Vol.3, Iss.6: How To Lose A Guy In 10 Ways
Why Devin Booker might have the best 3P shooting season of his career without a single change to his form.
It’s Been A Minute…..
I’ve been feeling a little guilty recently that there’s been no new Issue of the Newsletter, I’m not gonna lie! Finding time to write/gif with the depth that I want to, has proven rather difficult at the moment. That, plus I like to let some of the season play out before we draw too many conclusions. But this Suns streak has certainly got my fingers itchy & I finally feel like I found a topic I wanted to delve into.
So Let’s Get Lost…..
At the time of typing out these very words, Devin Booker is having the best deep shooting season of his career.
After a slow start, Book is currently shooting 41.0% on 6.1 3PAs through 20 games from beyond the 3 point arc. Threatening to eclipse his previous best mark of 38.3% on 7.1 3PAs during the 2017/18 NBA Season.
First 6 Games: 27.8% (6.0 3PA)
Next 6 Games: 42.5% (6.7 3PA)
Last 8 Games: 50.0% (5.8 3PA)
During the off-season, I joined the fellas on The Timeline Podcast to discuss Booker & the idea of internal development. It was there that I first dared to dream. Perhaps this upcoming season might finally be the time for the Suns franchise Shooting Guard to get back to just that - shooting! The 17/18 season was specifically mentioned as the shot profile Book needed get back to. And for good reason.
For all of Booker’s often jaw-dropping manoeuvres inside the three point line, the shot just hasn’t fallen with the same efficiency when pushed out beyond 23 feet & 9 inches. 23 feet & 8 inches with a foot on the line, though? No issues, whatsoever.
Jokes aside, the streakiness & struggles have made some sense in my mind. Even if it has been excruciating to watch at times. And that’s why the theory that Booker might get back to what he was originally drafted to do, isn’t all that crazy to me. You see, not many NBA players deal with a development curve as steep as Book.
Often shooting slumps & surges are viewed within the wrong context, in my opinion. We like to go straight to the idea that mechanics and/or form must have changed. When in actual fact, the true change is just situation. Much like I theorised with Jae, I’m willing to bet that the increase in Booker’s efficiency comes down to shot quality.
From the day Devin Booker burst onto the scene, he was labelled a shooter. Book didn’t just forget how to shoot from deep. He was instead preoccupied with the burden of carrying the franchise on his shoulders, being the only true offensive threat night after night & all while also taking on the challenge of adding new skills to his burgeoning overall game.
Chris Paul has taken over driving duties for now & D-Book gets to instead ride shotgun next to one of the best Point Guards of all time. They’ve been on the road together for a while & finally, Booker is enjoying sharing the trip with some consistent partners in Crowder, Deandre Ayton & Mikal Bridges. The bad Suns of old are in the rear vision mirror & Booker is instead seeing great views out ahead.
Let’s get into how Devin Booker is losing his man & why it’s helping the Suns winning streak, shall we?
Catch & Shoot
The first real indicator in improved shot quality we have seen this season for Booker is in his catch & shoot numbers. Currently finishing 3.1 attempts a game at a 43.6% clip.
First 6 Games: 28.6% (3.5 3PA)
Next 6 Games: 55.0% (3.3 3PA)
Last 8 Games: 52.4% (2.6 3PA)
If this trend were to hold for the entirety of the 21/22 NBA season, it would be a considerable improvement on the 37.8% Booker shot on just 2.6 3PAs last season. It would also mark the highest volume of catch & shoot attempts for Book since (you guessed it!) the 17/18 season, where he shot 40.4% on 3.3 3PAs.
It isn’t earth shattering stuff to see a direct correlation between an uptick in the catch & shoot opportunities Booker is comfortable with & an increase in overall efficiency.
Phoenix are doing a great job so far this season hitting Book in his spots.
Play Notes - When the Suns run ‘Elbow 52’, Book has the ability to pop out when the defender tries to cheat under the Ayton screen. If they fight over instead, Crowder relocates & Ayton rolls. This makes Booker’s defender the tag man on the roll, leaving Book open from three.
