Devin Booker is about to play in his first NBA finals game at the age of 24 after some masterful play in these playoffs, elevating himself to superstar status and gaining the respect of the basketball world. However, it was not always this way for the young guard from the University of Kentucky as he was criticized earlier in his career for holding up a piece of paper with the number “70” written on it after a 70-point night he had in a loss to the Boston Celtics, mimicking Wilt Chamberlain’s celebration of his 100 points except in doing so in a losing effort.
Booker was also the guy who called guys out for double-teaming him in pick-up games urging them to refrain from doing so in order to allow them to “work on our game” - you can imagine that didn’t sit well with players and fans alike, with Devin’s mentor the late Kobe Bryant even said that if they did that to him he would “tell them to send another.”
This year, he has certainly left that in his rearview mirror and has become arguably the biggest star of these Playoffs. Booker's image has taken a complete 180-degree turn after he delivered the knockout punch against the Lakers in the first round and played through what seemed to be a broken nose against the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Normally such opportunities to prove oneself come in stages across the years but for Devin, it has managed to all come at once and the biggest opportunity of all is here and now. To no surprise, Devin’s father Melvin knew early on his son would be a unique talent due to the way he saw the game, citing the time when the Detroit Pistons dealt Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson and how it upset his son.
“He didn’t go for the flashy game. He understood the importance of what Chauncey would bring to a team. I knew then, for a kid to be 11 or 12 years old and understand that, I was like, this kid understands basketball.”
Melvin Booker, Fox Sports
In no way whatsoever should this be an indictment on what Allen Iverson brought to a team because AI is a winner in his own right, competes as hard as anyone else, and is extremely committed to winning. However, Melvin’s point here is centered around the appreciation of Chauncey’s game and how he was able to generate optimal results with less of the natural talent as Iverson had. You'd never expect a kid to be afan of Chauncey Billups over Allen Iverson! Chauncey Billups was the Finals MVP when the Pistons beat the Lakers and he did it by just being gritty and smart on the court, an ode to how Billups pretty much approached his path to improvement throughout his whole career.
Devin has shown how he is similar. Despite the amazing numbers he is putting up, what stands out is how easy the game seems to come to him, a product of a young star deciding to buy into a great system put together by a great coach and using the team action to create as many opportunities for himself and others. There are no Devin Booker ankle-breaking highlights, very few monster dunks, but this year there have been a lot of wins for him and the Suns.
On Tuesday, Booker and the Suns look to continue their winning ways against a Bucks team that features three elite players in Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and possibly Giannis Antetokounmpo should be able to return from injury. This is a Milwaukee team that can impose its will on a game on both ends of the floor when extremely locked in by forcing you to do things that are out of character due to their combination of size, speed, and connectedness from playing together for years now in the Playoffs.
In order for the Suns to pull this off, Devin is going to have to be that unique talent his dad saw. He must ensure that he and Chris Paul lead this Suns team every step of the way, similar to how Rip and Chauncey did when they played the Lakers almost twenty years ago to win the title. Against the Bucks, the Suns will not win the series on pure talent and firepower alone. Instead, they will have to dig deep as a team, and most importantly, Devin is going to have to do what he has been doing all year, elevating his game and dominating opposing teams.
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