“I don’t watch the film,” Booker said of last season, when he averaged 5.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and shot a career-low 49.1 percent. “I just try to keep it in my head.”
In his three seasons with the Wizards, the 6-foot-8 Booker has been a rugged, high-energy player but staying healthy has always been a greater struggle for the undersize forward than battling for rebounds with larger opponents.
Foot injuries kept Booker from playing in April his first two seasons and several ailments — most notably a strained right knee — limited him to a career-low 48 games last season. Coach Randy Wittman made Booker his opening-night starter but eventually benched him and used him sparingly upon his return.
Unable to gain a rhythm and taking a noticeable step back from his second season, Booker became frustrated, complained about minutes, and was also the subject of a few trade rumors.
“I was injured for half of the year and when I came back, I wasn’t in the best shape. So I really couldn’t play like myself,” Booker said. “This year, I feel a lot better. I’m in good shape right now, looking to get in great shape and play my game.”
When the season ended, Booker’s role with the team was uncertain. The addition of veteran forward Al Harrington as a stretch four to complement point guard John Wall put him on even shakier ground. But with Emeka Okafor out indefinitely with a neck injury, Booker sees a chance to return to form and become a reliable option once again for the Wizards.
“Big-time opportunity knocking. Got to get healthy and stay healthy,” Booker said, adding that Okafor’s loss “was definitely tough for the team. He was a big part of our team. A double-double guy. But somebody got to step up – and I’m looking to step up this year.”
Okafor was instrumental in the Wizards’ defensive turnaround and formed a solid front court with Nene that made it difficult for teams to operate inside. Booker said he is ready to help make up for the loss.
“The guys know, I’m always playing defense. That’s what I’m here to do — play defense and bring energy,” Booker said. “Nene is probably going to have to move to [center] and I think my teammates trust me on defense.”
Booker will be a restricted free agent next summer, but said he wouldn’t allow his contract situation to have a negative influence on him. “Just try to block it out and play my game,” he said. “Just go out there and do what they want me to do. My jumper is looking a lot better. My confidence is high right now.”