Suns address need with sweet-shooting Devin Booker
PHOENIX — Earlier than expected, television viewers of the NBA draft learned the Phoenix Suns selected Kentucky sharp-shooter Devin Booker when his college coach, John Calipari, blurted out the news during a broadcasted interview prior to the team’s 13th pick.
The slip signaled Phoenix was keeping its lottery pick.
By the end of the evening — after drafting Booker and trading 44th pick Andrew Harrison to the Grizzlies for 3-point shooting big man Jon Leuer — the Suns addressed the glaring problem that coincided with a post-trade deadline tumble in 2014-15.
"We’re really targeting shooting and shooters," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. "That was one of the issues for us after the All-Star break. One of the real mysteries for us is why some of the guys who remained on the roster just didn’t shoot the ball as well."
Indeed, the 3-point elite Golden State Warriors and their 2015 NBA title emphasized Phoenix’s need to address its biggest flaw, as did the fact the 10 best 3-point shooting squads in the NBA all made the playoffs.
Those facts built the market for 3-point shooters.
"It’s certainly getting more expensive," McDonough said of acquiring elite shooters, though he and Hornacek couldn’t comment on Leuer becuase the trade wasn’t finalized by the NBA until late Thursday night. "In the draft, you have to pick them higher. In free agency, they tend to cost a lot more money."
Booker fit that philosophy. He hit 41 percent of his 3s as a bench player for the Final Four Wildcats in 2014-15, taking about half his looks from deep.
Luckily, the cost for Phoenix to grab Booker didn’t break the bank — but the front office did feel nervous about picking near the cut-off of players it would have kept.
It might’ve been easy for the Suns to move up in the lottery, and they almost did — possibly targeting Frank Kaminsky, who went ninth to the Hornets. McDonough said he discussed deals to acquire a higher pick, but nothing panned out as a rumor-heavy lottery ended up looking less trade-happy than expected.
"Sometimes these things, I don’t want to say caught up in it, but you want to be aggressive," McDonough said. "You’re making offers and then if there’s a guy like Devin that you like that ends up being there, you end up breathing a sigh of relief, say, ‘Oh wow. Thank goodness we didn’t give up other things when we didn’t have to.’ "
"I think what you saw happening was lottery teams really valuing their picks," he added.
With the Suns, Booker joins a backcourt that could include four Kentucky products should the Phoenix re-sign restricted free agent Brandon Knight. Unlike slashers Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin and Knight, Booker plays outside-in and compares in style to Klay Thompson.
Booker should be able to open the floor for the returning guard trio, and the Suns liked that his shots weren’t forced. He didn’t panic when defenders chased him off the arc.
"He’ll know if a guy’s on his hip, that he probably doesn’t have the shot, he’ll take one or two dribbles and get in the lane," Hornacek said. "He’s got the ability to avoid guys and then get a shot off, but we also saw him many times on tape where he just kicked it out to someone else or made a lob pass to one of those tall teammates he had. He was trying to make the right plays. That’s a sign the guy’s going to be a good professional."
The youngest player in the draft, Booker won’t turn 19 until Oct. 30. The Suns were drawn to his maturity and work ethic, and McDonough said he was one of few draft prospects that asked to be let into the Suns’ gym the night before his scheduled workout.
"When you look at a kid who is 18 years old, you have to kind of wonder, is he really ready for this?" Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "When you talk to him, when you realize this kid’s a very mature 18-year-old, he could step right in a play. He’s very confident about the way he plays."
Fielding questions over the phone for the media at U.S. Airways, Booker displayed just that. Asked if he could take down Hornacek in a shooting contest, his answer came across playfully but confident.
"We can schedule that, we can actually do that tomorrow," said Booker, who will be introduced Friday afternoon. "He’s a great shooter, but I feel the same."