Remember that time when we all went to sleep the night before the NBA’s Trade Deadline thinking that the most important moves wouldn’t be made until the following afternoon, only to wake up and find out that one of the best players in NBA history had just been traded? No? Just me?
Regardless of whether you caught the news before you went to bed or woke up startled by it, Kevin Durant is now a member of the Phoenix Suns.
From a New Orleans Pelicans perspective, this deal is of great significance. One, because the Suns share a conference with us and ostensibly now present an obstacle standing in the way of the team’s potential run to the Finals. And two, because the events of the last year or so have made these two teams bitter rivals.
So, does Durant joining Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the Suns completely tank the Pelicans’ title odds?
First things first, if New Orleans is to have any chance of battling through the murderers’ row that is the Western Conference, they are going to need Zion Williamson to be fully healthy. Period.
Assuming this will be the case come playoff time, even with their new additions, the Suns still present a preferred matchup for the Pelicans.
As many of you are aware, the outcome of a given series is largely contingent on two variables: talent and matchups. With the West as parity-rich as ever, there will be very few series’ that feature a severe gap in talent between one opponent and another.
As a result, most of these games will be determined by how each team matches up against the other. Don’t understand? To expand further, let’s look back at how the Pelicans’ fared in their regular season matchups against Phoenix, specifically when Williamson played.
In their three games against the Suns that Williamson participated in, the team went 2-1, with Williamson averaging 33 PPG/6 RPG/5.3 APG on 77.6% True Shooting and an average +/- of +20.7.
Those are bonkers numbers. But more importantly, it is emblematic of a key weakness in Phoenix’s roster: they don’t have the bodies to pack the paint against Williamson.
Do you know how we know this? Look at his numbers against a team like the Memphis Grizzlies, a team with bruisers like Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams, and Xavier Tillman. In two games against them, his averages fall to 17 PPG/7.0 RPG/2.5 APG on 51.1% True Shooting and an average +/- of -39.8 (mind you, this is a very small sample size).
Durant, despite being a great defender in the midst of an equally great defensive season, does not have the requisite girth to derail Williamson’s paint escapades on his lonesome. This means that the Suns will continue to send multiple bodies at him on his drives, which will lead to great looks for his teammates like this:
Also, losing Mikal Bridges means they no longer have an elite perimeter stopper who can annoy the likes of CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram. While intricacies like this may appear trivial, these little wrinkles matter when it comes time for the playoffs.
Now, this isn’t to say that Phoenix somehow became worse by trading for Durant (they definitely are not) or that the Pelicans with Williamson are unbeatable and completely flawless (please add some shooting!).
It’s just a reminder that the Pelicans shouldn’t panic just because Durant’s on the West Coast now. Because on paper, it looks like they still have the advantage.