The Suns’ new dimensions flashed in Kevin Durant’s debut, beating the Hornets

Empire of the Suns

Updated: March 1, 2023 at 8:49 pm

It was Kevin Durant’s first game with the Phoenix Suns, and he was under minute control, but the upside that drives him in the Valley left him out of Wednesday’s 105-91 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

In what was going to be a multi-step process and was nothing more than a sneak peek against a woeful 20-44 Hornets team, the energy shined through Wednesday. Not the way we were talking about Dragon Bender or Josh Jackson flashing five years ago.

Durant contributed 23 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 27 minutes.

Offensively, one of the new dimensions is pretty simple.

The greatest goal scorer of all time can get his shot in anytime and leave defenses hopeless.

Durant got his pull-up jumper in a few different ways in the first half.

Phoenix fed Durant in the post a few times, drawing double teams from the Hornets and trying to avoid a lack of confidence. Durant expected the perfect game out of those situations.

In the coming weeks, we’ll see the Suns layer some Durant decoys into their complex offense. Here’s an example, Durant screening for Chris Paul on the empty pick-and-rolls we previewed to trigger a Durant post-up, only to set up Devin Booker to explode for an open 3 on the other side.

The set starts with Booker running the floor and getting a screen from Durant, so Booker was actually the first decoy, an example of how complicated the Suns can make this.

The possibilities are intriguing on defense, which will surprise many, but they may not be surprised to see Durant in action on Wednesday.

Durant highlighted during his introductory press conference how he wants his defense to feed his offense. You won’t find a better example than this.

Durant switched to Charlotte center Mark Williams, allowing Ayton to specialize in perimeter defense while Durant handles a finish around the rim with ease. Someone like Cam Johnson gets replaced and they’ll be in a tough spot. Durant allows the defense to maintain its structural integrity in that type of situation.

His length creates options.

The Suns spent some of the first half experimenting with a more aggressive defensive scheme. Because of how ridiculous the big Durant is, when small forwards like Torrey Craig and TJ Warren play, that’s a huge lineup.

Here’s a look at how Durant helps shut down the entire Hornet possession.

Phoenix occasionally had their big “show,” meaning the Suns’ center got into a ball-screen position to cut off the ball-handler’s driving lane. It’s something that head coach Monty Williams and his staff haven’t done much with Ayton in the past, but you know what helps?

Another seven tip to protect the paint.

The Suns responded to the game plan to take a 19-point lead over Charlotte in the first half.

The Hornets clawed their way back into the game, however, trailing by just six through three quarters.

Enter Durant.

After minutes on the Phoenix bench, he anchored the offense with nine points over 2:46 to keep the Suns up by 11.

Watch him zoom in on his first step in the first and last buckets of these clips.

Knee feels good to me!

That’s when Booker rests. Imagine that?

At 12:15 of game time, Durant was on the floor without Booker, who was 7-of-9 for 16 points and the Suns +12. They don’t come close to that level of protection when the owner’s face is seated.

There was no rest for Booker, who finished 15-of-26 from the field for 37 points, six rebounds, seven assists and one turnover.

It was a return to form for the first-team All-NBA guard, who averaged just 23.3 points per game in six games since his first game back from injury. to know.

Durant’s presence can do just that. He’s dealt with a lot of pressure in his career and it’s relieved his teammates. As a superstar, all accolades and reviews always come first for him. That won’t change in Phoenix.

Everyone is talking about Durant and when he’s going to debut. He did, and during that time, you were primarily focused on him, right?

Durant also makes Deandre Ayton’s role a lot easier, and the big man was solid in Charlotte with 16 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and a block with sound defensive play.

Josh Okogie got the nod as the fifth starter. He was part of that defensive destruction and has a block to go with two steals and four points.

Durant’s minute restriction and the absence of Terrence Rose (sore right leg) denied us the opportunity to clarify what Durant’s post-Sun rotation might look like.

Durant played roughly the first six minutes of each quarter and then sat out all but the last three plays of the game. Craig, Jack Landale, Damian Lee and Cam Payne all got 15 minutes off the bench. With Ish Wainwright as the second wing off the bench, Williams turned to Warren for the first time in three games. Warren scored two points in 13 minutes.

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