When: 6:00 PM AZ Time (early start!)
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes
Nets - Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen
OffRtg = 110.8 (3rd), DefRtg = 109.4 (20th), NetRtg = 1.4 (15th)
With Kevin Durant out for the season, many expected Kyrie Irving to take advantage chucking up shots like none other. That is definitely the case thus far as Irving is averaging a career high in points (31.9) but also field goal attempts by a significant margin (23.3).
For some reason, whenever Irving plays against the Suns, he tends to go off. This is the best defensive team Phoenix has put on the court in years, but Irving tends to get his buckets one way or another.
Irving is the hub of Brooklyn’s creative offense, but young core pieces like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen can’t be overlooked. Even though Deandre Ayton isn’t playing in this one, Allen got in his head badly last December with the way he defended him. Allen is young and still developing, but he’s a very savvy defender already. Baynes is going to have his hands full, I believe.
Meanwhile, LeVert looks like he’s taking another leap. In Durant’s absence, LeVert has comfortably settled in as the No. 2 to Irving averaging 17.9 points and 3.9 assists per game.
The upside of this Nets team right now is a 4-5 seed in the Eastern Conference, but 2020-21 is when they could truly challenge Milwaukee and Philadelphia for supremacy. If Durant can make a full recovery, Brooklyn has all the pieces necessary to make a Finals run immediately. Projecting ahead, this would likely be their starting lineup: Irving, LeVert, Harris, Durant, Allen.
OffRtg = 108.6 (9th), DefRtg = 103.6 (11th), NetRtg = 5.0 (6th)
Right now, Devin Booker is the only player in the NBA with 50/50/90 shooting splits. That shows you how scorching hot he’s started the season, but he’s improving everywhere right now. Entering into his 5-year, $158 max extension this is exactly the type of progress Phoenix was banking on pushing their chips in around the 23-year-old scoring dynamo.
Booker is very comfortable within Monty Williams’ 0.5 scheme, and he seems relieved not having to bring the ball up and be their primary facilitator anymore. Ricky Rubio has taken a massive burden off Booker’s shoulders. Now, the whole team is benefiting because of it.
Arguably the most surprising start of the 2019-20 season belongs to Aron Baynes. Since entering the starting lineup, Baynes’ numbers are incredible for a career 15-minute per game rotation piece: 17.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1 block on a 70.2 (!!!) true shooting percentage.
Baynes is not only proving his worth in Phoenix, but he’s setting himself up to cash out once the regular season ends. If Baynes can maintain this production, he will be one of the best center options on the open market for 2020 free agency. Even typing that out is an incredible step forward for Baynes, who all the sudden is a three-point savant shooting 4.3 per game at a 47.1% clip.
Finally, I wanted to close on Kelly Oubre Jr. because there is notable progress being shown in his game. Based off my eye test, Oubre is adjusting well to being a secondary option by the day. Averaging only 10.8 field goal attempts over his last four outings, Oubre is shooting 50 percent on three-pointers taking them when the defense allows. Overall, Oubre is simply being smarter with the shots he’s taking.
At Media Day, Oubre mentioned he wanted to improve his efficiency this season. Right now, Oubre checks in with a 58.6 true shooting percentage compared to 55.5 after the trade from Washington to Phoenix.
For the Suns to be 5-3 without their 1B to Booker’s 1A in Ayton, it shows how well-functioning Williams has this operation running. Also, Suns GM James Jones’ offseason moves have shown how big of an improvement this is to last year’s roster.
Is this a playoff team? I think we will find that out throughout the rest of this homestand, which includes a big test tonight against Brooklyn.
Whenever Irving and Booker square off, fireworks usually end up occurring. I expect more of the same tonight at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Irving goes for 30 or more, but Booker exceeds his point total in the end.
So, that means plenty of impact will need to be felt by role players on both ends. The Suns rank No. 2 in true shooting percentage right now, which makes me lean towards them getting more efficient shots to pull out a narrow victory.
Suns 116, Nets 113