Devin Booker deserves to be an NBA All-Star
BetAmerica has teamed up with Covers and Oddschecker to break down the latest news and trends from around the Association. This week NBA columnists Andrew Caley, Sam Farley, and Ryan Murphy discuss Zion Williamson’s Rookie of the Year candidacy, the Buck’s championship odds, and this season’s biggest All-Star snubs.
Zion Williamson has narrowed the gap in NBA Rookie of the Year odds. Can he overtake Ja Morant?
Andrew: Zion has definitely lived up to the hype since finally taking to the court for the Pelicans. His 19.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game is nothing to scoff at. But I’m still saying no. Morant has been just as impressive of a rookie, averaging 17.3 points and 7.1 assists, while shooting nearly 40% from three-point range. He is also the heart of a young Grizzlies team that is showing real promise and is currently the eighth seed in the West, five games ahead of the Pels. If Morant can keep up this pace in the second half of the season, and the Grizz are in a fight for the eighth seed all second half, I don’t see how he doesn’t get the award. Side note: I love the Grizzlies feud with Iggy. The NBA is the best!
Sam: Zion Williamson has been everything we hoped so far (and maybe even better in some areas like three-point shooting), but he isn’t going to overtake Ja Morant. If you’re a smart bettor you take this push from Zion as a chance to double down on Morant while the odds are more favorable again. If Morant doesn’t get injured, he’s got this locked down. I’m sure some talking heads would push for Williams to win if he maintains his current pace, and the NBA would surely like to see such a marketable asset win, but it just doesn’t seem realistic.
Ryan: No chance. Williamson has been a revelation during his first month on the job, but he has far too much ground to make up to Ja Morant after missing the first 44 games of the season. Assuming he sits out the second game of back-to-backs for the remainder of the year, Williamson will only appear in 34 games. That’s just three more games than Joel Embiid appeared in during the 2016-17 season. As you may recall, Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game, but he still finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon and Sixers teammate Dario Saric. No one would argue that either player was better than Embiid, but they ultimately received more consideration because they appeared in at least 75% of their team’s games. It may not be fair, but Williamson will suffer the same fate this year.
The Bucks have a comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference for the second straight season. Is this version of the team better equipped to reach the Finals or will they flame out again?
Andrew: OK, once again, noted Raptors fan here. But I’ve got to say no, they’re not better equipped. Yes, Giannis is playing at an unfathomable level, arguably better than ever. But the support around him is undoubtedly worse. The Bucks’ rotation is thin, and they must be kicking themselves after giving that money to Eric Bledsoe, money they would have much rather given Malcolm Brogdon, who I would argue was the Bucks' second best player last year. While Bledsoe is playing well this season, he disappeared in the playoffs, and why wouldn’t that happen again? George Hill won’t be able to keep up the pace he’s on. The Raptors know they can beat them, the 76ers and Heat have the size to match them, and the Celtics are going to be a tough out for anyone. And finally, as great as Giannis is, is he the type of player you’d want with the ball in his hands to take a game-winning shot, instead of a guy like say, Kawhi Leonard or Dame Lillard?
Sam: In many ways there are a lot of similarities with 2018-19 but I’d argue that it’s not a case of them flaming out. They simply won’t face such strong opposition this year. This itineration of the Raptors is nowhere near as strong, as you’d expect after losing Kawhi Leonard. Likewise, the Sixers aren’t as good minus Jimmy Buckets, and he isn’t enough to make the Heat a major threat himself. Unless something major happens, I can’t see anybody in the East challenging the Bucks over a seven-game series.
Ryan: Milwaukee is built to last. The Achilles heel on last year’s Bucks squad was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s lack of range. The Raptors packed the paint and dared the reigning MVP to shoot from beyond the three-point line, where he hoisted just 21 shots over six games. That shouldn’t be an issue this time around. Giannis is averaging a career-high five three-point attempts a game and has looked increasingly comfortable launching shots from 25 feet and beyond. Milwaukee GM Jon Horst has also done a phenomenal job of surrounding his star with dead-eye shooters. George Hill, Dragan Bender, Khris Middleton, and Kyle Korver are all shooting above 40% from deep, and have helped the Bucks maintain the best half-court spacing in the league. Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee has learned from last year’s foibles and has become the true beast of the East.
Which All-Star snub most deserves to be in the NBA’s midseason classic?
Andrew: I actually think this was a decent year for snubs, or I guess, lack of snubs. Karl-Anthony Towns and Paul George would likely be in the game if not for missing too many games due to injuries as their per 36 numbers are outstanding. If you make me choose one, I guess I’ll say Bradley Beal. His numbers are similar to Trae Young’s, he is a slightly better defender, and the Wizards are so atrociously bad when he isn’t on the floor. But I’m not really outraged about anyone this season. That said, without a doubt, the biggest snub of All-Star weekend is keeping the Raptors' Terence Davis out of the Rising Stars game. I know you don’t know who he is, but that doesn’t matter. The undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss is playing effective, meaningful minutes on a championship team. Just go check out his advanced stats and get back to me. And the game after he learned he wasn’t selected he went off for 31 points while going 6-for-7 from deep. Travesty.
Sam: Devin Booker is the name that I was most surprised to see omitted. I can see one argument being that he’s playing for a team with a .400 record, but the Suns are so much better than last year that I think it’s a moot point. Booker has really improved his game and that’s clearly visible through a statistical lens. He’s improved his two and three-point shooting percentages, and is averaging more points per game despite shooting less. He deserves to be out there on the court in Chicago.
Ryan: I have to side with Sam. It’s positively criminal that Devin Booker won’t be playing in the All-Star Game in Chicago. The silky smooth shooting guard is the eighth leading scorer in the NBA and is hitting an almost unfathomable 50% of his shoots from the field. Do you have any idea how hard that is when you're being double teamed and harassed on nearly every single possession? Booker has more moves than a can of worms and is precisely the kind of player the NBA All-Star Game is built for. Yes, the Suns are only 20-30 this season, but I firmly believe Phoenix would have 10 wins or less if it weren't for Book's herculean efforts. Get this man a roster spot ASAP!