The Mavericks just gave the Suns a preview of the kind of defense they will see in the playoffs

It is often said in the NBA that the regular season is about strengths and the playoffs are about weaknesses. For the new-look Phoenix Suns on Sunday, both were on display for 48 minutes as they faced their biggest test yet of the Kevin Durant era in the form of the similarly revamped Dallas Mavericks.

A glance at the box score will confirm Phoenix’s offensive prowess. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant combined for 73 points on over 64 percent shooting from the field. Not only do the Suns have two of the best offensive players in the NBA, but two of the most lethal players in the midcourt. When the playoffs come and high-value shots are taken elsewhere, those looks become essential. Phoenix is ​​almost unstoppable in that area of ​​the court. It showed against Dallas.

And yet, Dallas led most of the second half. If Luka Doncic’s look on the rim had been a friendly roll, we might have gotten overtime. So how did the Mavericks almost steal this game? They did it with a defensive strategy that Phoenix should expect to see strength of when the postseason arrives and its weaknesses magnified. The Mavericks couldn’t guard Durant or Booker, but them was not protect anyone else.

That’s an important distinction. The Mavericks were so focused on Booker and Durant, and at the same time ignorant of the rest of the Phoenix roster, that they gave almost everyone the freedom to shoot 3-pointers with impunity. How often do you see anyone as open as Torrey Craig for this Durant double?

Do you notice Doncic’s half-hearted calls to Josh Okogie?

Amazingly, even Chris Paul got the non-shooter treatment a few times in the fourth quarter. Tim Hardaway Jr. felt his presence at the rim was needed to serve as a secondary barrier to Booker, and so, the Hall of Fame point guard from Phoenix got one of the cleaner looks of his season, and unlike his teammates for the most part more of the latter. half, actually did it.

Almost every defense is designed to get the best players on a team, but the Mavericks went for it Sunday, and despite the loss, you could credibly argue that the plan worked. Suns not named Durant or Booker shot only 8-of-26 (30.7 percent) from deep in the game. Dallas lost because it couldn’t protect the basket and couldn’t contain the two superstars. There was nothing the Mavericks could have really done to change that given their personnel. The same will be true of the strength of Phoenix’s opponents. The best they can hope for is missing Phoenix’s bad shooters.

And that, for the most part, is what happened. Craig may be over 40 percent from deep this season, but is under 35 percent for his career. Paul has been a solid shooter throughout his career, and he’s had a bit of a rebound year even after shooting below 32 percent last season, but he’s averaging 11.1 career total field goal attempts- low per game. Opponents will want to turn him into a scorer over a playmaker.

And then there’s Okogie, who was only available to Phoenix for minimum salary because of his lack of shooting. A great defender and hustle player, Okogie shot just 27.5 percent from deep in four seasons in Minnesota. He’s over 35 percent in Phoenix, but shot just 1-of-9 on 3-pointers Sunday.

So how did Phoenix overcome its shooting woes? Well, one Suns reserve finally started making his shots. Ish Wainwright didn’t enter the game until late in the third quarter. He stayed on the floor the rest of the game and made four of his opening five 3-pointers.

We’ve already touched one NBA latitude so let’s admit another: it’s a make-or-miss league. That’s true for every team in the NBA. There’s nothing particularly new or novel about leaving bad shooters open and hoping it disrupts the flow of a great offense.

But this type of defense will define Phoenix’s championship push because of the makeup of its roster. The Suns were thin even before they traded for Durant. So far, their rotation consists of:

  • Two superstars (Durant and Booker).
  • A maximum contract center who took six shots on Sunday (DeAndre Ayton).
  • 37-year-old Hall of Fame point guard (Paul).
  • Four soldiers on minimum wage (Okogie, Damion Lee, TJ Warren, Jock Landale).
  • Player converted from last month’s two-way deal (Wainwright).
  • Small to mid-level forward (Craig).
  • Additional sales (Terrence Ross).
  • A backup point guard who almost dropped out of the league before finding a new life in Phoenix (Cameron Payne).

That’s two certainties, two flawed but very valuable contributors, and a lot of question marks. Each has flaws on at least one side of the court, but because of the offensive baseline that Durant and Booker create, Monty Williams is likely to cancel out the defense with his fifth slot. That means a lot of big minutes and more shots for players like Craig, Okogie and Wainwright in the post season.

Craig and Okogie’s missions against Dallas on Sunday proved almost fatal. Wainwright’s clutch buckets saved the day. If the three of them, along with the rest of the Phoenix island of misfit role players, can’t make the shots? The floor will be getting worse for the rest of the Suns, and their playoff push will be in jeopardy. But if they can beat them? The Suns are probably going to win the championship. They didn’t need much to beat Dallas on Sunday, and that should give the rest of the Western Conference a scare as the postseason approaches.

Leave a Reply

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