Each week during the season, NBA.com writer John Schuhmann surveys the league to compile stats and notes for his in-depth Power Rankings. Before the next rankings drop on Monday, here are some of the storylines he’s keeping an eye on this weekend.
We’re four weeks past the trade deadline, a good time to dive into some notes and film regarding players who changed teams last month …
1. Good luck defending the Suns
The biggest deal of the deadline was Kevin Durant being sent to Phoenix. Unfortunately, Durant has played just three games in his four weeks with his new team. He missed the first six games after being acquired from Brooklyn as he recovered from a knee injury, and was a late scratch on Wednesday after turning his ankle in his pregame workout. And if it was a serious ankle injury, Durant could be out for a while.
The Suns are 3-0 with Durant in uniform, and they’ve outscored their opponents by an amazing 21.3 points per 100 possessions in his 98 minutes on the floor. About 2/3 of those minutes have come alongside both Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and the Suns have outscored their opponents by 44 points (33.1 per 100 possessions) in the 63 minutes that all three stars have been on the floor together.
But over the three games, Durant has been the one (of those three) to play the most minutes without the other two. He’s gone to the bench first and then begun the second and fourth quarters on the floor while Paul and Booker rested. And in 23 minutes with Durant on the floor without the other two, the Suns and their opponents have each scored an efficient 59 points on 45 possessions. (Booker also played 18 minutes without the other two over those three games.)
With all three on the floor, the Suns are nearly impossible to guard, in part because defenses won’t want to leave one guy to help on another.
When Durant got a step on Tim Hardaway Jr. and hit a pull-up jumper to beat the Mavs on Sunday, Reggie Bullock was in a position where he could have helped and prevented Durant from getting to an open spot on the floor. But Bullock didn’t want to help off Booker, who was stationed on the wing …
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Paul got a similarly-open pull-up from the free throw line when Hardaway abandoned his help at the nail, retreating back to cover Durant.
On that game-winner, Durant went quickly upon making the catch, because Kyrie Irving was coming with a double-team. The Mavs doubled Durant often down the stretch of that game, and with Booker passing the ball to Durant in the post, the double-teamer came off of Booker. But the Mavs would rotate, and if the Suns swung the ball to an open man on the weak side, it was Chris Paul or Ish Wainwright.
The Suns went to their closing lineup with more than eight minutes left on Sunday, and over the ensuing 15 possessions, Paul and Wainwright attempted six open 3-pointers. A couple of those came off a play that the Suns ran three times down the stretch of that game.
Either Durant or Booker would dribble from the right side of the floor off two screens and then hand the ball to the other, who would come out of the left corner and use a Deandre Ayton screen to get back to the middle of the floor …
If the screens work, or if the defense doesn’t switch perfectly, somebody’s going to be left open on this play. Sometimes, it’ll be the guy coming out of the corner (Booker above) having a pull-up jumper from the mid-range. Sometimes (if Ayton’s man steps up) it’ll be Ayton rolling to the rim. Sometimes (if Durant’s man sinks to tag the roll man) it’ll be the initial ball-handler on the left wing.
In the play above, Christian Wood is in drop coverage and Josh Green stays attached to Durant on the weak side. But to keep Booker from getting to a foul-line pull-up, Hardaway is at the nail, leaving Paul open on the right wing.
Paul passes up the open 3-pointer to swing the ball to a similarly open Wainwright in the corner. Irving closes out hard, the Mavs show help, and they’re actually able to reset after two more passes …
But that’s where the Suns’ individual talent takes over. Booker beats Reggie Bullock off the dribble, Hardaway again helps at the nail, and Paul is more open than he was initially …
While Booker and Durant are going to get the bulk of the shots when the Suns are healthy, how well their teammates shoot open 3-pointers will remain critical. Over their three games with both of their stars, Suns not named Booker or Durant shot just 24-for-73 (32.9%) from 3-point range.
With Booker scoring 44 points and with Paul and Terrence Ross combining to shoot 10-for-15 from 3-point range, the Suns beat the Thunder without Durant on Wednesday. They’re comfortably in the top four in the Western Conference (three games ahead of the fifth-place Warriors) and have a chance to move up. They have two games remaining against the second-place Sacramento Kings, with the first of those in Phoenix on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, League Pass).
2. Not enough defense in Dallas
With their loss in New Orleans on Wednesday (in which Luka Doncic left in the third quarter with a thigh injury), the Mavs are 3-6 with both Irving and Doncic in the lineup. They’ve actually outscored their opponents by 13 points over those nine games, because the six losses have been by a total of 24 points. In total, eight of their nine games with both Doncic and Irving have been within five points in the last five minutes.
As was predicted, the Mavs have been great offensively (121.1 points scored per 100 possessions) and bad defensively (120.1 allowed per 100) over those nine games. The defense hasn’t been terrible (113.5 allowed per 100) in the 232 minutes that Irving and Doncic have been on the floor together. But it’s been very terrible in the minutes that Doncic has been on the floor without Irving …
Mavs’ efficiency, 9 games with both Doncic and Irving
|Doncic + Irving||232||120.6||113.5||+7.2||+43|
|Doncic, no Irving||87||106.4||132.8||-26.4||-48|
|Irving, no Doncic||113||132.7||122.1||+10.7||+18|
|1 without the other||200||120.8||126.9||-6.0||-30|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Some of that is opponent 3-point shooting: 30.3% in the minutes they’ve been on the floor together, 40.3% in the Doncic-only minutes. And maybe those numbers will regress toward each other in time. But overall, Mavs opponents have shot worse from 3-point range (34.3%) in their nine games with both Irving and Doncic than they have otherwise (35.5%). The bigger issue over those games has been in the paint, where opponents have shot 64.7% in those nine games, compared to just 58.9% otherwise.
