There may not be a more polarizing young star in the NBA than Devin Booker. His supporters will point to his unreal scoring ability and improving numbers across the board to show that he’s worthy of some of the “future star” conversation that surrounds him, while detractors will bring up his defensive shortcomings and the fact that his offensive gifts have never translated to winning in a consistent way.
The truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. Booker deserves to be named among some of the best individual scorers in the league, but it’s worth considering whether being a not-quite-elite scorer, given his other glaring deficiencies, is someone a team can build around and expect to compete at the highest levels.
Any discussion of Booker’s current skillset has to begin with his three-level scoring, which deserves to be mentioned in the tier just below the absolute best guys in the league. He creates about two-thirds of his buckets by himself, a number that’s consistent across all three levels (at the rim, midrange, and from three) and has improved across the board this year — the exception is from three, where he’s dipped to 34 percent this year in non-garbage time minutes.
His self-created three-point usage has increased each of his first four years in the league and is now up to 40 percent, which naturally gives rise to lower percentages. Catch-and-shoot jumpers are generally much more efficient than pull-up shooting, so Booker’s three-point dip would turn right around if he were in an offensive system with more talent that allowed him to play off the ball more often.
His Synergy numbers back this up, as he has a very solid 55.4 effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers. On pull-ups, that dips to 46.9 percent. For Booker, it comes down to usage; he’s got more than twice as many pull-up jumpers on his résumé this season than catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Scoring got him the max contract extension that will begin next season and take him through 2023-24, but he still has room to grow. These days, being an elite three-level scorer is as much about where those shots come from as whether or not the shots go in — the best guys in the league are hunting threes, layups, and free throws like never before. The peak of this theory is James Harden, who is as allergic as anybody in the NBA to non-paint mid-range jumpers; those shots account for just three percent of his attempts on the season.
For Booker, that number is 20 percent, with a further 24 percent coming from “short midrange,” defined as outside of four feet but inside 14. He’s very good at these shots, hitting 45 and 48 percent, respectively, both solidly above average marks league-wide, but the math doesn’t lie. Even an elite midrange shooter is going to have trouble being efficient on the aggregate, since the value of an at-rim or three-point attempt are so much higher. As good as Booker is in these spots, the math is what it is and there isn’t a whole lot to be done about it.