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Phoenix’s new twin towers have flashed greatness early

Deandre Ayton is showing early that he’s more than capable of fitting in with another star in Kevin Durant, and their chemistry is only growing.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll admit: when the Phoenix Suns traded for Kevin Durant, my biggest question mark revolved around Deandre Ayton and whether or not he’d be up to the task. His inconsistencies – especially in effort and focus – throughout his Suns career have been glaring enough that I believe the doubt was warranted.

However warranted it was, it feels stupid now to have doubted this pairing. Even in their first two games, they’re flashing nightmarish stuff. Here’s how the team has fared with both twin towers out there between Charlotte and Chicago:

In total, Durant and Ayton played together for 38 minutes over the two games, posting a net rating of +36.6 (best of 22 pairings with 15+ minutes over that stretch) and defensive rating of 93.8 (best of 10 pairings with >30 min together).

These numbers are a bit staggering, so some context is needed to properly assess what this can be. Let’s go back to Brooklyn, where Durant played 85 regular season games with Nic Claxton, another mammoth of a defensive ace.

In 37 games (858 total shared minutes, or 23.2 per game), Brooklyn’s twin tower pairing had a net rating of +7.2 and a defensive rating of 109.5. The defensive rating is the second-best of five Brooklyn pairings with at least 800 minutes together over that stretch.

Looking into the Brooklyn pairing can give us some indication as to what to expect night in and night out from the new Phoenix pairing, especially defensively. It’s my belief that when it comes to defending off of Durant, Ayton could be an even better complement, since his locked in defense is some of the best in the whole league and he brings a bit more strength to the table than Claxton did.

In switching scenarios, the Durant–Ayton pairing is nothing short of a nightmare for opposing offenses. In this example, Gordon Hayward starts his action matched up against Durant, but switches for the Ayton matchup, which isn’t any more beneficial for Hayward.

Ayton’s disciplined hands and feet lock Hayward up, and he has to pass out to Mark Williams. He didn’t benefit any from the switch as he went from a 7-footer who’s elite defensively to… *double checks notes* another 7-footer who’s elite defensively.

Offensively, the edge Ayton has over Claxton is even more obvious as Ayton is – or at least, was before the Durant integration – responsible for doing so much more than Claxton. That’s apparent in sheer volume of shot attempts (13.6 per game for Ayton, 7.5 for Claxton) as well as screen involvement (4.4 screen assists per game for Ayton and 3.3 for Claxton).

Overall in his first two games as a Sun, Durant is producing 1.143 points per possession (PPP) when acting as a pick-and-roll ball handler, per Synergy. That’s nearly on par with his 1.174 PPP mark this season in Brooklyn, which ranked in the 97th percentile across the league. Pairing that with a roll man in Deandre Ayton, who’s producing 1.224 PPP (68th percentile) on more than double the volume that Claxton showed in Brooklyn.

When two becomes three

Grouping Josh Okogie in with the towers makes for a trio that’s relentless as any defensively and cold-blooded as any offensively. The trio’s net rating is +33.7 (top 5 among 19 trios with 15+ minutes) and the defensive rating is 97.4 (7th among 19 trios with 15+ min) over their first two games, and they wreck havoc with little regard for human life.

In seven games since becoming a full-time starter, Okogie is now averaging 16.4 points (49/47/78 shooting), 5.4 rebounds, 1.0 assist, and 1.4 steals in 35.1 minutes per game. His line over that stretch is nearly identical to what Mikal Bridges did in a Suns uniform this season – 17.2 points (46/39/90 shooting), 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 36.4 minutes per game.

I’m happy Ayton has proved me wrong through the first two games of this adventure, but the Suns didn’t trade for Durant to win some games in March against Charlotte and Chicago. We’ll continue to enjoy the grind and the flashes from each game, but there’s a chance for this to become something special come May and June.

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