Remember when things seemed too quiet last week?
Well, in those moments, you can always count on Kyrie to shake things up.
In a shocking (is anything Kyrie-related shocking anymore, though?) turn of events, the former Nets guard asked for a trade and was subsequently dealt to the Mavs.
That resulted in Kevin Durant being dealt just a few days after.
Let me repeat that.
KEVIN FREAKING DURANT WAS JUST TRADED.
In order to help us all comprehend that news, let’s analyze his fit on the new-look Suns.
KD is now a Sun... what’s going on?!
The NBA really has impeccable timing.
KD’s trade happened just when I was getting ready for bed, resulting in a yelp (or more accurately, a squeal) that likely woke up everyone in my dorm.
This league doesn’t sleep, and I’m sure none of the Suns players did either after finding out the news.
It’s still early, but Phoenix should now be considered to be one of the favorites in the West, alongside Denver. After a brutal stretch in which they went 5-17, the Suns have mostly righted the ship and gone 9-2 since January 19th.
More encouraging is the fact that they’ve managed to get back on track even though Booker’s returned for just one game, and Phoenix’s +4.0 net rating over that stretch is eighth league-wide.
However, their recent success is largely due to a fourth-ranked defense (108.4), as the Suns’ offense has still been abysmal — their 112.4 offensive rating is 21st even during this 9-2 run.
Simply put, this team cannot score without Booker, which is why the addition of KD is so significant. Phoenix’s offense literally goes from what would be the best mark in the league (121.7) to the worst (109) when you look at Booker’s on/off numbers, and even lineups with CP3 playing without Booker rank among the bottom five league-wide (111.3).
Unsurprisingly, KD’s addition changes everything. Brooklyn’s offensive rating when KD played without Kyrie is 122.2 — which ranks in the 94th percentile and even better than those aforementioned Booker lineups.
Defensively, the Suns will undoubtedly miss Mikal Bridges, but they might not take as big of a hit as expected. No, KD is definitely not the individual defender that Bridges is, but as a forward who can sometimes play the five, he occupies a more crucial defensive position.
The numbers back it up too. KD’s been a very good rim protector this season (he’s holding opponents to shooting just 55.6% around the basket, which is the 15th-best mark league-wide and 8.2% lower than their usual average), so the Suns might not slip much defensively, if at all.
I’d be remiss not to mention Cam Johnson, another good player who’s shooting a ridiculous 45% from three, although the sample size is tiny and there’s definitely a dropoff coming. Simply put, the Suns have lost some useful depth in the deal, and their roster wasn’t the deepest to begin with.
Even so, this is an absolute home run of a deal for a Phoenix team looking to win now. The Suns could realistically have a top-10 defense and offense for the rest of the season, which is the hallmark of a legitimate contender. Losing those draft picks might come back and haunt them in the future, but it’ll be worth it if they win a championship.
And considering how wide-open the league is right now, they absolutely have a great chance of doing so.
Kyrie and Dallas: Fourth time’s the charm, right...?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But fool me three times? At that point, I’d probably need to get my memory checked.
Remember, Kyrie has set fire to the Cavs, Celtics, and Nets upon all his departures, so if the Mavs implode, they’ve got no one to blame but themselves.
Due to his talent, though, it was inevitable that some team was going to give him another shot. Off-court issues aside, Kyrie is still an absolute wizard and one of the most electric players in all of basketball.
This season is the third time in Kyrie’s career in which his true shooting percentage is above 60%, which is extremely impressive given that his 30.9% usage rate is in the 97th percentile for his position.
Unsurprisingly, he’s also continued to be one of the most efficient high-volume scorers in the league. Outside of corner threes, Kyrie’s field goal percentage at the rim, from the mid-range, and other long-range spots are all at least in the 66th percentile and above.
None of that is new, though. What we need to know is how he might fit alongside Luka.
Even though he’s played with the likes of LeBron, KD, and Harden, none of Kyrie’s teammates have ever exceeded a usage rate of 34.9%.
Luka, however, is an entirely different animal.
The Slovenian wunderkind has never had a usage rate below 40% outside of his rookie season, and his current workload (42.7%) rivals that of 2016-17 MVP Westbrook and 2018-19 Harden when the latter averaged a whopping 36.1 points per game. Much has been made about Dallas’ lack of reliable ballhandlers behind Luka, but a question remains as to whether or not he even wants to give up the rock.
Remember, the Mavericks haven’t been entirely devoid of talent over the past few years. Porzingis played like an All-Star when he first arrived in Dallas, and Brunson was good last season too. Even with those players, the highest usage rate among all of Luka’s teammates was 25.8% by Porzingis last year, and Kyrie’s usage has never dipped below 30% other than the first year LeBron returned to Cleveland (2014-15).
