Phoenix Suns: Masked Devin Booker vs Un-Masked Devin Booker

Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Throughout the Western Conference Finals, we have seen two different versions of Devin Booker’s game, one with a mask, and one without. Though some may not see much of a difference—there technically is. When you really get down to it, Booker has performed somewhat better without the discomfort of the mask.

After breaking his nose in a collision with Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley in a 104-103 Game 2 victory, Booker was advised to begin wearing a mask. However, he took it off for nearly halfway through Game 4, seeming displeased with it.

The 24-year-old star spoke with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt about his choice to remove the mask Saturday night stating,

"“I can get surgery any time if it gets hit again. But in the Western Conference Finals and making it to the [NBA] Finals, those opportunities don’t come and go, so I don’t take ’em lightly. I’ve never played with a mask. I’m not blaming it on the mask, but 24 years of my life, I’ve never felt that.”"

We have seen Booker adjust his mask at least in some way during the all three games he has worn it. It has created some obvious discomfort for Booker, and it has naturally made a difference with how he has performed in this series.

Let’s take a look at the difference with and without the mask.

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker – Mask Off

Booker’s numbers look significantly better without his mask primarily due to his 40-point triple-double performance in Phoenix’s 120-114 Game 1 victory. It completely contradicts how Booker showed signs of slowing down in Game 2, especially after that shot he took to the nose from Beverley’s head-butt.

But first, let’s rewind back to that spectacular Game 1.

Booker not only finished with 40 points, but also 13 boards, and 11 assists while shooting nearly 52.0 percent from the field. His 3-point shot was falling for him too, going 43.0 percent from deep. He also went a perfect 7-7 at the charity stripe en route to victory.

Then, the broken nose came in Game 2. Before the injury during that contest, Booker was 4-14 from the field with only 11 points. He only attempted two foul shots, making both before the collision.

After returning with the repaired nose, Booker scored two points from the field after only attempting two shots. However, he used the free-throw line to his advantage, going 7-7 to collectively add nine total points since returning. He closed out the game with 20 points.

If anything was shown in Booker’s first post-injury run, it was his intent and ability to still attack and get to the line. His competitive spirit overruled any type of pain he felt.

It took until Game 4 for Booker to once again play mask-less, as he removed it with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter—in obvious discomfort. He managed to put up 14 points while shooting only 33.3 percent, and still got to the foul line as he sunk six of his eight attempts. It seemed like the right decision, as it helped him lead the Suns to a scrappy 84-80 victory.

Through the two and a half games he has played without the mask, Booker has totaled 74 points while shooting at a 42.5 percent clip. He ended up shooting better from the perimeter at 36.3 percent, and with more chances at the line, earning 24 attempts—making 18 of them.

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker – Mask On

As earlier mentioned, discomfort on Booker’s behalf has been noticeable whenever he has worn the mask, with his numbers backing that up.

He began wearing the mask in a 106-92 Game 3 loss. That’s when the difference really began to show, as he recorded a postseason-low of 15 points after only shooting 23.8 percent from the floor. This made it his worst shooting performance since Jan. 18 against the Memphis Grizzlies, where he also shot 23.8 percent. Booker additionally only got to the line four times, and despite making all his attempts, he was not as aggressive in the lane as he usually is.

Booker stayed masked-up for roughly the entire first half of Game 4, with his struggles only continuing. Before taking the mask off, he had only 11 points, going just 5-13. Booker only got to the line three times while wearing the mask, short of his postseason average at 7.6 free-throw attempts per game.

But in Monday’s 116-102 Game 5 loss, Booker seemed to adjust appropriately to the protection covering his face. Despite the loss, he put up 31 points, while going 4-6 from beyond the arc. This came as his far and away best performance while wearing the mask, and a sign that he is indeed getting used to it.

The Difference…

To sum it up, Booker has scored 17 more points without the mask, has shot a better percentage from the field, the 3-point line, and has gotten to the line six more times.

Although it is not a drastic difference in numbers, any kind of decline still affects a game’s outcome. This holds true especially with how tight the battles between the Clippers and Suns have been so far this series.

dark. Next. Phoenix Suns: What went wrong in Game 5 vs Clippers?

As the Suns travel to Los Angeles for Game 6, I expect Booker to keep the mask on for protection. The last thing we want is for him to damage his nose even more and miss important time during this playoff run. Hopefully though, his fantastic performance while wearing it in Game 5 was no fluke, and he can carry it over into the contest as well.