Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today’s contributors are ESPN Fantasy’s Joe Kaiser, Jim McCormick and Kyle Soppe.
As a 20-year-old with a 70-point game under his belt while averaging 22.0 points per game in his second NBA campaign, Devin Booker has gobs of upside as a scorer, but the rest of his fantasy stats have been rather thin thus far. However, he has shown signs of expanding his game by averaging 6.8 assists over his past six games. What do you think his overall fantasy ceiling looks like for next season and beyond?
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Kyle Soppe: The recent spike in dimes is great for owners rounding out a championship run, but I’m not banking on it being very sustainable. Booker is the third-best passing guard on this squad, and though I think his scoring prowess leaves the door open for assist spurts due to the defensive attention it demands, I’m not sure his assist ceiling is much above four per game.
Every metric favors Eric Bledsoe as the assist leader in Phoenix, and given that Tyler Ulis is a much less gifted scorer, he seems likely to fill a distributor role when on the court with Booker (he’s averaging more assists despite averaging half the minutes). That said, the scoring is no fluke, and it keeps Booker on the top-50 radar, even with his limitations. I don’t think he turns into a well-rounded player, but even marginal growth in the assist and rebound (he’s 6-foot-6, so why not?) departments will have him flirting with the top 40 overall players without increasing his scoring output.
Joe Kaiser: It’s always important to remember that Booker is still only 20 years old, so he might not even be close to his ceiling, which is scary to think about. That being said, scoring is what he does best, and it’s difficult to imagine him changing his skill set too much over the course of his career. More than likely, Booker will always be a score-first player and a secondary contributor in terms of rebounds and assists.
Right now, I see his upside as a DeMar DeRozan who shoots 3-pointers. Given that Booker is able to shoot the 3-ball and that he already has shown the ability to pass more than DeRozan, his future is brighter than DeRozan’s in fantasy, but that’s the type of score-first player I see him being in the years ahead.
Jim McCormick: Booker, who remains among the youngest players in the NBA even into his second professional season, is fairly bankable; he’s 54th on the Player Rater overall by totals after going 45th overall in drafts. There are some clear positives to consider: Booker is 12th among guards this season in points per touch and is ninth in this stat at the position over the past month. A 26 percent surge in points per 36 minutes since last season is due to a rewarding uptick in usage and opportunity rates, as Booker has averaged nearly four more shots from the field and 1.1 more free throws per game than last season even as his percentages remain nearly identical.
However, Booker averages just one steal, 3.3 boards, and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes this season. This lack of statistical diversity is why Booker sinks to 17th among shooting guards on the Player Rater when sorting by averages for the season. I don’t really buy this recent surge in passing success as an enduring shift, as Booker averaged 6.2 potential assists on 34.6 passes per game this year up until this recent six-game surge, while he’s enjoyed a somewhat aberrational 12.2 potential assists per game on 40.1 passes per game. The larger sample suggests this could be noise.
I’m most intrigued by Booker’s uptick in drives and free throws per game over the past six games; he was just 57th in the league in drives per game prior to this sample and is 22nd in the league in drives and second behind only Jimmy Butler in free throws per game via the drive over this stretch. Bledsoe was 10th in drives per game through mid-March, so I believe his status this offseason on the trade market could heavily influence Booker’s usage and upside for fantasy purposes next season. I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to consider Booker a shooting specialist, as he’s tied for 29th in 3-pointers made, but I do believe he could become DeRozan with more 3-point success if he’s afforded the freedom to drive and pad his scoring stats at the stripe next season.