PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns fans have long argued that Devin Booker is the most disrespected player in the NBA.
By the media. The officials. The opponents.
Until these playoffs, many believed the 24-year-old received neither the same calls nor the national attention granted other young NBA stars.
“Devin Booker is the next Kobe Bryant,” ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith said on “First Take” Monday. “He’s an assassin and guess what, this Clippers team you need Kawhi back to knock that kid off.”
Booker, who is averaging 29 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists in his first playoffs, just lifted the Suns over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals after dropping a triple-double, the first of his career. His performance throughout these playoffs has helped raise his national profile.
He joined elite company with his 40-point triple-double, joining Oscar Robinson and Luka Doncic as the only players aged 24 or younger to do so. He is one of six players in NBA history to have multiple 40-point games in their first postseason, joining Doncic, LeBron James, Bob McAdoo, Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain.
Although Booker has shattered records season after season, he frequently received less national praise than his contemporaries. In April, ESPN’s “The Jump” shared a list of the top 10 players by future potential. Booker came in at No. 8.
“He should be top five,” said ESPN personality and former NBA player Kendrick Perkins on “NBA: The Jump.” “I am tired of the disrespect and they need to put some respect on Devin Booker’s name.”
Perkins preached what many Suns fans thought: Booker doesn’t receive enough credit. The issue came to a head in February when he was left off another NBA All-Star team, causing many players in the league to take to Twitter.
Lebron James tweeted, “Devin Booker is the most disrespected player in our league!!! Simple as that.”
Meanwhile, Booker is playing his best basketball to date. He is dominating against the same Western Conference coaches who decided not to vote for him to be a reserve on the All-Star team.
The biggest knock against Booker over the years was that he was putting up big numbers for a losing team. Things began to change during the last two years and he led the Suns to an 8-0 record in the NBA bubble last season. This season, he helped the Suns reach the Western Conference Finals after a 10-year drought and secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, finishing one game behind the Utah Jazz for the best record in basketball.
“My first eye opening experience was when he was with the USA team. He was on the select team and you could see that he wasn’t afraid of going against the top guys,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You could see that this guy is different.”
Despite being a part of two All-Star teams, Booker has never formally received an invitation to the event, and was announced a replacement both times. This even though he is widely regarded to have one of the most impressive resumes in the NBA for a young player.
He is the youngest player to score 70 points in a game, youngest to record back-to-back 50-point games, youngest guard to score 7,000 points, one of six players with multiple 59-plus point games in NBA history and a three-point contest champion.
“He’s more than capable, he’s more than ready, he’s prepared like no other,” forward Jae Crowder said. “It’s no coincidence that he is having games and big games for us.”
It’s a big reason the Suns are three wins away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993.