Kevin Durant is one of the best scorers in the NBA, and the trade that sent him from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns has immediately changed the outlook for those two teams and could rearrange the Western Conference playoff picture.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks (1 p.m. ET on ABC), the Suns are in fourth place in the West. Durant has yet to play for Phoenix — he’s expected to make his debut Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets — but the Suns have already become the betting favorite in the West despite Durant’s absence and their relatively low place in the standings.

That optimism is largely fueled by Durant’s arrival, giving Phoenix the most intimidating group of offensive talent in the NBA. As good as Durant’s Brooklyn teammates were on offense, the setup in Phoenix has a higher ceiling. Devin Booker is averaging 26.5 points per game, which would rank 13th in the league if he played enough games to qualify, and he’s now the team’s second option. Chris Paul, one of the best point guards of the 21st century, has been picking apart defenses at elite levels for over a decade — and that was without Durant and Booker patrolling the wings.

With all due respect to Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick, this should be the best offense Paul has ever played with. But this won’t be Lob City. Phoenix is now Middy City.

Mastering the midrange

Over the past five-plus seasons, the average 2-point jumper yields 0.84 points, while the average paint shot yields 1.17 points and the average 3-point try produces 1.08 points, per Second Spectrum tracking.

As this math has become common knowledge throughout the NBA, offensive strategies have famously emphasized taking more 3s and layups. But at the same time, defensive strategies have evolved; coaches are more content than ever to watch opponents rise for 2-point jumpers because the math says that’s a win for the defense.

But that conventional wisdom will not apply against Durant and this Suns squad.

Over that same time span, only four NBA players have made at least 1,000 2-point jump shots, according to Second Spectrum tracking. With Durant joining Booker and Paul, the Suns now have three of the four on their roster (Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan is the other).

This season, the trio of Durant, Booker and Paul is taking 20.7 2-point jumpers combined per game — more than any entire team in the league. Phoenix will threaten defenses in a unique way, and its superstars are each able to harvest elite offensive efficiency in places that modern defenses don’t vigorously defend.

Durant is averaging 1.24 points on his 2-point jump shots this season — nearly 50% higher than the league average and more than Klay Thompson, one of the league’s best shooters, produces on his average 3-point shot.

With Booker and Paul, the Suns have already been one of the NBA’s most midrange-heavy offenses. Adding Durant to the mix will not only add to that, but it will continue to warp how NBA defenses handle this team.

Offenses conducted by Paul always get clean looks, and Paul will continue to generate tons of great shots out of offensive sets, but Durant and Booker can generate them without much help as well.

Durant’s off-the-charts production

Durant is the best midrange shooter in the modern era. There are others who can stake a claim to that title — megastars like Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant — but the numbers make the case that Durant stands alone.

Over the past 25 seasons, there have been nearly 1,700 instances of a player taking at least 250 midrange field goal attempts in a season. Among that group, there are only three instances of a player shooting 55% from the midrange in a season:

  • 2022-23 Kevin Durant

  • 2021-22 Kevin Durant

  • 2018-19 Kevin Durant

Durant is a skyscraper in the deserted midrange. His height provides him with vistas to the rim against virtually any other player athletic enough to keep up with his movements.

For a player of his size, Durant is unprecedented as a ball handler. He doesn’t just have “guard skills” — he has elite skills that almost any guard in the NBA would love to have. The combination of his length, his handles and his kinematic fluidity enables him to dribble into his own buckets anywhere on the court.

The ease and precision of Durant’s jumper provides any team fortunate to have him with ridiculous levels of self-generated offense in half-court settings.

Over the past 10 seasons, an average unassisted nontransition shot in the NBA has been worth 1.01 points. In that same time frame, Durant’s 5,747 attempts have yielded 1.19 points on average. In other words, Durant is offensive efficiency in a can. Or, as he might say, he is easy money.

Only DeRozan and Brandon Ingram are dribbling into more jumpers per game this season than Durant, but that’s just the beginning. Among the 63 players who have dribbled into at least 100 jumpers this season, Damian Lillard ranks second by producing 1.13 points per shot — Durant is at 1.34! He is such an absurd outlier, that we need another chart.

Durant is in the midst of a historic offensive season — he is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average 25 points on 55% shooting from the field and 90% from the line — and his arrival in Arizona immediately makes his new team a title contender. We’ve already seen how Durant’s ridiculous numbers translate deep into the playoffs.

Over the past nine postseasons, only LeBron James and Stephen Curry have scored more total points than Durant, whose 29.4 points per playoff game rank fourth all-time (behind Jordan, Luka Doncic and Allen Iverson). A two-time Finals MVP, Durant raises his game in the Finals, where he’s averaging 30.3 PPG, again fourth, behind only Rick Barry, Jordan and Jerry West.

His scoring numbers get a lot of attention, but Durant has also become an elite defender. His feel for the game and his length enable him to read and defend opposing scorers as well as almost anyone in the sport.

This season, 137 players have contested at least 500 shots. Among that massive group, Durant ranks second by holding shooters to a field goal percentage of just 39.8%. Only Draymond Green, a former Defensive Player of the Year, has been better.

When he has been healthy, Durant has been one of the greatest players of the era, but any analysis of his impact on the Suns unfortunately must also account for injuries. In the 2010s, Durant played in an average of 69.5 games per season, but after tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2019 Finals, he has appeared in an average of only 32.5 in the 2020s. Sunday’s game will be the 20th in a row he has missed due to a sprained MCL in his right knee.

Durant’s availability for this year’s stretch run is one of the great X factors in the chase for the 2023 NBA championship. If he, Paul and Booker all remain healthy, Phoenix has a great chance of winning the organization’s first NBA championship.

Matt Williams of ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

Source by [author_name]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *