Suns Squared: Devin Booker, Road Warrior

Devin Booker has been scoring better on the road than at home this season, I dove into numbers to try and explain why.

All sports fans know the home vs away difference. Teams at home often play better, get favorable calls, and usually get bumps in more subjective statistics like assists. This phenomenon extends to individual players, as even the most elite and consistent players, like Lebron James, play worse on the road – although not significantly worse. Using Lebron as the example, while his base stats remain about the same on the road vs at home, Lebron’s efficiency stats like FG%, 3FG%, EFG%, and TS% all see drops when on the road.

Devin Booker, however, seems to be bucking this trend. Take a look at Booker’s splits for this year in the table below.

PPG

RPG

AST

FG%

3FG%

FT%

TS%

USG%

Home

16.3

3.3

3.8

36.9%

30.7%

72.9%

45.7%

25.2%

Road

21.0

2.6

2.7

42.9%

33.7%

89.7%

52.7%

29.4%

At first glance, the big difference here is the large increases in PPG and efficiency. Most players see drops in efficiency away from home, yet Booker is playing with better efficiency on the road, while also having a higher usage rate. Given this information, I dug a little deeper to see what the explanation could be.

To do this, I dove into the shooting statistics on nba.com/stats. I figured that Booker’s improved shooting numbers must come from him getting more open and better shots (catch and shoots) during road games. However, the numbers not only do not show that but actually explain the opposite.

The chart below shows the frequency of each type of shot and the shooting percentage on those shots. For clarification, very tight means the closest defender is 0-2 feet away, tight means 2-4 feet, open means 4-6 feet, and wide open is 6+ feet. Frequency is the first numbers with shooting percentage as the second number.

Catch n Shoot

3-6 Dribbles

7+ Dribbles

Very Tight

Tight

Open

Wide Open

Home

30.3 / 28.8

22.8 /  43.6

8.7 / 28.6

10.8 / 30.8

47.3 / 37.7

29 / 34.3

12.9 / 45.2

Road

23.6 / 32.9

26.1 / 42.9

11.8 / 60.5

21.7 / 45.7

44.4 / 38.5

25.8 / 45.8

8.1 / 50.0

Those numbers show that on the road Booker is consistently taking more hard shots but also making them at a much higher rate. Booker is also making a higher percentage of the easier shots but he is taking less of them. Based on just the frequency numbers, it would be expected for Booker to shoot worse on the road than at home. However he continues to shoot better, so the best explanation is that Booker is hotter on the road or a transcendent player that likes shooting when contested.

The numbers do invoke a worry of regression as those numbers are not sustainable (particularly 46% on Very Tight shots).

The numbers do not provide an explanation of why Booker is a more efficient scorer on the road than at home, as they would suggest the exact opposite. There could be external factors, things that are not documentable, that show that somehow Booker is better prepared for road games. One variable that athletes tend to reference when playing road games is the crowd effect as many players like the challenge of quieting the road crowd and putting on a show.

A second explanation could be the routine change, I spent 4 years as a manager for a college basketball team and sometimes players were just more focused on the road. The road features less comfort but usually a more basketball-focused schedule with less free time.

No matter the cause, one thing is clear: Devin Booker is lighting it up on the road and giving home teams a consistent worry.

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