Defense shines in Kevin Durant’s debut, as the Phoenix Suns compiled a ton of solid tape defensively, which enabled for the potentially prolific offense they’ve compiled to begin laying a foundation.
Charlotte put up a scrappy effort, but Phoenix would simply overpower them in their depleted condition without LaMelo Ball, en route to a 105-91 win.
1.) Starting with Defense
Since the new year, the Suns have the fifth-best half-court defensive rating, at 95.9 points allowed per 100 plays.
Since the new year, the Suns have the fifth-best half-court defensive rating, at 95.9/100 plays— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) March 2, 2023
If this trend continues to sustain in tandem with the inevitable offensive bump to come, this team is going to be a juggernaut... especially relative to postseason play
Last night, they held Charlotte to a pace of 71.3 points per 100 plays in the half-court, which, relative to the season as a whole, would place them in the second percentile (and in turn, would be a 98th percentile mark for the Suns in defensive efforts there).
That was statistically, by-far, their best showing, with the next best being a 74.0 mark that took place all the way back on November 5th, against Portland.
Essentially, the Suns had the Hornets half-court attack grounded to the extent of some of the worst production on the season.
They’d hold the Hornets to 19 points in the second quarter (79.2 offensive rating), and 18 in the fourth (69.4).
They’d do so by blending their defensive coverages, as I mentioned in my preview of “what Durant’s fit brings,” detailing his impact past pyrotechnics in scoring.
Weaponizing the length & athleticism of the Durant-Ayton frontcourt pairing - in blending more aggressive coverages & dictating terms more like here - is going to add so much value & activity to the attack https://t.co/ut22XH0UYO— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) March 2, 2023
This still frame is a prime example of just what I was getting to, which allows the Suns to transition from being far more reactionary in the base of their defensive scheme, to now being able to blend in much more dictating-style defenses, where they control the pace and areas of the floor where opposing actions can be run from.
They’d rack up 18 deflections, and 17 stocks (steals and blocks, combined) in the process, emphasizing the seen activity and events caused within their rotations and defensive shell.
They were locked in and oftentimes on schedule in the varying scenarios, the creative offense Steve Clifford tasked them with defending.
In the middle of all of it, of course, was Josh Okogie. He’d compile four more deflections, in addition to a block and two steals, spearheading the defensive attack of the Suns.
He’d further support my claim for him starting (and closing for this matter) as the “fifth fiddle” to the top four of the roster.
In addition to his efforts were the activity of Kevin Durant in secondary rim protection, with two blocks, and a handful of instances where his length in tandem with Ayton’s truly congested the restricted area of the floor, resulting in the “blanket-type” feel I have hinted at recently.
It is almost like having two versatile goalies on the floor, which, independent of scheme, enables others on the perimeter to be a lot less risk-averse in assessing and gambling as they pick up on patterns of the opposing team.
To that point, Durant’s general presence also aided the non-Ayton minutes he spent with bench and bench-adjacent units.
This was a fun sequence from them— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) March 2, 2023
Payne contains & contests on a Smith Jr. stampede, then watch Landale's physicality on the boxout create him separation on this rim run
Then, peep the gravity his rim run brings (+ subtle contact on Smith Jr.) enable this relocation 3 for Payne https://t.co/i0dw2IRPFB pic.twitter.com/N9mgPJTBZ3
In general, the Suns were - yet again - sharp with their defensive rotations in timeliness, positioning, and
2.) Mid-range Madness
Paul was absent as a scorer last night, but it was hardly even noticeable due to the proficiency of his tandem-wing teammates that are also proficient in the same areas of the floor he excels from.
Durant would go six-for-nine from non-paint mid-range attempts (and also display an all-around attack and floor game).
Last night was only the beginning.@KDTrey5 | #WeAreTheValley pic.twitter.com/OnW2WJ9QR6— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 2, 2023
Booker would go five-for-nine.
Combining to go 11-for-18, and the manner in which they’d do so - via movement actions in addition to coming off single pin-downs - all occurred within either the flow of the offense or off of advantages set.
There was no semblance of “my turn, your turn” and the offense hardly ever hit any snags, consistently applying pressure to the defense of the Hornets - in a multitude of ways.
The league isn't safe.— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 2, 2023
Book: 37 PTS, 7 AST, 7 REB, 2 BLK, 15-26 FG
KD: 23 PTS, 6 REB, 2 BLK, 10-15 FG pic.twitter.com/JRACRTLanc
For a debut like this one, this was a very telling sign that there will hardly be an issue ingratiating Durant and his abundance into this, now, supercharged offensive attack.
Charlotte tried trapping, drop, activity at the level with hedging/showing, all to no avail.
This very well could be as scheme-proof as it seems to be on paper (mind you, again, without the involvement of Paul in the mid-range party).
3.) Booker Blitz
Devin Booker compiler 37-points in this one, and had an excellent blend to his shot profile:
· 5-6 at the rim
· 2-4 in short mid-range
· 5-9 in long mid-range
· 3-7 from deep (3-6 above the break)
He scored in isolation, off of closeouts, out of pick-and-roll, in transition, and off the second side.
To see him operate in this manner was refreshing, especially as he’s ramped up game conditioning since returning from injury.
Book about to go crazy these next few months.— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) March 2, 2023
15-26 FG pic.twitter.com/gWE9YCyY4N
He seems to be close to the conditioning-space he needs to be in to be himself, unhampered by injury, wind, or minute restrictions.
The Suns went to clever “Veer action,” which I spoke on a while back featuring Bismack Biyombo, to free Durant and Booker multiple times as a counter to the aggressive pick-and-roll coverage of the Steve Clifford and the Charlotte Hornets.
Sound On— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) March 2, 2023
Let's talk about some of their Veer reps
Seldomly used prior to last night, Phoenix got quality looks off the advantages set by the threat of their PnR (!), & even cleverly used Angle PnR for better spacing & to attack the middle-third with Durant & Booker https://t.co/0MVuiZojX0 pic.twitter.com/cct9555bm3
Tip of the cap
· Josh Okogie (4 points, 2 steals, 3 rebounds, 1 block): Okogie did not score from the field, yet his impact on the game was yet again profound. This team will need him to knock down some of the second-side attempts he will be afforded with the offensive talent they’ve compiled, but last night’s game was yet another casing point for him being able to remain effective and engaged - independent of scoring. He’d finish +11.
· Deandre Ayton (16 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block): The big fella was ever-active playing varying coverages and being a deterrent defensively - doing things that don’t show on the boxscore - while providing plenty value offensively as a screener and scorer within flow. Now a string of games where Ayton’s operated in a great space of effectiveness and production
· TJ Warren (team-best +15 in 12:55): Warren’s been one of the odd-men out of the rotation as Monty Williams tries to piece together a new rotation. With Terrence Ross out, however, Warren was up to task and had some good flashes defensively, and being where he needs to be offensively
The Suns trek to Chicago for game three of their four-game road trip.
Over the last two weeks, the Bulls have a record of 3-2 and pair the fifth-best defense (105.5) in this window with the 16th-ranked offense (113.3).
Of note: Since the new year, the Bulls have the league’s second-best defense (to the Bucks), with a non-garbage time defensive rating of 109.7.