2021 has probably been Devin Booker’s annus mirabilis. This is the year that Booker may well look at 20 years from now, acknowledging it as the year when everything started to come together for him. Before 2021, Devin Booker was expected to be great. 2021 was when Devin Booker became great.
The Phoenix Suns shooting guard has had an incredible run over the last eight months, beginning with his team making their first postseason run in 11 NBA seasons. That Booker then wrapped up the 2021 offseason with a gold medal with Team USA at Tokyo 2021, shows just how far he has come since being picked 13th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft Class.
Life before 2021 for Devin Booker
Devin Booker came from the same Draft Class where Karl-Anthony Towns was the first overall pick. Towns was also Booker’s teammate on the Kentucky team at college. Booker didn’t rank anywhere near as high as Towns, but his shooting form was largely given a thumbs-up by most people. The best comparison Booker was getting at that time was with Danny Green, a sharp shooter and NBA title-winner by the time Booker was drafted into the NBA.
Devin Booker started games for the Suns soon enough in his rookie season. After mostly coming off the bench in the initial couple of months of the 2015-16 season, Booker became a regular starter for the Suns towards the end of December 2015. He averaged 13.8 ppg, starting 51 of the 76 games he played for Phoenix in his rookie season.
The first time Devin Booker really made the NBA world sit up and take notice of him was when he dropped 70 points on the Boston Celtics in his second NBA season, in March 2017.
Booker went 21-for-40 from the field in that game, posting the highest individual score by an NBA player since Kobe Bryant punished the Toronto Raptors with 81 points in 2006.
Devin Booker won many admirers that day, with NBA legend Dwyane Wade complimenting Booker on Twitter:
“Damn. Don't tell me the league is that easy. Congrats on making history. Can't wait to see how your career unfolds.”
But beyond this one silver lining, Booker’s Phoenix Suns struggled to find team success in the shooting guard’s initial years in the league. Over Booker’s first four years with Phoenix, the team won a combined 87 games while losing as many as 241 games.
Even as Devin Booker posted career-best numbers of 26.6 ppg in 2018-19, the Phoenix Suns dropped to a 19-63 showing in the same season, their worst performance since the franchise went 16-66 in their inaugural 1968-69 season.
The only other consolation for Devin Booker in this period was that he was crowned three-point champion on the 2018 All-Star Weekend. Booker outshot Klay Thompson and Tobias Harris in the final round to pick up the trophy.
Devin Booker guides the Suns to an 8-0 record in the 2020 Orlando bubble
The Suns did just about enough to stay in contention for a playoff spot when the NBA rescheduled the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season and then relocated to play in the Orlando bubble because of COVID-19. The Suns went 8-0 in the bubble, with Booker averaging 30.5 pgg and 6.0 apg as his team went unbeaten.
The big highlight for Booker during this hot streak was his buzzer-beater over the LA Clippers, with two elite defenders, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, guarding him.
Despite Devin Booker’s bubble heroics, Phoenix couldn’t make it to the 2020 postseason, but they did carry the momentum into the 2020-21 season. With Chris Paul bolstering the roster, Booker led his team in scoring with 25.6 ppg to land Phoenix their first playoff spot since 2010.
After Phoenix finished with the second-best record in the West, Booker averaged 29.7 ppg, 25.3 ppg and 25.5 ppg in the first three playoff rounds. His scoring guided Phoenix past the LA Lakers, the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers to earn them a spot in the 2021 NBA Finals.
And although the Suns eventually lost to Milwaukee in six games, Devin Booker’s twin 40-point outings in Games 4 and 5 of the 2021 NBA Finals proved that he belongs on the big stage.
Even after defeat, Devin Booker was quick to pick himself up and put on a solid showing for Team USA at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Booker’s stats may not have been that impressive, but the fact that he was ready and available for his country a few days after losing to Milwaukee showed his mettle and desire to win.
It will only get tougher for Devin Booker from here. Winning and performing on the biggest stage brings with it only more expectations. But Booker has shown that he is destined to make a name for himself among the greats of the game.
With 2021 as his foundational stone, we all hope to see him scale many greater peaks.
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