Kram Session: Suns Rise, Fake Knicks Trade, and All-Star Fix

Phoenix is finally healthy, and its offense is nearly unstoppable. Plus Karl-Anthony Towns’ elite historical company, an intriguing Eastern Conference trade deadline club, and more.Each Thursday during the NBA season, we analyze a variety of subjects from across the league. This week, we’re delving deeply into the Phoenix Suns’ incredible offense. Karl-Anthony Towns’ Hall of Fame scoring pedigree, a fictitious New York Knicks trade, why it’s time to increase NBA All-Star lineups, and more. This is the Kram session.Forgive the obvious joke, but the Suns are currently the hottest team in the NBA. After defeating the Mavericks in Dallas on Wednesday, the Suns have seven straight victories and a 26-18 record, tying for seventh in the West.

They were in seventh place in the conference just a week ago, after spending every day since early December in play-in position. But now the Suns are—forgive another obvious pun—on fire, demonstrating why they were among the preseason favorites to win the 2023-24 championship.

Kram Session: Suns Rise, Fake Knicks Trade, and All-Star Fix
Kram Session: Suns Rise, Fake Knicks Trade, and All-Star Fix

The Suns’ surge begins, predictably, with the return to health of their three players. Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal have all played in the Suns’ last nine games after dealing with ailments earlier in the season, providing Frank Vogel’s squad with much-needed consistency as well as the NBA’s highest offensive ceiling.

“The three of them on the floor together are head and shoulders the best offense in the league,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before Phoenix defeated Chicago on a Durant game-winning shot this week.The numbers back up Donovan’s claim. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Suns trio had 535 possessions together, which is a sufficient sample size to draw conclusions—and the results will almost certainly melt your face off.

When Beal, Booker, and Durant play together, the Suns average 135.7 points per 100 possessions, ranking in the top 100th percentile among all lineups with at least 100 possessions. They have a net rating of plus-25.1, which places them in the 100th percentile. They seldom turn the ball over, shoot a lot of free throws, and have a 63 percent effective field goal rate; for comparison, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are at 62 percent this season.

The Suns’ Big Three are essentially the top shooters from every position on the field.Look at those numbers! 52 percent from the midrange! 45 percent from three! I’ve seen teams struggle to shoot well during pregame warm-up exercises.

Kram Session: Suns Rise, Fake Knicks Trade, and All-Star Fix
Kram Session: Suns Rise, Fake Knicks Trade, and All-Star Fix

This was the vision that drove the Suns to trade for Durant last season and then Beal this offseason, giving up youthful talent, financial flexibility, and all of their future first-round picks for high-wattage offensive star power. Phoenix has quickly built an unstoppable offense that creates open looks for elite shooters practically every time it on the court.

Durant and Booker both argue that they are the Suns’ greatest players this season. Durant is fifth among qualifying players in scoring (29.1 points per game) with a 53/45/87 shooting split, while Booker is eighth (27.2 points per game) and leads the team with 7.5 assists per game. In the last week, Booker scored 52 points against the Pelicans and 46 (on only 23 shots!) against the Mavericks.

Beal, meantime, has made the most sacrifice, as is customary for one of three stars in this type of arrangement. The 30-year-old’s usage rate has decreased from 31 percent over his last five seasons in Washington to 23 percent this season, and he’s averaging only 18 points after twice breaking the 30-point-per-game barrier. Nonetheless, his efficiency remains good, as he converts 39 percent of his 3-point tries.

When the Suns use two or all three of their studs in the same action, opposing defenders have no choice. For example, Phoenix may employ a Beal handoff to get Durant the ball on the move while Booker waits in the strongside corner. The defense cannot help Durant off of either guard, allowing him to glide to the hoop for an easy two.

Alternatively, the Suns can target the weak side with rapid ball movement around the perimeter, resulting in a wide-open shot.Grayson Allen, the eventual shooter in that last clip, may be the biggest beneficiary of the Suns’ star power. Allen leads all qualified shooters with a 49 percent mark from distance (Durant is fourth), which would be the highest ever for a player who makes at least five shots each game.

Allen deserves a lot of credit for going from being a throw-in to the trade that brought Jusuf Nurkic to Phoenix in return for Deandre Ayton to becoming an important member of his new team’s nucleus. He’s also capitalized on the notion that defenders would rather leave him open—despite being one of the league’s most accurate 3-point shooters—than his All-Star teammates.

Durant is third from the bottom among all players with at least 100 3-point tries this season, with a wide-open rate of 17 percent, according to an NBA Advanced Stats analysis. (A shot is considered wide open if the nearest defender is at least 6 feet away.). Booker is 10th from the bottom with 25 percent.

What about Allen? He boasts the seventh-highest wide-open rate in the league, with 84 percent of his three-pointers coming with plenty of space. That is his career high rate, despite the fact that he played alongside studs in Milwaukee before moving to Phoenix.

 

 

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