One play shows why Kevin Durant’s return makes the Suns Western Conference favorites

Suns #1

Kevin Durant is back.

After suffering an ankle injury during a pregame warm-up in early March, the 13-time All-Star will return on Wednesday when the Suns host the Timberwolves. It will be Durant’s fourth game in a Suns uniform and his first game in Phoenix since the Blockbuster trade.

While Durant and the Suns don’t have much time to get on the same page before hoping to hit a deep postseason run, there was a track from his debut that tells you everything you need to know about, how many headaches he has. Devin Booker and Chris Paul will be for teams.

You know what that means – to the movie room!


The game

Paul sets up Booker for a wide open 3-pointer.

Tear down

Paul puts the ball up for the Suns after a jump from Hornets big man Mark Williams.

The Suns overload the right side of the court with Booker, Josh Okogie and Deandre Ayton. That clears the left side for Paul to pick and roll with Durant.

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Durant defenseman Gordon Hayward hedges the pick-and-roll, likely to prevent Paul from rounding the corner and pulling himself up from the elbow, where he’s automatic. The problem? That leaves Durant unguarded for a split second because Terry Rozier doesn’t want to switch to him for an obvious reason — there’s only so much a 6ft-1 guard can do to disrupt the 6ft-10 Durant.

To keep Durant from rolling to the layup, a third defenseman, Kelly Oubre Jr., gets involved.

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The Hornets are so focused on Paul and Durant that Booker, a three-time All-Star averaging 28.1 points per game this season, is now being defended by — wait, nobody?

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Booker started possession at the baseline, but he curves a pair of down screens from Okogie and Ayton for an open 3-pointer. He misses the shot, but in situations like this he’s as good as it gets.

Not only is Booker among the leaders in terms of off-screen points this season, he’s also converting those opportunities at a rate of 1.24 points per possession, which places him in the 89th percentile. He’s also connected in 45.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers. That’s also one of the best grades in the league.

Long story short, the Suns will be pretty happy with this:

Suns #4

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Why it matters

I mean what are you supposed to do? It’s the classic prisoner’s dilemma, choose your own adventure, choose your poison, etc. kind of stuff.

  • Had Hayward not hedged, Paul probably would have gotten to the elbow, where again he is automatic.
  • Had Rozier switched, Durant would have had a mismatch in the post, which is also where he is automatically.
  • Had Oubre not helped, the Hornets would have been in danger of a 7-footer rolling into the basket for a layup or dunk.

Three different ways to defend a pick and roll. No clear answer.

Sun’s offense with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul

It’s just one game, but it shows the impossible decisions teams must make when Durant, Booker and Paul are on the court together. Small sample size, of course, but the Suns averaged 136.2 points per 100 possessions in the first three games they played together with the three on the court.

Consistent? Absolutely not. (That would be the best offensive rating ever at a country mile.) But Durant, Booker and Paul give the Suns the firepower that few — if any — teams in the Western Conference will have a chance to slow down.

Suns vs. Western Conference competitors

Let’s break down these matchups one by one.

The Suns are a nightmare match for the Nuggets because they have not one, not two, but three of the best midrange shooters in NBA history that thrive against drop coverage. And drop coverage with Nikola Jokic is what Denver is doing.

The Clippers have perimeter size to attack them, but Paul George’s injury makes them a huge unknown.

The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA all season.

The Grizzlies have been one of the best defensive teams, but they’re missing two rotation players in Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, and it’s safe to assume they’d target Ja Morant much like they did against Luka Doncic in last season’s playoffs . Even should Adams return, he faces some of the same defensive limitations as Nikola Jokic.

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The warriors are another huge unknown. On the one hand, they are the defending champions and have a core that has proven they can beat anyone. On the other hand, they’ve struggled on the road all season and haven’t been nearly as dominant defensively. If you think they can make it back to the finals, it’s probably based on what they’ve accomplished in the past rather than what they’ve done this season.

It’s not like the suns don’t have their own troubles. Injuries are a big deal. Durant and Booker have both missed significant stretches this season, and injuries can hit Paul at the worst of times. depth too. The Suns sacrificed real depth to acquire Durant. After Durant, Booker, Paul and Ayton come the likes of Okogie, Torrey Craig, Landry Shamet and Terrence Ross – valuable role players but ones with clear limitations on one side of the court. Teams will absolutely copy what Dallas did earlier this season by ignoring Phoenix’s shakier shooters.

If Durant, Booker and Paul are healthy, however, it will be difficult to bet against the Suns as the three complement each other well offensively. That one play where Durant misses the ball and Booker misses a wide open shot tells you all you need to know about their championship potential.

Dave Gallo

Dave Gallo is a pioneering sports analytics expert, renowned for his revolutionary work in AI-driven sports simulations, projections, and advanced statistical analysis. With a profound passion for sports and technology, he crafts cutting-edge computer models that accurately predict outcomes. Dave's game-changing insights have reshaped strategy, player evaluation, and decision-making across various sports. His dynamic presentations make complex analytics accessible and inspiring, ensuring his legacy as a visionary in sports analytics. Check out Dave's Pick Record.

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