Play Notes - Phoenix have been running a lot of empty corner/side action in early offense this season. See how the whole left side of the floor is open for Paul to attack if he wants? It results in the other side of the floor looking like the line of scrimmage in an NFL game. Bridges drags his man to the corner, Crowder gives a lead block & CP3 hits an open Booker for the
From The Corners
As much as I like a good joke, the earlier reference to Booker hitting everything with his foot on the line wasn’t solely for comedic purposes. With that form & the corners currently 1 foot & 9 inches closer in, it should be no surprise that Booker is currently shooting 47% from left & right combined.
Left Corner: 42.8% (3 of 7)
Right Corner: 50.0% (6 of 12)
Total: 47.3% (9 of 19)
I can hear you yelling at me all the way Down Under - SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT!
And you would be right. BUT, hear me out…..
Firstly in terms of the efficiency holding, Booker shot 51.4% on 35 attempts through 65 games last season. But think about that attempts number for a second. Just 35 in 65 games? That’s basically only 1 every 2 games. This season, Booker already has over half the attempts (19) in just 20 games. The Suns have gone from getting him a corner look once every couple, to basically one each game. Booker is on track to blow all of his previous seasons out of the water in terms of attempts, which have been on the decline since (you guessed it!) the 17/18 season.
Dating back to that season, I’ve wanted Monty to try get Booker more looks from the corners & it seems the team is now in position to make that happen.
Play Notes - We’ve all noticed Mikal running more of the ‘Elbow’ sets normally reserved for Book. The big advantage that creates, is being able to sit Booker in the corner of the action. If Bridges’ man fights through the screen, he knows to just ram straight into Paul’s defender & Kaminsky will follow suit. That leaves the big helping on CP3 & Booker’s defender forced to rotate to help on the roll. Leaving Booker wiiiiide open!
Play Notes - When Paul is doubled on the Pick & Roll, it essentially leaves 3 defenders guarding 4 Suns. The goal for the Suns is to bend the triangle & not let 1 guy cover 2 offensive players. Paul kicks to Mikal which draws one defender, Mikal hits the rolling Ayton which draws another & Crowder makes the final pass to beat the last rotation.
Left Wide Open
Booker is doing a considerable amount of damage to the opposition & more than a considerable amount of inflation to his shooting numbers, by punishing teams for leaving him open. As it stands, Book is being left ‘Wide Open’ (6+ Feet to the nearest defender) for 2.4 attempts a game from deep & is making 54.2% of said shots.
Tight (2-4 Feet): 9.1% (1.1 3PA)
Open (4-6 Feet): 42.3% (2.6 3PA)
Wide (6+ Feet): 54.2% (2.4 3PA)
Currently, 40% of Book’s 3PAs are classed as ‘Wide Open’ & the 2.4 total is more than any other season in his career thus far. Next best is 2.0 in (you guessed it!) the 17/18 season.
How does the best player on the team go UP in ‘Wide Open’ attempts year on year? Well, it’s not the only way but it starts with two simple words; D FENCE.
Play Notes - Booker recognises in transition that the Nuggets aren’t matched up properly. He sets a back screen on Crowder’s man, before popping out to the three point line. His defender looks lost because he is forced to help on the Ayton dive.
Play Notes - Again, Booker gets loose in transition after making a defensive play. In this one, Hardaway Jnr sees him but Paul does an amazing job of leading THJ to Crowder with his eyes before hitting Book in the corner.
In The Clutch
‘Clutch’ time is defined by the NBA to be any possession within 5 points & with 5 minutes or less left in the game. Devin Booker currently sports a 73 FG% in ‘Clutch’ situations this season.
11 of 15 from the field.
3 of 5 from three.
5 of 12 from the FT line.
Despite his weirdly inaccurate FT numbers, Booker’s efficiency sees him with a tally of 30 points, 4 assists & 0 turnovers through 27 ‘Clutch’ minutes in the 21/22 season. But he is not alone. Paul (+40), Booker (+38), Mikal (+34) & Crowder (+32) make up the entire Top 4 in the NBA for overall +/- in the ‘Clutch’. Phoenix are 8-1.
