The monthlong outburst for Phoenix rookie Devin Booker began with a 34-point game on March 3 at Miami that was a career high for the 19-year-old. Then came a 27-point outing three days later at Memphis, a 32-point performance another three days after that against New York and a 35-point explosion the next night at Denver.
For Booker, March has been an awakening as the 6-foot-6 shooting guard proved himself as one of the NBA’s top first-year players.
As the media gathered around the former University of Kentucky star inside the Suns’ locker room at Staples Center recently, Booker smiled at the attention he was suddenly receiving. But he quickly shot down the notion that he had solved the puzzle of how to play in this league.
“I’m still trying to figure it out, honestly,” Booker said. “That’s one thing about the NBA, it’s about consistency. I know there have been a lot of rookies that have been in this league and had a good first year and the next years you never hear about them again.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
“It’s just consistency every night in, every night out. You never know what can happen in this league. Opportunities open for other people, opportunities can get shut down quick. You just have to stay focused and take it one day at a time.”
Booker easily could be impressed with himself because he became the youngest Suns player ever to make a start, at 19 years 24 days, when he was in the lineup against San Antonio on Nov. 23. He’s improved steadily throughout his rookie season. In March, he has averaged 22.2 points and five assists per game.
“I’m happy about with my progress, but I’m never satisfied,” Booker said. “I know I can always grow and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
After the Suns made Booker a lottery selection with the 13th pick out of Kentucky last summer, 15-year NBA veteran Tyson Chandler was curious to see how his teenage teammate would approach his new job.
“The first day I saw him playing pickup, he carried himself differently than your typical rookie,” Chandler recalled. “He carried himself more as a four-year college player rather than a one-year, 18-year-old at the time, coming into this league.”
Suns interim Coach Earl Watson was the team’s workout coach when Booker was drafted. The two worked together during the summer, developing a bond that showed Watson how serious Booker was about his craft.
“I just think Devin has a throwback mentality,” Watson said. “He can handle the ball as well as catch-and-shoot at the two-guard position. He could be something special.”
The Suns have asked a lot from Booker. They have played him at his natural shooting-guard position. But they’ve also inserted him at point guard, forcing Booker to run the offense because Phoenix has had so many injuries to its backcourt.
Booker admitted it can be a “tough balance” trying to perform both duties, but said he has worked hard at both roles.
“I like the fact that he has a really good all-around game,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “He can get assists, he can pass the ball, rebounds the ball, he can shoot it from three, he can get to the basket, he’s got a nice little midrange game. He’s got a complete game. Our scouts and our coaches who scout Phoenix, they really think this kid is going to get better and better. They’ve got a gem over there.”
As Booker was growing up in the small Gulf Coast city of Moss Point, Miss., he was always able to turn to his dad for guidance.
Melvin Booker was a point guard in the NBA, playing short stints with Houston, Denver and Golden State in the mid-1990s before finishing his playing career in Italy.
“He was like the blueprint for me growing up,” Devin said. “He knew what I was trying to reach and the goals I wanted to reach. He always used to say he wanted me to be better than him. I used to always say I wanted to be just like him, be a professional basketball player. He gave me so many tips and secrets that most kids don’t get to have.”
Nevertheless, for Booker to make this quick an impact in the NBA is somewhat of a surprise.
He didn’t start in any of the 38 games he played at Kentucky during the 2014-15 season. Booker was John Calipari’s top reserve — earning the SEC’s sixth-man-of-the-year award — and averaged 10 points on 47 percent shooting, 41.1 percent from three-point range.
But Booker has been impressive throughout his rookie season, even though he can be a bit star struck. He recalled his first start in November against the Spurs and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
“It was an amazing feeling, because I grew up being fans of these guys,” Booker said. “Now I’m on the same court as them. I have to pretend I’m not excited, keep my calm, composure. But at the same time, that brings out the best in you, brings out my competitive nature. You just respect them. But at the same time, I try to make my own way. Hopefully that’s what I can do.”