OffRtg: 113.4 (18) DefRtg: 112.0 (7) NetRtg: +1.4 (10) Pace: 98.7 (22)
Devin Booker returned from a 21-game absence on Tuesday and the Suns got a new owner on Wednesday. But those two events were just a prelude to the trade that brought Kevin Durant to Phoenix. This team is going to be near impossible to stop, because you’re either going to give up mid-range shots to elite mid-range shooters or you’re going to bend your defense away from one of the best offensive players in the world. If teams switch, the focus could turn to Deandre Ayton’s ability to play big against smaller defenders. Consistency in that regard has been an issue, but Ayton was terrific against Durant’s old team on Tuesday, scoring a season-high 35 points (on 14-for-18 shooting) and grabbing 15 rebounds (six on the offensive glass) in a four-point win.
“It’s not just him being big in the paint,” Monty Williams said afterward (and before the Durant trade). “It’s him being able to read when he’s in there for two seconds and then he gets out, and then he gets himself ready for an offensive rebound. I think that’s the next-level step that, maybe, we didn’t have in years past.”
Despite Ayton’s efficiency, the Suns rank just 22nd offensively (112.1 points scored per 100 possessions) over their last 13 games. But they’ve won 10 of the 13, because their defense has been terrific and because they’re back to being clutch. They’ve won six of their last seven games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having held their opponents to just 42 points on 48 clutch possessions over that stretch.
We’ll have to wait until after the All-Star break before we see Durant with his new team, but the Suns have two huge games this week, hosting the Kings and Clippers on Tuesday and Thursday. The Suns are the only team that’s undefeated (8-0) within its division, and they’ve held the Clippers under a point per possession over two meetings (one with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, one without them) thus far.
Week 18: vs. SAC, vs. LAC