The Mavs have also had offensive issues down the stretch of their eight close games, scoring just 26 points on 30 offensive possessions (86.7 per 100) with the score within three points in the last three minutes. But their overall clutch numbers (score within five in the last five) have been worse on defense (94 points allowed on 74 clutch possessions, 127.0 per 100) than on offense (79 scored on 70 clutch possessions, 112.9 per 100).
Before Doncic returned from his previous injury, the Mavs went 2-0 with Irving, beating the Clippers and Kings on the road. And Irving without Doncic may be what they have for the foreseeable future, depending on the severity of Doncic’s injury.
Three of the Mavs’ next five games area against a team – the Memphis Grizzlies – that’s going through its own struggles. The two teams will play in Memphis on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) and then in Dallas on Monday (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
3. Early returns on Russ are mixed
The LA Clippers lost their first five games with Russell Westbrook, a stretch that included two of their six worst offensive performances of the season. They’ve since won two straight, an offensive win over the shorthanded Grizzlies and more of a defensive win over Toronto on Wednesday.
Interestingly, over the seven games, they’ve been much better with Westbrook on the floor (plus-2.3 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-13.8 per 100). And the bigger difference has been on offense, even though Westbrook has shot just 6-for-21 (29%) from 3-point range with his new team.
But their 142 minutes with Westbrook, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the floor together have not been good, especially offensively. They’ve been outscored by 6.1 points per 100 possessions, scoring just 109.1 per 100, in those minutes. And we saw early and often in the Clippers’ loss at Golden State (their worst offensive game of the season) how defenders will leave him alone on the perimeter to clog the paint and help on other actions …
Terance Mann, who started the Clippers’ last 21 games before the All-Star break, has played just 26 total minutes alongside George and Leonard over these last seven games. And with Ivica Zubac having missed four of the seven games, the Clips’ pre-break starting lineup (which is a plus-14.8 per 100 possessions in 142 total minutes) hasn’t played together at all.
The Clips have scored a ridiculously efficient 138.4 points per 100 possessions in 71 minutes with Westbrook on the floor with one or neither of the team’s other two stars. But it should be noted that half of those minutes came last Friday, when the Clips played the Kings’ 25th-ranked defense without Leonard.
That was the second game of a back-to-back, and the Clips have three more back-to-backs left on their schedule, though the next one isn’t until next Saturday and Sunday (March 18-19). Right now, the Clippers are two games into a five-game homestand, set to host the New York Knicks on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, League Pass).
Josh Hart has clearly made an impact in New York. Before losing to Charlotte on Tuesday, the Knicks won their first nine games with their new addition. And over their 10 total games with Hart, they’ve been 19.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-18.7) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-1.1).
Five of those 10 games have been within five points in the last five minutes, and though Hart isn’t a starter, he’s one of two Knicks – Julius Randle is the other – that have been on the floor for clutch minutes in all five of those games. He was guarding Jayson Tatum for almost all of the 15 clutch minutes in the Knicks’ double-overtime win on Sunday and got a couple of big stops, both on Tatum …
… and on Jaylen Brown …
Hart’s shooting (14-for-23 from 3-point range with the Knicks) will surely regress over the next few weeks. But he’s not in New York to be a shooter, but rather to defend, rebound and put his team in a position to win games. So far, he’s done exactly that.
The Knicks’ recent success has been more about their offense, though they rank ninth defensively since they made the Hart addition. And their defense will be challenged when they begin a four-game trip in Sacramento on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, TNT).
- Mikal Bridges has averaged 26.5 points per game over his 10 games with the Nets, and he’s done it efficiently. His true shooting percentage with his new teams (66.5%) is the sixth-best mark among 24 players who’ve averaged at least 25 points since the trade deadline.
- Dorian Finney-Smith hasn’t been so hot. He’s 13-for-55 (24%) from 3-point range since the trade deadline, the third-worst mark among 136 players with at least 35 3-point attempts over that stretch.
- The Nets‘ new starting lineup – Spencer Dinwiddie, Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Nic Claxton – has allowed just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, the fifth-best mark among 86 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. But there’s definitely been some luck involved, with their opponents having shot just 28.2% from 3-point range and 64.7% from the free throw line with that lineup on the floor. The latter number is the lowest opponent free throw percentage among 75 lineups that have been on the floor for at least 50 opponent free throw attempts.
- The Lakers have allowed just 98.7 points per 100 possessions in 179 total minutes with Jarred Vanderbilt and Anthony Davis on the floor together. That’s the best on-court mark among 326 two-man combinations that have played at least 150 total minutes since the deadline.
- Jakob Poeltl has an effective field goal percentage of 72.9% with the Raptors, up from 61.6% in his 46 games with the Spurs and the second-best mark among 151 players with at least 75 field goal attempts since the trade deadline. In his time with the team, the Raps have also allowed an amazing 13.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with Poeltl on the floor (105.8) than they have with him off the floor (119.0).
- The Nuggets have been worse with Nikola Jokic off the floor (minus-13.1 points per 100 possessions) in their 10 games with Thomas Bryant than they were prior (minus-10.9 per 100). Bryant’s 125 minutes with the Nuggets are the most any player has played for a single team without recording a single assist.
- Jalen McDaniels has attempted half as many 3-pointers per 36 minutes with the Sixers (1.9) than Matisse Thybulle did (3.8).
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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