Regardless, there will definitely be times when the Kyrie-Luka duo looks like the most lethal tandem in the league. They could even have the best offensive rating in the league for the remainder of the season, considering the addition of Kyrie solves their biggest issue: the non-Luka minutes.
Similar to Booker and Phoenix, the Mavs literally go from having what would be the league’s best offense (120.8) to the worst (108.8) when you compare Luka’s on/off stats. Brooklyn, though, still maintained a 116.7 offensive rating (which would be 6th league-wide, ironically tied with the Mavs) when Kyrie played without KD, so Dallas could have the best offensive duo in the league.
Even so, their offense will likely devolve into a my-turn, your-turn situation when both share the court. The Mavs and Nets are both in the bottom half of the league in total passes, and Luka and Kyrie are ranked first and seventh, respectively in the number of isolations run per game.
Sure, there might be a honeymoon period that makes it seem like all parties are happy, but knowing Kyrie, things will inevitably take a turn for the worst. Dallas might’ve raised their ceiling, but it wasn’t a risk worth taking given that the best outcome still wouldn’t result in a championship (defense is still important, you know). They’ve also significantly lowered their floor, and the worst-case scenario would be Kyrie blowing things up (again) and making Luka mad at the organization.
Mavs fans should be incredibly nervous about this deal. Remember, this is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about. Given his track record, Murphy’s law should be renamed the “Kyrie Law” instead.
Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Rejoice, Lakers fans! D-Lo is back on the menu
Let me get this straight: the Lakers dealt one unpopular teammate in Russ to acquire D’Lo, who was previously traded from L.A. because he was also unpopular?
Time The NBA really is a flat circle.
Jokes aside, this is a great deal for the Lakers considering they also received Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt while getting rid of a negative in Russ and only having to give up one additional protected first-round pick.
After a slow start to the season, D’Lo has been flirting with shooting 50/40/90 over the past few months, but there should be lots of skepticism about that lasting. His current true shooting percentage is over 60% when he’s never previously exceeded 56%, and he’s somehow in the 95th percentile for effective field goal percentage (56.9%) when he’s usually only slightly above average.
If D’Lo was 22, this might be a sign of a breakout. But with his 27th birthday coming up, it’s hard to see his recent play as anything but a hot stretch. Add in his questionable defense and decision-making, and I’m not even sure that he can be counted on to close games. Don’t get me wrong: Lakers fans should still be happy about the trade, but it shouldn’t be because of D’Lo.
Rather, the additions of Beasley and Vanderbilt could have a much bigger impact on the team. Beasley is an absolute flamethrower of a shooter and is actually second league-wide in three-point attempts per 36 minutes (11.5), with Klay being the only player launching more from deep (11.6).
Contrary to D’Lo, Beasley’s percentages this season has actually been worse than his career averages. He’s only making 35.9% of his total threes but 38.7% on his wide-open attempts, and there’s no doubt that he’ll get better looks playing with LeBron and AD.
Interestingly, Beasley and D’Lo played together in Minnesota last year and had good chemistry, which is something to watch for moving forward.
D’Angelo Russell & Malik Beasley shouldn’t take long to mesh— Jordan Miranda (@TJmiranda) February 9, 2023
Last season, the Dlo to Beasley connection was the 11th highest assisted 3 point combo in the NBA in just 61 games
Here he is finding Beasley out of a Spain PnR w/ Jarred Vanderbilt #NewLakerspic.twitter.com/QuNsdnWl2R https://t.co/pgWVk3tuXK
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt automatically becomes the Lakers’ best perimeter defender. He’s elite at getting steals, and is more than capable of hounding the opposition’s best wing scorer.
Jarred Vanderbilt this year:— Fake (@LALeBron23) February 9, 2023
• 8.3 PPG
• 7.9 RPG
• 1 SPG
• 55.6% FG
• Only 23 years old
Lakers finally have a wing defender pic.twitter.com/LMVntImvO8
Vanderbilt doesn’t have much of an offensive game and definitely won't help with spacing (he’s shooting one three a game and making 33%), but he’s sneakily a good offensive rebounder (his 10.2% offensive rebounding percentage ranks in the 70th percentile among bigs), which is an area that the Lakers struggle in (they’re 22nd in offensive rebounding percentage at 24.9%).
Overall, this trade doesn’t make L.A. a contender by any means, but they should be a play-in team considering that they’re only two games out of the 10th seed.
Given that LeBron’s 38 and still playing at an All-NBA level, it’ll be a shame to see him miss the playoffs. The man just became the league’s all-time leading scorer and is unquestionably one of the two greatest players to ever play the game.
Regardless of how you feel about him, just make sure to not take his continued dominance for granted.
Thanks for reading! Now, back to processing everything that just happened...