No surprises here, this has translated over to Book’s shooting from deep too. With the Suns managing to get him some seriously clean looks in close games. And Booker is delivering.
Play Notes - The Suns go with Bridges in ‘Elbow 52’ in a crunch time situation. Mikal doesn’t screen like last time but Paul is doubled, which essentially forces Booker’s defender into the same help rotation as before. Because Crowder lifts up to be the release valve to CP3 on the double, Booker is able to sneak to the opposite corner for the extra pass.
Play Notes - Clutch time again but this time Phoenix are trailing. Standard high Pick & Roll on the weak side, where only Booker’s defender can act as the tagger on the Kaminsky roll. Paul fakes the defender with his eyes, Booker lifts up to space & nails the open shot.
Off Others Attacking
Booker doesn’t just have CP3 to thank for his better looks this season though. Phoenix are starting to see others step up & even the Suns star player is reaping the benefits. After 18 games this season, the change in shot attempts had some great symmetry to it.
Chris Paul: 2.1 less FGAs compared to last season.
Deandre Ayton: 1.5 more FGAs compared to last season.
Mikal Bridges: 0.6 more FGAs compared to last season.
At that point, Paul had dropped his shot attempts by the exact same amount that Ayton & Bridges had upped theirs combined. A direct swap, if you will. More to the point, Mikal increased his overall 2PAs by 1.3 & Deandre is up 2.3 FGAs after returning from injury. Phoenix’s 3rd & 4th options are now bending the defense too.
This change has the ability to make the Suns offense more dynamic & ultimately much harder to guard. That fact is no clearer illustrated, than when Devin Booker is the beneficiary of an open shot off others attacking.
Play Notes - Despite getting the initial shot blocked, Ayton draws 3 defenders to the ball with a surprise attack off the fake handoff. Booker ensures he gets into Deandre’s line of sight & finishes off what Ayton started.
Play Notes - Mikal decides to attack the big out of the corner, essentially drawing 3 defenders on his drive. Booker’s man is first sucked to the ball & then to help to the corner, with no time for the extra rotation to get to Book on the swing pass from Cam Johnson.
Bonus - The Last Piece
Yes, I know. The Issue is called “…in 10 Ways” & we’ve already seen 10 clips. But when have you ever known me to worry about bombarding you with too much? It’s time for FREE BASKETBALL!
The last piece of the Booker 3 Point Puzzle is improving how he fares on pull ups. Like his overall numbers, his efficiency on those shots has improved to 36.2% (2.9 3PAs) after a very sluggish start.
First 6 Games: 28.6% (2.3 3PA)
Next 6 Games: 30.0% (3.3 3PA)
Last 8 Games: 45.8% (3.0 3PA)
If Booker can maintain his current catch & shoot hot streak while also continuing to improve in shooting situations on the ball, that’s when a whole different conversation gets started. So far this season, Booker has flashed the pull up ability in a variety of different ways.
Play Notes - A totally broken play thrown to Booker with 5 seconds left on the shot clock. What a luxury.
Play Notes - A neat new play the Suns are running for Book & Landry Shamet. The shooter will empty out of the corner as Paul crosses the halfway line. Behind the back bounce DHO, which often results in an open 3 from the top of the key because of dual screens.
Play Notes - With Book being an absolute menace in open court transition, this pull up 3 is going to continue to be there for him. Great to see him taking it with more confidence.
It’s early & there is a lot left of the season to play out. But my excitement for this trend to continue is not in any way manufactured. And for a couple of different reasons.
Firstly, the tape doesn’t lie & right now it is certainly backing up the numbers. The Suns are generating great looks for Booker, thanks to a few small tweaks to their offense. But perhaps more importantly, I am excited to see where this goes because of what it could do for Book & his Suns.
If this shooting resurgence is in fact real, not only does it elevate Booker into a new tier of the NBA’s elite but it also puts him back in the drivers seat once again. Last time, Book was steering Phoenix back onto the road to redemption. This time?
Devin Booker’s shooting could help drive the Suns to where they have never travelled before - Title Town.
Seeing as though it has been a while, here’s a quick summary of just some of my favourite Suns things since the start of the NBA season: