Former Wildcat Devin Booker is taking the NBA Summer League by storm this offseason, averaging 26 points, 5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists a game in just two games, causing Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver to go as far as to call him the “best player” participating in Summer League action.
Throughout Booker’s Sunday night 24-point outing for the Suns against the Boston Celtics, ESPN analysts used the ever-popular Klay Thompson comparison for the former Kentucky guard. We heard these comparisons during his high school recruitment, throughout his freshman campaign for the Wildcats, and into his rookie year for the Suns. Both players can flat out shoot the ball, maintain similar athleticism, acceptable, but not overwhelming defensive ability, and measure out to just about the same size. Their abilities to score in monstrous quantities on any given night is what truly makes the comparison a talking point.
Now that Booker has a season under his belt playing against the big boys, and we have an idea of his true ability in the NBA, how does this comparison with the Splash Brothers co-founder line up?
Booker finished his rookie year averaging 14 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 2.6 APG on 42.3% shooting, 34% from three, and 84% from the line. As the season progressed, he saw a significant jump in playing time and his production on the floor made headlines throughout the NBA, paving the path for a first-team All-Rookie selection. Booker became the third youngest player in NBA history to score 30 points in a game behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James, arguably the two best players in the entire league. He ranks fourth in NBA history for 30 point games for 19 year olds or younger with six, behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. He was the fourth youngest player in NBA history to score over 1,000 points in a season, behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.
Klay Thompson finished his rookie campaign averaging 12.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game on 44% shooting, 41% from three, and 87% from the line. He averaged less minutes per game than Booker, 24.4 MPG compared to Booker’s 27.7, but the productivity is eerily similar. The main difference? Thompson finished with just one game over 30 points in 2011-12, compared to Booker’s six this past year. Thompson stayed fairly consistent as his first year in the NBA progressed, but when Booker found his rhythm in the latter half of the year, he was one of the top scorers in the game.
The numbers speak for themselves, but when you look at each player’s PER 36 minute numbers, that’s when the reality of this comparison comes to fruition. Booker’s rookie PER 36 minute stats came out to be 16 PPG, 3 RPG, and 2 APG, shooting 43%, 47% from three, and 81% from the line. Thompson’s rookie PER 36 numbers are 18.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 3 APG, shooting 41% from the field, 44% from three, and 87% from the line. For the sake of comparison, James Harden averaged 15.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists PER 36 minutes during his rookie season with the Thunder, averaging 37.5% from the field, 42% from three, and 81% from the line.
On-court numbers aside, both player’s measurables even come out fairly close. Booker comes in at 6’7 (he reportedly grew an inch this offseason), 205 lbs., whereas Thompson measures 6’7, 215 lbs. Booker is only 19 years old, and will be for another three months, so muscle and added weight will almost certainly come with time. His frame is similar to Thompson, where he doesn’t have to rely on throwing his weight around to create offense or establish himself on the floor, but his gifted offensive skillset already does some of the work for him.
Thompson thrives in catch-and-shoot scenarios, but has proven throughout his career his offensive game is progressing and more diverse each time he steps on the court, and by the looks of things, Booker is following in those same footsteps. Booker’s ball handling and defensive ability is coming along nicely, and his shooting stroke is becoming deadly. Well, more deadly than usual.
In his first two Summer League games of 2016, there wasn’t a player on the floor that could limit Booker’s scoring output. Sure, it’s Summer League, and you can never take both impressive and mediocre outputs too seriously, but Booker proved he was a head above the competition and worthy of his Team USA Select Team nomination. The three-point stroke we knew and loved at UK came on strong as confidence grew in his first season, and it continued into Summer League, as each shot that left his hands looked effortless. He’s finding ways to put the ball in the basket from all over the floor, and people are taking notice. The way he is carrying himself is that of a seasoned veteran, not a guy who will still be a teenager when training camp rolls around.
Needless to say, the statistics are proving that the comparisons between Booker and Thompson aren’t just another awful NBA comparison we roll our eyes at (I made a post with several of these a few weeks ago). Not only is Devin Booker on a path for Klay Thompson-like success, he just might turn out to be better.
If only he had a running-mate or two in the back court to set up for a bright future in Phoenix…
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