How Does Phoenix Suns Star Devin Booker Compare to Kobe Bryant?

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE. /

Many have called Devin Booker an heir to Kobe Bryant’s throne, and his game makes it very easy to see why.

Booker, who looked up to the Mamba as a kid, grew into a frame nearly identical to that of his idol’s. Exactly like Bryant as well, Booker stands at six-foot-six in shoes, and also weighs only one more pound than than him.

But beyond these physical resemblances, and of course their shared position, Booker also mirrors Bryant by displaying a similar bag of tricks on the court and a Mamba-like focus. The likes of which are rare amongst players of any era.

Now let’s get this clear, there can never be another Kobe Bryant, and putting Devin Booker in such an influential figure’s shadow remains incredibly unfair. He is his own man—and player.

But out of love for the game, I think it will be fun to take a look at how the Mamba’s teachings have helped produce a modernized version of his scoring prototype by way of Booker. From edge to edge, their games stack up against each other like so.

Devin Booker and Kobe Bryant: Aesthetics & Tendencies

Even though both players indeed possess identical physical builds, Bryant embodied a slightly more explosive athlete with a vertical coming in at 38 inches, as opposed to Booker’s 36. This difference in leaping prowess coupled with Bryant’s slightly larger wingspan and insane body control frequently allowed him to produce more athletic finishes and slams around the rim.

But while Booker might lack that pop, he still manages to get off shots just like a prime Kobe. This occurs mainly due to the differences in the way each player moves.

Last year, Booker often leveraged his quickness more consistently to get into open space. He built up a near-full head of steam going downhill following a pick-and-roll or handoff, and then used that established driving threat to easily stop on a dime or sharply change directions to find an open look.

His play style’s fast pace paired with his incredibly quick and smooth release almost made him look like he glided into all his made shots last season. That all differs greatly to the slower paced, more methodical Bryant, who produced his shots out from his historically patient triple threat position—abusing jabs and up fakes to create even the tiniest bit of air space to shoot over.

Kobe’s method of getting buckets required little movement in comparison to other scorers, frequently shooting faders without momentum or dribbles, and instead rising up out of either a standstill position or series complex footwork. It all went punctuated by his high, catapult-like release that allowed him to effectively shoot over anybody—with a hand in his face or not.

But trips to the charity stripe detail another difference between these past and present lethal weapons on the wing. At Booker’s age, Bryant earned nearly nine free throw attempts per game compared to Booker’s own 5.9 from last year.

Bryant earned these attempts not only due to his tendency to fake guys out of their shoes, but also with how he hunted for contact at the rim. The Mamba often altered his strides to adapt to the position of whichever big man he attacked, looking to either finish with crafty layups thanks to his longer wingspan, or to seal off a shot blocker’s angle early by initiating contact.

Now, some of the sentiments above are not to imply that Booker did not play patiently last year, or that Bryant never attacked downhill. Booker’s patience shined through during the 2021-22 season, as he loved to wait for guys to come around his hip on a screen, and then slow down before exploding into a pull-up shot. He also frequently snaked the pick-and-roll to hunt for pull-ups or an open big man, just like his teammate Chris Paul. But we also saw Bryant attack down hill a few times every night out, utilizing his formerly described explosiveness to finish with highlight-reel worthy dunks.

But to stay specific, the main differences in their games mainly comes with the speeds at which they attacked, the vantage points at which they typically struck from, and the amount of space each player created.

Devin Booker and Kobe Bryant: The Systems

Although both Bryant and Booker certainly played to the beat of their own drum from time to time, the different offensive systems which they both ran with naturally altered their games. Last year’s Suns system put an extremely strong emphasis on guard play that constantly aimed to feature the pick-and-roll. Everybody played off Booker and Paul running this format, whether with double-drag screens, half-court screens, or pistol actions involving dribble handoffs after a Deandre Ayton screen.

Any time Booker took the floor, he operated as a main initiator with this, which differed greatly from Phil Jackson’s more complicated, yet fluid triangle system that Bryant played within largely during his career.

The triangle system first and foremost sought to maximize unpredictability in the dead ball era. Basically, the triangle asked one player to post up at the block on the court’s far side, another player to fill out the corner, and another on the wing. All three players stayed relatively close to one another, looking draw three defenders as far away from the weak side as possible. The remaining two players on the floor positioned themselves for a two-man game on that established weak side.

Players stayed positioned this way while executing several on and off ball actions, such as back screens, cuts to the rim between the weak-side players, simple post ups for isolation scorers, or passes back out to the perimeter. The triangle system’s shot possibilities were nearly endless, but it also restricted Bryant from a role as a primary initiator, unlike Booker.

In the end, the system still allowed Bryant to often find consistently clean looks, but still placed him away from the ball at times. At one point it put him into a post isolation play, and at another stuck him oppositely waiting to start a weak-side attack.

So while Bryant and Booker might illustrate similar moves when it comes to things like turnaround faders, if you compare each guy’s shot chart, Booker’s shot volume remains centralized around the mid-range and 3-point line due to the pick-and-roll, whereas Bryant’s extends out to every possible area on the court—consequent to the triangle system.

Devin Booker and Kobe Bryant: Efficiency

When looking at efficiency, you need to consider each player’s era before anything else.

In 2002-03, Bryant put up a true shooting mark at 55.0 percent compared to the league average at only 52.0 percent. Last year for Booker, his true shooting stood at 58.0 percent compared to the league average at 57.0 percent.

Booker’s inaccurate 3-point shooting brought down his efficiency as a whole during the 2021-22 season, hitting only 34.0 percent from deep with 5.5 attempts per game. His lacking free throw attempts did him no favors as well, and he shot a modest 60.0 percent at the rim.

Bryant’s 3-point shooting was ahead of the curve during an era where wings rarely pulled up off screens to shoot from range. Hitting at 38.0 percent on 4.4 attempts per game at Booker’s age, Bryant killed teams from downtown, even breaking the record for most triples made during a game at the time. His free throw rates stayed immaculate, as did his rim finishing—shooting 63.0 from there. These three factors helped his efficiency stay above average despite his high field goal attempt rate.

Both players failed to reflect out of this world efficiency, but what they did do is important for the same reasons. Bryant and Booker both frequently turned what might seem like a terrible look for most players into an “average,” shot as far as reliability goes.

Bryant shot around a league average on deep two-pointers as well, but said shots were not just catch and shoot opportunities. He made difficult, fully contested fadeaways into a shot you often expected him to hit on a night-to-night basis.

Last year, Booker shot well above league average from mid-range as he attacked with many different fallaways as well. Booker’s shotmaking particularly made him extra valuable within today’s game, where the mid-range comes as an afterthought for most defenses. As proof, we saw him and CP3 expose that ideology time and time again during the postseason.

Booker’s own legacy has only just begun. It belongs to him alone, and we need to keep that in mind when comparing him to anyone. This honestly extends out to all young players from a general standpoint.

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But I always find it fun to look at things like this because the evolution of gameplay styles never ceases, always leaving a “next up” in the NBA. Everything explored about the Booker and Bryant comparison makes it that much more apparent. Ultimately, Booker has what Kobe had to a certain extent from a scoring standpoint, but just translated to a different system, with different circumstances.