Devin Booker and his Phoenix Suns are running through the Western Conference playoffs.
They knocked off the LeBron James and Anthony Davis-led Lakers then they took on Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. They made light work of the MVP and sent them home in four games, winning three of the four games by double figures.
At the head of the Suns onslaught has been 6-foot-5, 24-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker. With two All-Star appearances to his name yet no real playoff experience, doubters were coming out in full force ready to discredit Booker’s greatness.
He’s changing that narrative, so much that the star guard was recently compared to a young Kobe Bryant. The late Bryant was among the best guards to ever play the game. Booker has had a similar ascension through his first six seasons.
Let’s break it down a bit further.
Booker kicked off his rookie season averaging 13.8. That went to 22.1 his second season and topped out at 26.6 twice (2018-19 and ‘19-20). There’s reason to believe it could’ve kept increasing had the team not brought in Chris Paul.
However, at the same time, Paul was a driving force in them finishing with the second-best record in the league. Overall, Booker has had 9,395 points in 13,727 minutes, an average of .68 points per minute.
As for Bryant, he entered the league as the 13th-overall pick, ironically the same pick Booker was taken in 2015.
Bryant’s first season in the pros wasn’t impactful, as he totaled just 7.6 points per game. But, as with Booker this past season, Bryant kicked off his career with a team that finished 56-26, led by the Bryant-Derek Fisher-Shaquille O’Neal trio.
His scoring and fame would then quickly took off. Bryant averaged 15.4 points his second season, and through his first six, topped out at 28.5 per game. His per-minute average was .61.
It also should be noted that Bryant came in straight out of high school, which would’ve been significantly harder. Nonetheless, Booker seems to be on a trajectory to be just as dominant of a scorer as Bryant.
Now, let’s take a look at their individual accolades to that point in their career.
After a disappointing first season in the NBA, Bryant quickly adjusted and was in the All-Star his second season. Bryant also named to the 1996-97 All-Rookie team. He ended the first six seasons of his career with four All-Star appearances.
Along with those four appearances, Bryant already had three rings. His Lakers won three straight titles from 2000-2002. He did have O’Neal, who was a Hall of Famer in his own right, which is important to know.
Now, Booker has a future Hall of Famer on his side in Paul, though the veteran is far past his prime at age 35 and looking to get his first title. O’Neal was in his prime as one of the best to ever play the game, even checking in at No. 10 on ESPN’s list of the greatest NBA players ever.
Booker has two All-Star appearances, having been snubbed a couple of times as well. After all, Bryant got in after averaging just over 15 points while Booker put up over 26 and wasn’t voted to the game.
One huge area in which the two differ is how they score. As we saw, from above, Bryant got to the point in the first part of his career where he was nearing 30 points per game. He eclipsed that mark twice, but he didn’t get there until he improved his three-point shooting.
Bryant got the job done with his mid-range game and his athletic prowess; however, he didn’t average over a three-pointer per game until after his sixth season in the NBA. He used his craftiness and finish to score while Booker has developed into a much better pure shooter earlier on in his career.
Booker averaged 2.7 threes per game his third season in the NBA. He’s topped two per game three times, as many times as Bryant had in his entire career. That’s the main difference, but unless Booker gets drastically more aggressive, he’ll likely never quite reach Bryant’s peak of 35.4 points per game.
The two guards are mainly known for their impressive ability to score the ball, but the one thing you have to realize is that they're both also unselfish when they need to be, although most just remember Bryant for not being a pass-first guard.
As for Booker, he’s averaging 4.6 assists per game on his career. By far the primary playmaker his fourth and fifth season, Booker averaged over six assists per game.
That dropped when Paul got involved, but when it was Booker against the entire defense, he got his teammates involved. The same can be said of Bryant early in his career.
While many may not want to believe it, Bryant averaged 4.9 assists per game from his third to sixth season. Neither was meant to be like their respective point guard, Chris Paul or Derek Fisher. They managed to get the job done as a distributor, though.
If you like judging players using Plater Efficiency Rating, Bryant finished with a career PER of 22.9. Booker currently sports a 17.4 mark, but it’s worth noting that Bryant’s career average was just 20.2 after six seasons. Booker has topped the 20-point mark twice in his first six seasons, while Bryant did it three times.
Another advanced metric that actually compares NBA players is the FiveThirtyEight NBA Player Projection.
For Booker, his No. 1 comparison is Hall of Famer Ray Allen.
At No. 2?
None other than Kobe Bryant.
It’s not a spot-on comparison, but in terms of stars, it’s about as close as you get.
The ascension for Booker is real, but he’ll need to get the job done in the postseason and continue to repeat that success before his name can truly be mentioned in the same sentence as the great Kobe Bryant.
For now, he’s clearly on the right path.