BY: ED COLE
PHOENIX – Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker will face off against seven of the best shooters in the NBA this Saturday night in Toronto, at the 2016 Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.
He’ll go against the Warriors duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Heat’s Chris Bosh, the Rockets’ James Harden, the hometown hero, Raptors guard Kyle Lowery, Bucks guard Khris Middleton and the Clippers’ J.J. Redick.
“Yeah, it’s stiff competition. Best shooters in the game, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Booker said. “Obviously, Steph’s (Curry) the favorite. Steph, numbers wise, is the best shooter in history already. He’s just breaking his own records, but there’s obviously other great shooters in the competition with J.J. Redick, (and) Klay (Thompson). Just the whole field is great shooters. With my name being mentioned with them is already a plus, but hopefully I can go out there and get a win.”
Booker will be the youngest player to ever take part in the contest, but age doesn’t matter in this instance. Booker’s shown he’s got what it takes to run with the big dogs in the league. He’s second among rookies in three-point field goal percentage at 40.7 percent (55-of-135), and he’s currently the fifth leading scorer on the Suns roster (10.6 ppg.).
Not bad considering what Booker was thrown into with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight both going down with injuries, and him having to step up to the plate along with guard Archie Goodwin and keep the ship a float during this forgettable season.
“Devin’s (Booker) been amazing. Devin’s growing,” interim head coach Earl Watson said. “He’s learning how to be a primary scorer on the team, and he’s learning it at 19-years-old, which is rare. I think Devin, he takes it, and he’s beyond his years. He’s mature about it. We nurture Devin a lot, but we also hold him accountable. We’re not going to so called “protect him from not growing.” There’s going to be growing pains, and we’re going to let him go out there, (and) he’s going to go through it. At the same time, when he falls, we pick him up to allow him to try again.”
Booker might go through some growing pains this weekend in the three-point contest, because he’s not used to shooting basketballs off a rack. He’s always been a catch-and-shoot player. He got his first taste of coming off the rack on Tuesday, when he had his first practice for the upcoming contest.
“Well, shooting off the rack is totally different than regular shooting. It’s like a totally different skill,” Booker said. “There’s catch-and-shoot, shoot off the dribble and shoot off the rack. Usually, shooting off the rack is a lot more difficult than shooting off the pass.”
Sometimes, walking into the unknown, and being unaware of what’s going to happen – like Booker will experience this weekend at the Air Canada Centre – is an exciting thing, because you have absolutely no idea what’s going to come of your situation, and how it’s going to play out. A lot of times, that journey turns out to be one of the best trips of your life.
Booker’s going to be nervous no doubt, with all the competition he’s going head up with, but he’s fully embracing this trip to Toronto, because he’s earned it. What he can take with him on this trip is the knowledge and wisdom he’s soaked up from watching past three-point shooting contests. Booker says he’s watched the three-point contest for as long as he can remember, and he’s taken bits and pieces from every one he’s sat down and watched, and he’s hoping he can apply all he learned from them to this weekend’s contest.
“I really don’t know what to expect, because I haven’t been through it,” Booker said. “I remember watching in the past, people not finishing enough balls because they’re taking their time, then I’ve watched people that win that don’t finish the racks by just knocking down all the shots they take. I don’t know what to expect, that’s what I’m here practicing for.”
Melvin Booker couldn’t be more proud of his son for what he’s accomplished this season, from starting 22 games, and playing in 47, to being honored with a spot in the All-Star Weekend’s festivities. It’s not been the season anyone expected it to be for the Suns, being 25 games under .500 and essentially playing out the string, but it is what it is, and it’s given Booker a tremendous opportunity to showcase his talents.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s one of the dreams of his,” Booker said. “First, his dream was to make it to the NBA, then the goals were to make the rotation, and now, unfortunately, the way he got to play, and all the minutes because everybody’s hurt. Individually, we’re happy with his progress, and how he’s playing. To be the youngest guy in the league, he’s playing like a vet.”