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Stephen’s Study: Durant, Booker Dominate in Dallas + Cluch Ish and the Shot that will Drive these Suns

Suns shine in Dallas, finish four-game road trip with 3 wins in an all-impressive fashion against the Mavericks.

Phoenix Suns v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The national TV ABC Showcase spotlight, saw the Phoenix Suns more than up to the task against a Dallas Mavericks team that has been a thorn in their sides since May of last year.

In a game that saw 12 ties and 13 lead changes, the Durant-Booker pairing combine for 73-points on 27-42 shooting, great efforts on the glass from Ayton (16 rebounds), timely baskets from Paul (8 points in the fourth), and an abundance of ancillary efforts - even amidst some rough shooting stretches.

We saw another game, in their early process, where they were matched with a team that can make tough shots in a similar manner to themselves, and they were again up to the collective task - while also able to earn the requisite stops needed for incremental scoreboard separation.

The Suns also had the appropriate offensive process over the course of the game as well

Let’s zoom in...

1.) Durant and Booker Hyper-efficient Pyrotechnics

Kevin Durant’s 37 points - which came via a true shooting percentage of 81.8 - were hyper-efficient, and really speak to the space he’s in as his ramp-up in activity takes place. He looked extremely spry in his 40:22 of play in this one.

He went 9-for-12 from two and 3-for-5 from deep, while displaying an assortment of suddenness and change of direction, in a manner that frequently suggested he has turned a corner in his recovery process.

He’d get plenty more post touches and general looks in the spaces he operates best from, particularly near the elbows, then in on the blocks - via some slice screens and cross screens - showing the evolution of the Suns playbook in real-time.

Oh yeah, he’d also knock down the go-ahead basket that signaled the end of this one.

Devin Booker on the other hand - via 14-for-22 from two and 1-for-3 from deep - registered a true shooting percentage of 66.7.

Booker re-established his transition scoring attack, serving as another hint at his fitness levels continuing to rise, as he’d get going via hit-ahead passes from Paul, as well as push pace himself in multiple instances - taking full advantage of an unbalanced defense in early offense.

His last two seasons, in transition:

· 2021-22: 1.21 PPP, 6.3 points per game (4th for players with at least three transition possessions per game), 52.5%

· 2020-21: 1.14 PPP, 5.1 points per game (5th for players with at least three transition possessions per game), 50%

In terms of his general scoring profile, this is often a tell-tell sign of where he is. On the season, he’s at just 1.07 PPP and his frequency has been down three percentage points from where he’d been, but seeing it return in these flashes - in addition to going 7-for-8 at the rim, is all-telling that he indeed is back.

These two would also do an excellent job bringing two to the ball, accepting the double, then making the pass that most exploited advantages (just three turnovers between the two, mind you) allowing for the other four players on the floor to play within, and maintain an advantage, as the defense was unbalanced.

Their process and feel for the game as well as how defenses are going about defending them is spot on, and they’ve found great success with court balance, knowing when to space a pass away from each other, as well as blending usage of their scoring gravity to facilitate vs getting buckets off self-creation - on efficiency.

Booker and Durant efficiency @ Dallas

In a game that had a playoff-style feel, they had a tandem method of operation that oftentimes kept them in a position of dictating, and applying pressure, in an unrelenting fashion.

2.) Clutch Ish and the Corner Three

There were two Suns that played the entire fourth. Had Wainright’s name not been included in the title, would you have guessed he was one of the two?

The lion’s share of his 13:58 minutes played in Dallas came in the game’s most contentious moments, in which he operated well.

Okogie (0-for-8 from three) through the first three quarters was helped off of - primarily by Doncic - over the course of the game. Though he still played well, he was held out of the fourth (aside from replacing Paul for one final stop) because he was cold (with the latter seven coming from Doncic giving attention to a drive and conceding his looks from the corners).

Craig also struggled, going just 1-for-4 while only being guarded conservatively from deep.

Insert Wainright, who’s consistently stayed ready despite inconsistent minutes, and you see the instant impact in shot-making that was missing from the plot for the Suns.

It was the last domino they needed to fall offensively to nudge ahead, and his timely hits from deep were much-needed, not ironically all coming with - guess who - help-pointing off of him in aid of showing a body in driving lanes on Durant/Booker/Paul.

Okogie and Craig would go a combined 1-for-11 from the corners, on high shot quality looks.

