Trevor Booker has quickly adjusted to being a starter in Brooklyn and fills many roles for the team on both ends of the floor. He is not the best player on the Nets, but he might be the hardest one to replace.
It would be safe to say that Trevor Booker did not grab headlines during the craziness that was the 2016 off-season. The Brooklyn Nets signed Booker to a two-year $18 million contract as the presumed starter at power forward. However, the Nets also signed Luis Scola and Anthony Bennett to play the same position. Booker had only started more than half of his team's games in one of his first six seasons and had started seven games in total during his two seasons with the Utah Jazz.
Booker has started every game he has played for the Nets this season, missing only two games thus far with injuries. His game seemed like a great fit for the Nets coming into the season, and he has met or exceeded all expectations. Booker is nearly averaging a double-double with 9.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and he has been Brooklyn's best defender through the first third of the season.
Trevor Booker is not a high-volume offensive player, but he has been useful as a bit player in the Nets' offense. He sets hard screens, and his effort is entirely independent of his touches on the offensive end of the floor. Booker has one of the higher motors in the league. Motor is a subjective measure at best, but Booker's can be measured in his rebounding (9.2 per game for an undersized power forward is indicative of his hustle on that end) and in his greatest offensive asset — his play in transition.
Booker has finished more transition plays than any other play type this season per Synergy Sports--a rarity for many players and certainly strange for a power forward. Booker is also in the 65th percentile in terms of transition efficiency, scoring 1.18 points per transition possession. He can leverage his athleticism and effort better in the transition game than anywhere else, and he has shown a surprisingly good handle for a big man this season that did not show itself much during his time in Utah.
One of Booker's better weapons in the transition game is his quick spin move. He will often catch the ball near the top of the arc, take one or two hard dribbles to the basket and then spin to the rim at full speed:
He pulls the move off so quickly that even Rudy Gobert, one of the primary candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, is not able to react in time. The irony of Booker pulling this move off against the Jazz is palpable — even the team that had spent the last two years in practice guarding the spin is still completely powerless to stop it.
Booker's biggest weakness is his three-point shooting, which has never been his strong suit. Despite playing in an offense that emphasizes those shots, Booker's touch from long range has been poor thus far. Booker has shot 30.6% from behind the arc this season on 1.2 attempts per game, slightly below his career average of 31.0%. Only Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has attempted fewer long balls among Brooklyn's regular rotation players.
On the defensive end, Booker has been one of the few bright spots for a team that currently ranks last in the league in points per game allowed and 28th in Defensive Rating. Booker is often matched up against larger players, but his quick feet and consistent effort help him to contain pick-and-rolls effectively and give players of all sizes fits. Opponents are shooting 2.0% worse against Booker than league average. Booker also sports the best Defensive Rating on the team per Basketball-Reference at 106, and he and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the only Nets with a Defensive Rating under 110. Booker and Brook Lopez are the only two Nets who currently sport a positive Net Rating per Basketball-Reference.
The difference in Brooklyn's play with and without Jeremy Lin would indicate that he, not Booker, is the Nets' most irreplaceable player. However, the evidence for Booker's importance to this team lies in Brooklyn's brutal loss to the Cavaliers on December 23rd. The Nets would have had no realistic chance at beating the Cavaliers in Cleveland under any circumstances, but being down 90-48 in the third quarter without Booker was certainly telling. Without him, Brooklyn was destroyed on the glass, as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson combined for 26 rebounds in only three-quarters of play. The Cavaliers scored 60 points in the paint and 21-second chance points.
Debating whether Trevor Booker or Jeremy Lin is the Nets' most irreplaceable player also ignores the looming shadow of a Brook Lopez trade or injury. Lopez looked to be out of the running for this debate early in the season after Justin Hamilton's strong start, but Hamilton's recent slump makes Brook stand out even more as the one-star caliber player on Brooklyn's roster.
Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin are more noticeable for the Nets than Trevor Booker, as both players can score in bunches and facilitate the offense. However, Booker covers many different roles for a Nets team that already struggles in those areas where Booker works best. His ability to rebound from the power forward slot is more important than ever as Lopez continues to struggle mightily on the glass. Furthermore, Booker is a plus defender on a team that is bereft in that area. Trevor Booker might not stand out on the floor or in the box score, but he has been a bright spot in Brooklyn this season. The Nets will have to hope that he remains healthy, as it would be very difficult to replace his production on either end of the floor.