By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you are following this year’s NBA Draft class, you definitely know the name Devin Booker. If you are a college basketball fan, you certainly know the 18-year-old guard can flat-out stroke it, as Booker made 58 of 141 (41.1%) three pointers as a freshman at Kentucky last season.
What you may not realize, however, is how sound of a defender Booker is.
“My concern for him was defensively, I knew he can shoot,” said Booker’s former coach, John Calipari, in a conference call on Thursday. “And when we got him, my whole thing was, ‘You’re not going to be a stand still shooter. You’re gonna create going to the basket and you’re gonna defend or you won’t play.’ And he ends up being a better defensive player, much better than I ever imagined because I thought that would keep him off the floor, to where he rebounded.”
Another overlooked aspect of Booker, an expected lottery pick (ESPN’s Chad Ford has Booker going to the Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 in his most recent mock draft), is his height. Not just basketball fans, but NBA executives and scouts are often shocked upon realizing Booker’s length.
“He’s almost 6 [foot], 7 [inches],” Calipari said of the 2014 McDonald’s All-American from Moss Point High School in Mississippi. “I mean everybody that’s brought him in [for a workout] has said, ‘Cal, like we thought he was 6 [foot], 4 [inches].'”
Unprompted, Coach Cal compared Booker to one of the NBA’s ascending shooting guards, who just happened to win the NBA Championship on Tuesday night.
“You’re talking about a big guard, who can shoot, Klay Thompson-ish,” Calipari said of Booker. “That’s what he looks like. The league now is create a rotation defensively and take advantage of that rotation. Well, with him out on the court, either you don’t let him get it and it’s four-on-four or you do let him get it and he’s looking quick three, pull-up elbow, teach him to finish at the rim, he’s pretty good. Again, the league at his size, he ends up guarding somebody 6 [foot], 4 [inches], 6 [foot], 5 [inches].”
Thompson, also a 6’7″ smooth-stroking two-guard, was selected 11th overall by the Golden State Warriors in 2011. Through four NBA seasons, Thompson has averaged 17.5 points per game, shooting 41.8-percent from beyond the arc. In 2014-15, Thompson averaged 21.7 points per game and played in his first All-Star game.
While Booker continues to sky rocket up the NBA mock draft rankings with his valuable skill-set and size—especially as the “small-ball” philosophy continues to develop in the NBA—he could be the steal of the 2015 draft.
Former Kentucky Wildcat, now Washington Wizards star point-guard John Wall, was asked which Kentucky player is his favorite.
“I like Devin Booker,” Wall told Bill Simmons on the B.S. Report back in February. “When I went up there and played in the summer when he was taking his recruiting visit, he just played aggressive. He was guarding me, he wasn’t backing down. I think he shoots the ball well. He’s doing a great job coming off the bench and not worrying about minutes. He’s athletic and he’s a lockdown defender.”