Marching to Vegas: In Defense Of Askia BookerPosted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on November 22nd, 2013
It’s not often that someone can or will make the case for a career 37 percent shooter who takes 26 percent of his team’s shots — a guy who boasts a true shot percentage of just 48 percent and an ORtg of 98.2. No, this isn’t usually the type of player we make the case for, but for the Colorado Buffaloes, Askia Booker is critical. He will wow you with quickness and the voluminous nature by which he gets his points, but when the lane is packed, when the offense goes stagnant and Colorado is forced into a half-court set, the Buffs are in need of the type of player willing to throw Basketball 101 out the window and get baskets. He’s the hero Colorado deserves and the hero it needs right now.
Because Colorado’s strength is not in the half-court; it’s a very sound defensive basketball team that is going to thrive in transition. Any team with athletes like Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson and Jaron Hopkins would. The issue, however, is teams aren’t soon to let them do it. Their schedule to date has included Wyoming and UCSB who rank #323 and #343, respectively, in offensive rebound rate. What does that mean? It means the Cowboys and Gauchos are getting a shot up and heading back on defense faster than you can say “if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Because of these opponents, the stat sheet won’t soon show us the Buffaloes’ transition success.
Last season the Buffs were the 37th most transition team in the nation. And how do the Buffs get into transition? With a hellacious on-ball defender like Booker. If you’ve watched him play, he’s quicker than a water bug and I’ve watched him cause fits for Nick Johnson (career 33 percent shooter against Colorado). There’s a reason he led the team in transition field goal attempts last season. The issue, however – and this is where I think people find the biggest issue with Booker – is that a season ago he took 41 percent of those transition shots in the form of a two-point jumper. WHAT? You’re telling me that this kid is going to get out ahead of everyone else and pull up? No thank you. Just 29 times (23%) did he get to the rim in transition. And to break it down real lay for you, shots at the rim are easier than shots farther from the rim. For further context if not comparison, Sabatino Chen (of exquisite hair lore) took 22 of his 36 (61%) transition shots at the rim. That’s a pair of two-guards with contrasting shot selection and I’ll give you one guess as to who had the 45 percent eFG as opposed to 67 percent? But this season Booker has dropped the number of transition jumpers he’s chucking up and either getting to the rim (up to 37 percent) or smarting up and letting the offense – whatever half-court option they have – develop. Against the aforementioned Wyoming and UCSB anti-transitioners, Booker averaged 14 points on 43 percent shooting in the Buffalo sweep. The hero they deserve and need.
What’s more is that he’s played a critical leadership role for this team. Into a timeout you’ll see him instructing a younger player, coaching them up and explaining where he needs to be and when. The hero they need because this team enlists the services of 10 underclassmen. Booker is a veteran and he’s wearing that hat when he needs to. For all of that youth, he is the player who’s going to make things happen, for better or worse, when the task might seem too large. Who took the most shots against Baylor in Dallas during the first game of the season? Askia Booker. I’m not necessarily condoning this, but for a team that doesn’t shoot well from distance – 32 percent on any shot not called a layup or dunk – and is prone to cold streaks (see: Tournament, NCAA vs. Illinois w/ scoring droughts of eight minutes, four minutes, three minutes, and five minutes, the bookends of which were to close each half and consequently the season), then yes, Colorado needs a little bit of fearlessness and direction. A sort of “do as I say, not as I do” type.
The above might not describe the best player in the nation. In fact, it doesn’t even flirt with those descriptors. But for a team whose two best assets are a foul-drawing point guard and a classic back-to-the-basket type, Booker is that talent capable of scooching through the cracks and doing things perhaps some of the other kids can’t. Getting the Buffs out of trouble despite all the trouble he might cause. Their hero.