Draymond Green was one of the breakout stars of the NBA last season, and deservedly so. His elite and versatile defensive skills allowed the Warriors to build the league’s best and most adaptable defense despite his undersized nature. Better yet, a similarly well-tooled offensive repertoire made for a great fit with Golden State’s sharpshooting backcourt, allowing Green to stay on the floor for big minutes without forcing the Dubs to sacrifice quality on either end. In many ways, Green embodied the “stretch-4” prototype that’s quickly becoming all the rage1.
What if I told you the Jazz had a guy who plays the same position, has a very similar build2 and moderately comparable lateral agility, and actually shot a better percentage from 3 than Draymond? Step on up, Trevor Booker, that’s your cue.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, an obvious disclaimer: Trevor Booker is not Draymond Green. Booker plays with the same kind of fire, but isn’t in Green’s class as an overall defender and can’t match his versatility on either end.
There’s been plenty of talk surrounding Utah’s ability to go to units which space the floor more effectively, though. And while much of that has focused on outside roster additions or Trey Lyles’ potential in such a role down the line, their best option might be sitting right in front of them.
The 2014-15 season was Booker’s first with a license to shoot from deep, and he mostly justified Quin Snyder’s move. After attempting just 10 triples in four seasons in Washington, Book hoisted 84 last year at a respectable 34.5 percent clip.
Diving a little more deeply into his underlying numbers here, we see a reasonable template for a floor-stretcher. Of 183 guys who attempted at least 50 wide open 3s last year3, Booker’s 45.3 percent accuracy placed him 23rd, one spot behind Steph Curry and well ahead of Green’s 38.9 percent mark.
Sample size is obviously at play here — Curry attempted 215 of these wide open 3s and Green 180, a far cry from Booker’s 53 tries. There’s much more evidence that a guy like Green can sustain his (admittedly lower) figure over larger volume.
But this touches at another theme, one less often raised when discussing “stretch” bigs: Actual shooting ability remains vital, but how opponents perceive a guy’s shooting ability has real weight as well. This perception can often be born of much less robust data, and at times doesn’t line up at all with reality.
Consider a guy like Boston’s Marcus Smart. Most viewed shooting as a weakness for the Oklahoma State product in his rookie year; his 33.5 percent figure for the season was better than expected, but still isn’t all that good for a high-volume guard. But Smart seemed to develop a perception as a better-than-advertised shooter early on, aided in large part by a hot first few months4.
Further SportVU data, this time based on defender distance, showcases this: Of over 200 guys who took at least 75 3s on the year, Smart had the 16th–lowest average defender distance — defenders were tighter to his average 3-point attempt than sharpshooters like Kyle Korver or Klay Thompson. There are bits of noise here involving team context and other factors, but on such a large sample (nearly 300 attempts) there’s no question Smart’s early artificial reputation made a real difference in the way he was guarded beyond the arc.
Volume from deep plays a role as well, and this is where Booker’s case as a floor-stretcher might hinge. This is the entire reason a guy like Draymond is considered a stretch big while Booker wasn’t last year — their actual percentages were close together, but Green attempting over three times the number of long balls gives him the perception of a guy who needs to be guarded out there.
There’s absolutely no guarantee Booker’s solid numbers on open 3s would continue if he doubled or tripled his volume. Thing is, though, his accuracy could take a significant dip while his perception as a shooter improves if he simply makes opponents think about him out there more often. Floor spacing is important because of where it forces defenders to stand and what that opens up elsewhere on the court, and even a foot or two in Booker’s direction from his average defender means all that much more room for the rest of the offense to operate.
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently noted, though, versatile bigs reach that status through more than just their shooting. The term “playmaking 4” has quickly become part of the NBA vernacular; Draymond’s ability to make things happen with the ball and capitalize on odd-man opportunities when defenses blitz Steph or Klay is a huge part of his offensive value.
Booker has a case from this perspective as well. He has a solid handle and great lateral mobility, often showcasing an ability to punish guys for closing out to his jumper too quickly or underestimating his foot speed.
He isn’t quite in Draymond’s league as a passer5, but Booker feels a bit underrated here from a Jazz perspective. It’s more common to see gushing about the passing ability of Favors and Gobert, and not without good reason, but Booker may actually be the most incisive playmaker the Jazz have among their bigs. Consider the following table showing per-36-minute assist chances for Jazz bigs last season, alongside points created via assist per-36:
It’s not a huge gap, but Booker was certainly the best of Utah’s bigs last season at setting up teammates for potential buckets6. A continued emphasis on this, along with more of an effort to establish himself as someone defenses feel they have to guard on the perimeter, could do wonders for Jazz spacing while Booker plays.
If this theme becomes reality, the Jazz are in a great place, and one I’ve discussed conceptually with Lyles as well: The ability to play “small” without actually putting small guys on the floor.
Booker is undersized for a 4 in height alone, but he rebounds almost as effectively as Favors and, due to excellent strength and center of gravity, really isn’t at risk of being frequently abused by the few post threats he’ll see against mostly bench units. His on/off court splits from last season, particularly post-All-Star break, indicate the Jazz aren’t sacrificing much of anything defensively while he plays, whether with or without Rudy Gobert. Meanwhile, he’s quick enough to check nearly any stretch 4 he’ll come up against on the perimeter, and can bully many of these same guys down low on the offensive end.
If he emphasizes those offensive tweaks with success, he could very well be Utah’s in-house answer to the small-ball conundrum. He’d give the Jazz the flexibility to play four-out when needed, could defend opposing floor-stretchers effectively, and still has the strength and definitely the fire to do the grimy work down low.
It’ll be intriguing to see how much Snyder chooses to prioritize these themes. Versatility is the name of the game, and the Jazz may have more of a utility man in their bag than most had previously realized.