Suns Squared: Devin Booker and the Unicorn Generation

Nov 16, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) reacts during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 120-104. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 16, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) reacts during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 120-104. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

After mentioning Booker within the same sentence as the “Unicorns,” I wanted to investigate if Booker can be the guard to join the unicorn group.

In my piece last week, Suns Squared: Devin Booker Rising, I discussed Devin Booker’s hot January and the hope that his numbers would continue. Within, I mentioned Booker as vying to join the elite group of young talent that has been pushing the limits in the league. This list included Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, and Karl Anthony-Towns, all of whom have been called “Unicorns” as they break positional stereotypes and are quickly taking control as the next generation of superstars. The thing of note with this group is that there are no guards in there. Giannis does play point guard in that he brings the ball up and more often than not initiates the offense, but other than that there are no true guards that have established themselves as part of the new generation.

This leaves an opening for a player like Devin Booker to jump in and show he deserves to be included with the youth group.

With that in mind, I wanted to compare Booker to other notable players drafted since the 2013 draft (when Giannis was selected) and see how he compares to the other players attempting to be mentioned with the unicorns. The players I compared Booker with were: C.J. McCollum, Victor Oladipo, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Tim Hardaway, Zach LaVine, Dennis Schroder, D’Angelo Russell, Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Malcolm Brogdon. I wanted to focus on mainly off-ball guards who could also play on the ball, but I also included a couple point guards as well. Most of them are one of the top options on their team (McCollum and Oladipo) or working to be just that. A variety of playing styles are represented, but there is one factor that links them all – flashes of brilliance and the potential to lead teams.

The first way I looked at them was the DRE per minute metric along with Offensive and Defensive Box Plus-Minus. I wanted to include DRE because it accounts for all box score numbers and gives an overall picture of what each player brings. Each of the player’s career numbers are listed in the chart below.

C.J. McCollum





Malcolm Brogdon





Victor Oladipo





Marcus Smart





Rodney Hood





Tim Hardaway





Zach LaVine





Dennis Schroder





D’Angelo Russell





Devin Booker





Jamal Murray





Buddy Hield





Emmanuel Mudiay





The overall numbers don’t come up well for Devin Booker, but most often he does come very close. Booker’s biggest weakness now is his overall contribution beyond scoring. He leads all of these players for career points per game, but falls behind in other statistical categories. Booker only averages 3 rebounds and assists a game, yet he also couples that with nearly 3 turnovers per game as well. Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart both aren’t great scorers but rank high because of their overall contribution, an example Booker should look to emulate.

Below is a graph that has Usage Rate on the x-axis and True Shooting Percentage on the y-axis. The size of the bubbles are represented by points per game.

tsvsusg /

When it comes to scoring, Booker really shines. His efficiency and usage rates run high together which is rare, and places him with McCollum at the top of this group when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. The scoring itself is impressive and is putting Booker in hallowed company (last night, February 4, he passed LeBron James as the youngest player to score 20+ in 16 straight games). The high efficiency is also a great sign. Young players are often inefficient this early in their careers and require a couple of years to score with a veteran-like efficiency. However, Booker is scoring with volume and efficiency at a young age, something truly special.

As long as Devin Booker keeps improving, he will soon be not just mentioned as one, but will be one of the first names off the tongue when the young Unicorns are brought up. Adding the all-around game to go with his scoring will jump start that move. But even if that takes much longer to come along, Booker can still set himself apart from other young guards.

Beyond Booker, the guards in this group should make NBA fans extremely optimistic about where the league is headed especially when discussing the aforementioned Unicorn big men that have already rooted themselves in the “best at their position” discussion.