Booker reviews make for ‘intriguing’ draft prospect

Kentucky freshman Devin Booker made 41.1 percent of his 3-pointers last season.

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PHOENIX — Before we report on the crop of NBA draft prospects to come through US Airways Center on Monday, let’s begin — as so many NBA-related subjects do — with some math.

Harking back 10 seasons, we discover that NBA teams let it fly from beyond the arc on 19.6 percent of their field goal attempts. This past season, that percentage was all the way up to 26.8.

Right, from this uprising we safely can infer that at least one popular, almost-league-wide analytics motto is as follows: When in doubt, shoot it from deep.

Anyway, despite protestations from a former player now employed by TNT, this commitment to the 3-pointer includes reliance on it from both teams preparing for battle in the NBA Finals.

Let’s now get back to the Suns, who over the years had several coaches and front-office personnel dedicated to this concept. Unfortunately, a late-season shooting swoon pushed this season’s club to 20th among NBA teams for 3-point accuracy. After the trade deadline removed a couple of the team’s more successful chuckers, the Suns — who finished the season at 34.1 percent — converted less than 30 percent of their attempts in March.

Enter, at least for a workout on Monday, Kentucky freshman Devin Booker, who unofficially registers as one of the top marksmen available in the 2015 draft. The son of former All-Big Eight Missouri Tigers guard Melvin Booker, Devin made 41.1 percent of his 3s last season.

It should be noted that while a fully vested member of a loaded Kentucky team, Booker was required to sort of blend in. Based on the flood of Wildcats now soaking the NBA, this complete surrender to team-first protocol seems very wise. But while he was blending, many of those who make frequently premature declarations regarding draft prospects labeled Booker a so-so athlete with limited off-the-dribble skill.

He mitigated some of those doubts by recording the fastest lane-agility time at last month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. And he didn’t exactly damage his reputation by reaching an impressive 27 court lengths in the 3-minute run that ends each Suns’ pre-draft workout.

"Devin looked good," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said of the 6-foot-6 18-year-old. "He shot the ball well."

For Booker, who worked out with five other prospects here, this was the first in a series of pre-draft auditions for teams picking in his expected range.

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"I keep it simple," Booker said when asked about the process of demonstrating his overall chops. "I can do those things. I’m a great athlete, and I showed that a little bit."

Those "things" include defending quick players, creating shots off the dribble — for himself and teammates — in one-on-one situations and operating as playmaker with the assistance of a ball screen.

That’s why the Suns prefer taking up-close-and-personal looks at prospects in a controlled, less-than-cozy environment.

"It’s competitive," Booker said. "That’s why I want to do a lot of workouts. That’s an opportunity I’ve always wanted, play against a lot of great college players. We’re all trying to fight for that next level."

After careful scrutiny on the Suns’ practice court, McDonough seemed impressed.

"I think he’s showed — and will continue to show — that he can do more than you might have seen watching Kentucky play," McDonough said. "That’s no knock to them … obviously, they had a great year. There’s a reason they were 38-1. But they have so much talent that it’s difficult sometimes for guys to show all of what they can do, and he did a lot of good things out here today."

But with that eye-opening, lane-agility test (seriously, though, watching the kid actually play defense is far more important than his maneuvering over a predetermined course) and these competitive workout situations piling up, Booker’s draft range could change.

It’s already occurring on the draft-website circuit, where Booker has reached the top 10 in a couple of lists after hovering around a Suns’ projection at No. 13 for a while.

If he adds the bonuses of explosion and playmaking skill, that shooting stroke becomes even more prominent. The requirement of playing defense at Kentucky already provided a boost that the combine numbers only exacerbated. And multiple teams picking ahead of the Suns aren’t exactly loaded with players who do what Booker does.

"He’s an intriguing player," McDonough said, "Intriguing prospect."

And with comparisons and right-now context the rage in all aspects of our culture, similarities to Golden State’s Klay Thompson — a great shooter who has become something of an all-around hotshot — certainly won’t hurt Booker’s stock.

"I feel that every team needs shooters," he said.

That includes the team here.

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