What If OKC Drafted Devin Booker?
The one that got away
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is not one to avoid radical ideas. In 2014, the Thunder lost both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to a chunk of a games due to injury. As such, the Thunder barely squeezed past the .500 mark. In an interview with ESPN Dallas, Cuban suggested something initially unthinkable for the team.
“The question I don’t think anybody has asked is, why don’t they pull a David Robinson and try to get Tim Duncan? We already specialize in a race to the bottom. More participants won’t change anything.”
At that time, tanking was not even in the picture for the Thunder. However, looking back, Cuban’s idea was not so radical, after all. The Thunder won 6 games more than the 10th place Phoenix Suns, but still ended up missing the playoffs by a hair. And thoughts of tanking come into mind, because the player the Suns selected with their 13th pick is breakout sophomore Devin Booker.
So what if instead of pushing for a playoff spot, the Thunder dropped a few more games and ended up with Booker instead of Cameron Payne?
Is Booker a Future Star?
Coming into the league, Devin Booker’s ceiling was compared to Klay Thompson. On the offensive end, that player comparison looks like it is spot on. Booker has the potential to be a lights-out shooter like Thompson, but no more. Defensively, Booker is about as porous as the entire Suns defence. The question, then, is if Booker would really have been the better option for the Thunder.
Like Thompson, Booker has shown his ability to go on sudden scoring binges. But watching both of them play, you wonder how do they get their buckets. It’s not as if either of them are particularly skilled with the ball. Neither one of them have the ball-handling skills that allow them to control pick-and-roll possessions on a full time basis. Nor are they able to consistently take advantage of being matched up against smaller guards in the post the way Westbrook does.
The reason why Booker can go off on scoring sprees is because of his smooth shooting. Some shooters like the Thunder’s very own Anthony Morrow choose not to pull the ball down after catching it, instead going straight into their shooting motion. For Booker, his offensive game is not about catching defenders unaware. It’s just built on one simple factor — a pure, pure shooting stroke.
Check out how smoothly he steps into a pull up off the drag screens and is unafraid to take an extra dribble to set his feet.
It is precisely this reason why Booker has thrived in his free scoring role for the Suns. Even without feeding on Thompson’s staple of weak side picks and corner spot ups, Booker has raised his scoring average this season to 20.3 PPG, up from 13.8 PPG last year. Some of these come from 3, but a fair amount actually registers as unassisted mid-range shots.
Where Would Booker Fit On The Roster?
It is precisely this ability to create his own shot that have some Thunder fans casting envious glances at the young guard. The Thunder have their own bevy of shooters, but none can be trusted to generate offense the way Booker does. Even from the Durant era, the Thunder have already been on the lookout for wing options. Even more so now, some Thunder fans look contemptuously at premier stopper Andre Roberson and imagine Booker instead suiting up for the Thunder.
I previously looked at what having Alex Abrines learn some off-the-ball movement would do for the offense. Now imagine that with better shooting and then some ability to actually run the pick-and-roll himself. That’s what the Thunder might get with Booker, and there’s no way Donovan would say no to that. Short of adding a legitimate second star on the team, Booker’s skill set might just be the most complementary one to the team without having to drastically change the style of the team.
But that’s where the dream fit stops, at least for now. The big reason for that, is that even though Booker has the potential to be a star in the league, there’s a player already on the Thunder’s roster who fits the Thunder’s style better.
Think about it. A wing player spotting up and receiving hand offs, tasked with running some pick-and-rolls with the second unit. If that’s the role imagined for Devin Booker, that’s the exact role Victor Oladipo is having right now.
It might seem unlikely, but Oladipo is actually having a more efficient shooting season (shooting splits: 45/37/69 vs 42/35/83). Oladipo is more Westbrook than Klay Thompson, but he is just as capable of taking over a game offensively. Most importantly though, is his fit for the team. Oladipo is exactly Sam Presti’s vision of a player — long, explosive with bags of defensive potential. At the heart of it, the Thunder pride themselves on being a suffocating defensive team and that’s what makes Oladipo such a fit with the Thunder.
Is Booker Worth The Payne?
So Oladipo is better suited to the Thunder than Booker. But what about Payne? In a hypothetical world, would drafting Payne have been worth giving up Booker for?
As much as I would like to side with the young point guard, it’s hard to pass up on someone like Booker. Payne is solid, but Booker has the potential to be a legitimate star in this league. He may never be a full-time facilitator or defensive specialist, but old school gunners DeMar Derozan and Kawhi Leonard have shown that as always, the stars of the league will be those who get buckets.
Maybe Payne will not hit heights than Booker can. But there are still ways for him to meet team needs. Right now, he still looks afraid to initiate contact in the paint, instead settling for floaters after a pick. His jumper is shaky and he still needs to be paired with another defensive specialist. If he can just start to feel more comfortable penetrating deep into the paint, that will make his job of finding the roll man easier, as defenders will be now forced to step up and stop him.
Before Payne got displaced by Randy Foye in the rotation last year, Donovan experimented with having both Payne and Westbrook in the backcourt. If Payne can hold his own on some half-court possessions against opposing starting line-ups, that could go a long way into giving Westbrook a break on some possessions.
Settling The Debate
To be honest, all this is speculative. Mock drafts had Booker pegged anywhere from 8 to 18, so there was no guarantee that he would still have been on the boards by the time it was the Thunder’s turn. And knowing Presti, owning a higher pick might not even change the draft outcome. Payne filled a team need, one that was arguably more important that wing help behind Durant. Presti might very well still have stuck to his guns and drafted Payne all the same.
Still, every team will always have space for shooting like Booker’s. That’s why if the Thunder had the chance to redo this draft with Booker available, it would be a mistake to pass him up.