant as the NBA season goes on. Despite the breakout season he is having, Booker’s abilities have always been prevalent. A lot of his success derived from him being fundamentally sound, a key trait he obtained from his father, Melvin. Melvin had a short two year stint in the NBA before he went abroad to play in Italy. Once he became an international player, he could only see his family for two months during the year. Even though their time together was limited, Melvin made sure to teach his son that he could not only rely on being innately athletic, rather he needed to become a smart basketball player and have a high basketball IQ if he wanted to reach the next level. Clearly, Devin took this advice seriously as he became a McDonald’s All American while attending Moss Point High School, his father’s alma mater. The five star recruit decided to commit to the University of Kentucky and join some other highly touted prospects such as Karl Anthony-Towns and Tyler Ulis, who became one his best friends.
Booker’s career was on an upward trend, but Kentucky’s roster was also stacked with NBA talent. To make matters worse for Booker, Kentucky coach John Calipari instituted a “platoon” system during the 2014-2015 season, where he would substitute an entire group of players out of the game at once. It worked well for the team as they won 38 straight games. However, Booker was stuck on the “white platoon”, where he was limited to playing just about half of the game. Restricted minutes, coupled with the star power of the Wildcats, made it difficult for Booker to show the world how magnificent of a player he truly was. Instead of being a game changing guard, he was limited to the role of a spot up shooter off the bench. Nevertheless, he thrived in his role. Booker shot 41.1% from behind the arc and also received honors as the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year while additionally making the SEC All-Freshman team and the All-SEC second team. His incredible off ball movement allowed him to evade defenders and punish them while coming off screens. His mere presence on the hardwood necessitated extra attention from his opponents. Regardless of how talented he was, the situation he was put in was far from ideal. Averaging 21.5 minutes per game in an offense with a plethora of options masked Devin Booker’s skills. As someone who was touted as a versatile scorer in high school, it was quite shocking to not see him exceed 20 points in a game at all during his tenure at Kentucky. Even Calipari expressed some regret in how he managed Booker’s minutes, tweeting “Man, I held him[Booker] back” after Booker had an extraordinary performance against the Mavericks this year. Booker enjoyed the team success in Lexington, but his limited playing time contributed made him a bit more anxious on draft night when he slipped to the Phoenix Suns at pick 13.
While the Summer League is not a direct indicator of success during the NBA season, it gives teams and fans an opportunity to see their newly drafted rookies in action. Suns fans, and basketball fans in general, were in awe of Devin Booker’s performance as he lead them to the Summer League championship. However, it would take some time until they saw Devin Booker dominate in a lead role as he was pushed on to the bench in favor of two other former Wildcats, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe. Once again, playing time became an obstacle for Booker and he was forced into the role of being a spot up shooter off the bench for the Suns. However, Booker never complained. By keeping a level head and remembering the values and skills he learned from his father, he continued to improve. His drive to get better comes from an inorganic source; a fear of failure. In an interview with The Starters, Booker stated that he worked too hard to get to where he is today and there is no way he is going to let all of the hours in the gym go to waste. So when opportunity came knocking in an unfortunate way, Booker was there to answer the door. In a late December showdown against the Philadelphia 76ers, Suns starting guard Eric Bledsoe went down with a torn meniscus which kept him out for the rest of the season. There was now a void in not just the starting lineup, but the team as a whole due to Bledsoe’s leadership and athletic ability. Luckily for the Suns, Devin Booker was ready to elevate his load from a measly 14.1 minutes per game to a starter’s role. In his newfound role, he averaged 10.9 more points per game than before, putting him at 17.4 as a starter. The averages are pretty, but the talent was never a question. The league was finally seeing what Booker was capable of when he wasn’t forced to play as a bench shooter. When the Suns gave him the reigns, he dominated and slowly moved away from the stereotype of being a spot up shooter, although it didn’t help that he made it to the final round of the three point contest during All Star Weekend. Nevertheless, he began to change his game offensively. He started to create for himself, and when he put his mind to it, even for his teammates. His usage percentage hiked up by six percentage to 26% and what is the most telling statistic is the percentage of field goals made that were unassisted, where he saw a 21% increase post all star break of his rookie year. Clearly, the real Devin Booker had showed up. No longer would he require a flex screen to the wing in order to get points on the board, but he was now doing work off the dribble and creating for himself, something many thought he was not capable of accomplishing after his stint with Kentucky. Sure enough, the media noticed and he was voted to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. However, this was not the end of Devin Booker’s meteoric rise.
Booker had another busy offseason in 2016. Whether it be his invitation to the Team USA select practice team, his insane summer league numbers, or his training regiment with Baron Davis and Suns’ coach Earl Watson, Booker made sure to improve and be ready for his sophomore year. For the first time in two seasons, Booker was beginning his basketball season as a starter. Throughout this season, Booker has showed us his diverse arsenal of offensive moves. Using floaters, faders, and excellent off ball cuts to the basket, Booker is able to best NBA defenses. He not only has put up insane scoring totals, including consecutive 30 point games, but he has also showed up late in games and helped his team win regardless of the odds. He’s already added two game winning buzzer beaters to his highlight reel and scored 28 points against the Mavericks in just the fourth quarter. He clearly has exhibited that his offensive prowess can lead his team to success, but nevertheless the Suns continue to struggle and although not all blame can be put on Booker’s shoulders, a player of his caliber tends to be the scapegoat on a losing team. Despite his talent, Booker is not perfect. He has a Kobe-esque ability to hit difficult shots, but that doesn’t change the fact that his shot selection is questionable and he tends to fall in love with contested mid-range jumpers. He also has a tendency to be out-manned by other wing players on the defensive end, which is a combination of him being only slightly above 200 pounds and a lack of effort on that end. Although he is still only 20, it is important for him to make the necessary changes, now rather than later, if he wants to help bring the Suns back to the playoffs.
The last time a Bledsoe went down, the greatest quarterback of all time stepped up and started a dynasty. While Booker plays a completely different sport with a completely different Bledsoe, we could definitely be witnessing the rise of a truly great scorer. The ball’s in Booker’s court; he’s got the talent and is the leader of a young, hopeful team. With competent coaching and the support of his father, Booker has the opportunity to revive this franchise back to its glory days.