The Washington Wizards have had several unpleasant surprises early this season, but Trevor Booker's early-season struggles should vault near the top of the list.
It's hard not to love the way Trevor Booker plays basketball. When things are going right for him, he has no fear attacking the basket, flying in for rebounds and making all the hustle plays that get the team going. He isn't the biggest or the most skilled, but he plays like he gets the most out of the talent he has. As much as the Wizards tried to downplay his role, he always found a way to get minutes.
But that Trevor Booker has largely been absent this year. In his place: a tentative player whose lack of size, skill and lateral quickness is being exposed far too often.
An 0-9 start brings with it several unpleasant surprises, of course. This isn't to say that Booker is the most disappointing player on the team this year, nor is his downward production the singular cause for the Wizards' problems. But after two relatively productive seasons to begin his career, Booker's downturn is certainly surprising.
There are a number of issues plaguing Booker right now. First and foremost, his normally high shooting percentages are way, way down this year. Booker shot 55 and 53 percent from the field in his first two years, but he's just shooting 45 percent this year. His true shooting percentage is way down at 46.1 percent, and he's attempting less than one free throw per 36 minutes.
Weirdly enough, his low shooting percentages can almost entirely be attributed to one spot on the floor. Booker is still taking close to the same number of shots per game at the rim, per HoopData (3.2 last year, 2.9 this year), and he's actually hitting an even higher percentage on those shots (78 percent vs. 72.7 percent). He's also attempting the same number of long twos and hitting an even better percentage (40 percent vs. 34 percent). But his bugaboo has been those little floaters that he likes to attempt off pick and rolls and the hook shots he likes to take in the lane. Booker is attempting 1.6 shots per game from 3-9 feet and shooting a ghastly 15.4 percent on them. Last year, he was up at 43 percent on those shots, which still isn't great, but is at least competent. Hence, the poor shooting from the field.
There are other issues with Booker, of course. His turnover percentage of 15.3 is by far the highest of his career. The plus/minus stats, especially offensively, are ... well, just avert your eyes when clicking this link. His rebounding, never an especially strong suit, is down as well this year.
Some of these things seem a bit flukey, to be fair. Booker won't shoot 15 percent on floaters and hook shots for the rest of the season, for example. We've also kind of accepted that he's never going to be an elite rebounder or pick and roll defender, which is fine if he was doing some of the other things that make him successful.
On the other hand, several of these stats point to a clear downturn in aggression. A lack of free-throw attempts displays his reluctance to get to the basket. An increase in his turnovers points to him passing up too many decent looks and thinking too much when he makes a decision. Even his low percentage on 3-9-foot shots indicates that he might be rushing his attempts or pulling up when he should be drawing a foul. That's a huge concern going forward. If Booker isn't playing aggressively, he loses the edge that got him here in the first place.
Wizards fans can probably accept that Booker will never be a great rebounder. Wizards fans can also probably accept that Booker will give up some points on the defensive end because he's undersized. But I don't think any of us can accept a Booker that plays tentatively on both ends of the court. Who could have honestly seen that coming?
It's early, of course, but until Booker starts to look like Booker again, he's an unpleasant surprise.