A 70-point game, multiple game-winning buzzer-beaters, and accolades across the board; Devin Booker has placed himself in NBA record books before even turning 21.
Booker first put his name on the map during the 2016 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend in Toronto. He scored 23 points and helped lead Team USA to a 157-154 victory.
That same weekend, Booker became the youngest participant to ever compete in the NBA Three-Point Contest. He advanced to the finals, finishing third behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Booker dropped 28 points and added seven assists on March 23, 2016 against the Lakers, but his best memories from that night came postgame. The teenager spoke with future Hall of Famer and childhood idol Kobe Bryant for a good 15 minutes in the locker room. Afterwards, Bryant gifted a signed pair of his shoes to Booker with the caption, “Be Legendary.”
“I think he’s fantastic,” Bryant said. “I think he has the right attitude. He has the right competitive spirit. His fundamentals are extremely sound.”
Booker took the advice to heart and finished off his rookie season strong.
He had six games with 30-plus points, the most by any NBA rookie since Blake Griffin in 2010-11 and the most by a Suns rookie since Walter Davis in 1977-78. Only 19 years old, Booker totaled 1,048 points to become just the sixth teenager in NBA history to surpass 1,000 career points, joining LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.
Bryant on Booker
By this point, Bryant wasn’t the only star player to notice Booker’s potential.
“I’m going to be honest,” LeBron James said via UNINTERRUPTED. “If it’s someone who is under the radar right now that I believe is going to be a really, really, really good, all-star player in the league – it’s Devin Booker.”
Following his breakout rookie campaign, Booker became just the 13th Sun to ever be selected to the All-Rookie First Team and first since Amar’e Stoudemire in the 2002-03 season.
“It just shows me that I’m on the right path,” Booker said, “but there’s a lot of people who have made First Team All-Rookie and you don’t know where they’re at anymore. So I just have to use this as motivation to keep grinding, because I know that it comes with a bigger target on my back.”
Booker was among the top 25 young players chosen for the 2016 USA Men’s Select Team that Summer.
“He’s a fine player,” USA’s Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. “He understands how to play the game. He’s got great skills, but I think what really makes him special is his character. He really enjoys what he’s doing. He’s a pro about it. He’s got great work ethic. He’s got everything you need to be a great player.”
When Sports Illustrated released their annual top 100 NBA players of 2016-17, Booker found himself as the youngest player who made the cut.
“At 19, Booker is the youngest player and only teenager on this year’s Top 100,” SI’s Ben Golliver wrote. “Booker possesses enough natural talent, scoring ability and comfort on the ball to make betting on a sophomore breakthrough feel like a safe proposition.”
Update, the sophomore breakout was quite evident.
On January 12, 2017, Booker showed off his clutch gene setting a Suns franchise record by scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks in Mexico City.
He finished the season with three quarters scoring at least 27 points while the rest of the NBA combined for only two such quarters. He was the first player to do this since Bryant in 2005-06.
In the same game against the Mavericks, Booker knocked down a game-winning buzzer-beater to win the game. This was one of his two league-leading game-winning buzzer-beaters he hit during his sophomore campaign (other being February 4 against the Sacramento Kings).
Booker followed all this up with another 39-point night against the Spurs two days later. He now holds the top two spots for the most points scored in a regular season game in Mexico.
Booker once again had a busy All-Star Weekend. He competed in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge again and became just the fifth Suns player to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
After receiving his player exclusive Nike’s, Booker went on to pass LeBron James as the youngest player in NBA history to score 20-plus points in 16 consecutive games. This had people wondering, is it the shoes? “It’s gotta be the shoes.”
Devin Booker: It’s Gotta Be The Shoes
The 20-plus scoring streak was the fifth longest in franchise history, but Booker didn’t stop in the Suns record books there.
On March 27, Booker broke the Suns franchise record for most points in a single game as he put up 70 points against the Boston Celtics. Booker became just the sixth player in NBA history to break the 70-point barrier (Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, Elgin Baylor and David Robinson).
Not only did he break the scoring record, but he also set franchise highs with most points in a half (51), most-free throws made (24) and tied his own Suns record with 27 points in the fourth quarter. It was the highest scoring performance ever at the historic TD Garden in Boston.
This was the just the eleventh 70-point game in NBA history and the first since Bryant scored 81 against the Raptors in 2006. No active player has compiled more points in a game than Booker.
Devin “Mr. 70” Booker
Even after such an impressive feat, Booker still looks to aim higher.
“I wouldn’t limit myself to 70,” Booker said. “I wouldn’t limit myself to nothing. I feel like I am limitless.”
From there he went straight to the Hall of Fame…well, sort of.
Booker donated his game-worn jersey from that night to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, where they can preserve and display the memorabilia for generations to come.
If there is only thing that Booker wanted to make known last season, it’s that Talking Stick Resort Arena is his house.
In a game where Russell Westbrook was attempting to break the record for most triple-doubles in a season, Booker had a different plan.
Starting with a three-pointer with eight minutes remaining, Booker went on a roll scoring 19 consecutive points. A record once held by Steve Nash, Booker passed the Suns legend twice during this season (21 consecutive points vs Dallas on January 12).
His 21-point fourth quarter stole Westbrook’s headline as he yelled to the crowd, “This is our house!”
“I’m a competitor,” Booker said. “I’m at my home arena and you’re hearing chants to another guy, which I totally respect Russell. He brings it each and every night…I just didn’t want it to be here. So I take that personal.”
Players around the league have taken notice to Booker’s trash-talking ability and competiveness.
“Devin Booker will talk a little,” Durant said. “I love Devin Booker, man. He loves the game and he’s like a dog. He’ll talk [expletive]. He’ll like rough you up. He’ll get up into you. Better watch out for that boy because he is nice. He next, I’m telling you.”
He finished off his sophomore season averaging 22.1 points per game, the third-highest scoring average ever by a player in a season that ends while he is younger than 21 years old—only LeBron James and Kevin Durant had higher scoring averages while this young. No player younger than him averaged more than 9.9 last year.
In his final game before turning 21, Booker scored 34 points for his 21st career 30-point game. This is the third most in NBA history before the age of 21, trailing only LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Booker finishes fourth on the all-time under-21 scoring list with 2,897 points. Only James, Durant, and Carmelo Anthony scored more at his age.
“I’m blessed beyond measures to play the sport that I love and hopefully have longevity,” Booker said.
At just 21 years old, only time will tell what big accomplishment Booker will garner next.