Okogie and Craig inefficiencies @ Dallas

Wainright would go 3-for-4 from the corners in the second half, while also knocking down one in the fourth, in addition to one above the break via the same fashion being helped off of - after not playing until late in the third quarter.

Take this rep for example. Booker brings two to the ball as the Mavericks had been doubling him in the third, so the Suns kept him in the middle third of the floor. This one is via their “Chicago/Zoom” action.

Booker watches Doncic on the catch while stretching the hit on him, holds Doncic’s attention while shortening the distance on his pass to Ish, and hits Wainright for a corner deposit.

Customarily, when the Suns have you solved in any stretch of the game, they’ll spam an action to create the same scenario, and play to the advantage.

They’d do just that, via Chicago/Zoom again here. Booker gets two to the ball in the middle third (where it’s hardest to double, mind you), flattens out the Mavericks defensive attack, then stretches it with the kick to Wainright for another corner deposit, on back-to-back possessions

Now, into the fourth, he’d knock down two more all-important attempts. Keep note of the score and situation in each of these reps as well.

Notice here, Durant gets single coverage, but Kidd and the Mavericks elect to have the “one pass away” defenders shift to pinching the driving lanes, in denial of a driving lane rather than passing lane. You can see it both from Green (on the block guarding Booker) and Irving, who’s offering heavy help at the nail.

Then, on Durant’s second catch, knowing what coverage is being applied, we see his processing speed and brilliance on display, as he generates a reaction advantage - getting off it quick as it boomerangs between he and Paul.

Paul - one of the best passers and advantage setters the game has ever seen - is enabled to make a play, as a connector, off of the advantage someone else creates - can exacerbate the reaction advantage and kicks to Wainright while Doncic is in the middle of his “jab at” in trying to aid Irvings recovery to Paul, from Durant.

The defensive dominoes of the Mavericks fall in that process, as great pace on ball movement late in the clock burns them for Wainright’s third three.

Then, Wainright ventures from the corners and above the break, for the finale.

Here, off the baseline out of bounds play, you can hear Paul implore for him to set a screen for Booker - to directly involve Doncic in a primary action as well as bring two to the ball - which get’s the desired reaction out of the Mavericks, and Booker sets him up perfectly, again, by engaging the double before kicking it to Wainright for an attempt that Doncic cant recover to as he’s crossed the help-line, and Wainright has properly respaced.

This game was a template that further supports Monty Williams’ reasoning behind not having a deadset starting and closing lineup, as whichever of the wings he’s compiled can be relied upon to knock down these types of shots with the highest efficiency at the moment, will earn them.

We’ve seen how vital the corner three-point shot will be for this team in the last two games.

The Suns have 39 attempts from the corners in the last two games. 20 at Chicago (with eight makes), then 19 at Dallas (with five makes) registers as their two highest volume of corner three-point attempt games on the season.

That specific shot will be the one that is emphasized in this new rendition, and that goes for all perimeter players in the rotation (including Paul/Booker/Durant).

We saw what a game looked like when they got the requisite hits from there in Chicago, versus when it was relatively absent in Dallas, and how the game was far more contentious down the stretch.

The Suns are at 33.3% via said shot in these games, and will surely be drilling reps from these locations at nauseum in practice the rest of the way.

Film Session

Tip of the cap:

  • Deandre Ayton (16 rebounds): After a solid start and playing a part in the Suns paint advantage early, he would see minimal touches over the course and sort of get lost in the plot, however, rebounding is stat that oftentimes goes overlooked when it isn't a problem, and is emphasized whenever it is absent. Ayton has been consistent with his efforts on the glass of late, and in yesterday’s win each of those 16 was much-needed, en route to a +10 finish there
  • Chris Paul (2 three-point makes): Chris Paul would knock down two major attempts from deep in the fourth, both with him stashed one pass away and via the heavy nail help on Booker and Durant. His catch-and-shoot frequency and efficiency will be called to task in abundance the rest of the way, and he’s presently at 51.8% via said attempts on the season.

Up Next

The Suns return home to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.

The Thunder are 2-5 over the last two weeks and pair the 14th-ranked offense (116.7) with the 21st-ranked defense (117.2).

This’ll also be Durant’s first home appearance on the floor as a member of the Phoenix Suns, which is sure to bring a raucous crowd.

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