Booker already is a better player than James Young



By Nick Gray

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Freshman guard Devin Booker replaces departed guard James Young as UK’s best shooter.

In fact, Booker may be a better player now than Young.

Young was a Top-20 pick for the Boston Celtics after he left the second-leading scorer for UK last season. He also shot 61 more 3-pointers than any other player.

Therein lies the problem.

Young shot at a similar clip than freshman guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Andrew Harrison is not fooling people into thinking he’s Stephen Curry shooting the ball, and Aaron Harrison shot from outside at a much higher rate during the SEC and NCAA Tournaments (48 percent).

If there was any type of legitimate tweak from the regular season to the postseason, it was to not allow Young to chuck from outside. Aside from the SEC quarterfinal against LSU, Young never shot a 3-pointer more than five times in a game once. The eight-game stretchduring the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament was the longest of the season, and Young never played more than four consecutive games where he didn’t shoot more than five 3-pointers in a game.

Diving deeper, of the 19 games where Young did attempt more than six 3-pointers, he did not connect on more than a third of them in 12 contests.

Without a handful of possessions done in by a Young 3-pointer, UK won four consecutive games in the NCAA Tournament by single digits. Young’s lack of ample shooting was not the sole reason the Cats won these games so narrowly. But single-digit games make every possession more crucial, and the crucial possessions become more stressful in the single-elimination NCAA Tournament.

Where does Booker fit into all this?

We will not dive into Booker’s 5-for-11 performance in the two exhibition games. But the only thing of some substance from the preseason comes from a player who has now spent time watching both Young and Booker.

“(Booker’s) mechanics are just on point and it’s hard to shake him from it,” Aaron Harrison said, adding that he thought Booker was the best 3-point shooter on the team, even over himself.

Booker’s effort outside of his shooting, from the Bahamas through preseason practices and the exhibitions, has been there when he can produce points, according to his coach.

“If Devin thinks he’s going to get two points, you can’t believe how fast he is,” UK coach John Calipari said.  “He  will outrun world-class sprinters to go get that ball.”

Booker might not yet be able to get to the rim like Young or flash the NBA potential right out of the gate, but he does have the ability to shoot and defend much better than the now-Boston Celtic. Calipari realizes that he’ll have to prod Booker like he does to freshmen each year.

“If you guys want to score the ball, you will defend or you’ll be out,” Calipari said about Booker and freshman forward Karl Towns. “You’re not taking all the ball shots and then go back and let a guy run by you and dunk on you.  It’s not happening here.  But they’re young.”

And the older Booker gets, the more he may separate himself from comparisons of Young to other lofty-sounding shooting guards.