With Indiana’s helter-skelter pace deliberately tapering off so the defense could tighten up, Trevor Booker’s interior toughness was more naturally suited for what the team became over the second-half of the season than T.J. Leaf’s inexperienced grasp of pick-and-roll coverage and rotation assignments.
Not only did the Pacers rebound at a team-high rate when the physical seven-year veteran was on the floor, but Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson, and Domantas Sabonis were plus-15 in the 69 minutes they played with Booker compared to minus-37 in 165 minutes with Leaf.
From catching the ball at the elbow and bullying his way to the basket to pushing opposing big men off the block, the contributions of Indiana’s final roster addition weren’t particularly flashy (well, other than his shoes with the image of Reggie Miller giving the choke sign to Spike Lee), but he did provide utility.
How did Trevor Booker impress?
Even without much in the way of floor spacing, the four-man lineup of Joseph, Stephenson, Booker, and Sabonis managed to finish the season in the black mainly because they held opponents to less than a point per possession and pushed the pace off misses.
Recall, for instance, some of these possessions from when that group entered the game on the road against Denver down 24-20 and ended up taking a five-point lead.
- After Mason Plumlee and Domantas Sabonis exchanged buckets, Trevor Booker stood his ground against Nikola Jokic posting-up, corralled the rebound, lead the break, and hit Sabonis with a bounce pass for a running dunk shot.
- Jamal Murray misfired on a step-back three against Sabonis, and as soon as the Lithuanian big man saw the shot clank off the front of the rim he bolted for the other end while Lance found him with a touchdown outlet pass.
- Lance came up empty on a shoot-it-if-you’re-open pull-up jump shot in transition following another off-target three from Murray, but Booker cleaned up the miss with a tip-in.
- Trey Lyles failed to convert from three and Lance grabbed the rebound and drove the full-length of the floor and scored at the rim.
This isn’t the full rundown, but it goes to show how they leaned on getting stops, gobbling up rebounds, and attacking before the defense could get set to compensate for their lack of reliable stretch-shooting over a limited sample size.
How did Trevor Booker disappoint?
Unfortunately, what seemed to work in the regular season functioned more like as was to be expected during a key moment in the playoffs.
Trying to steal simultaneous rest for Victor Oladipo and Thaddeus Young when LeBron was off the floor and Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner were already on the bench resulted in a five-point deficit early in the fourth quarter of Game 7 because Joseph, Stephenson, Booker, and Sabonis went scoreless while committing two shooting fouls.
For the series, they went 11-of-33 from three and got outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions in 56 minutes of action.
The other downside of that foursome was the impact on Leaf’s development.
Granted, the revamped defensive-minded approach called for the increased absence of the rookie’s skinny frame and sketchy lateral quickness, but he only played 47 minutes once Booker was added to the rotation and 21 of those minutes came in the regular season finale when the team’s playoff seeding was already decided.
What’s next for Trevor Booker?
Unrestricted free agency, where the Pacers most likely won’t be able to offer the physical power forward the same opportunity for playing time they could when they signed him for the final stretch of the regular season.
Trevor Booker provided utility, but continuing to have him consistently do so in a similar role (presumably) behind Thaddeus Young shouldn’t come at the cost of experimentally increasing the simultaneous minutes load of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis or incorporating a stretch-four — whether through the draft, free agency, or internal development.