The New York Knicks will have their blue-chip defense put to the test as they prepare to take on the Phoenix Suns and their imposing offense in tomorrow night’s marquee matchup.
The Suns have battled injuries throughout the 2023-24 NBA season, but now have their big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal all on the floor together once more. The three make up the most potent scoring trio in the league and will be a nightmarish matchup for the Knicks to handle. Can New York lock in and slow down the Suns en route to a needed victory?
The Knicks Must Slow Down Two of the League’s Best 1st Quarter Scorers Early
A major key for the Knicks will be containing the Suns’ triumvirate in the first quarter. Booker has been one of the best first-quarter scorers in the league over the last three seasons, ranking sixth in 2022-23 (8.5 PPG), second in 2021-22 (9.3 PPG) and fourth in 2020-21 (8.3 PPG).
The numbers chronicle Booker’s uncanny ability to come off screens and get to his spots in the midrange, early in the shot clock. When Booker gets the hot hand, it’s hard to slow him down. Much like Booker, Durant also finished in the top five over the last two seasons and wastes little time in beating his defenders and rising up for easy looks.
Along with Beal, the Suns are potent enough to break out to an early lead which will be hard for the Knicks to overcome. It will be imperative for Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau to stress a heightened sense of urgency on defense out of the gates to give their own offense a chance to get going.
Knicks: Will On-Ball Pressure Thwart a Suns Offense Void of a True Point Guard?
With Chris Paul no longer in the fold, the Suns have resorted to deploying Booker and Beal in the backcourt through the first quarter of the season. As a result, Phoenix generates 26.1 assists per contest, making them a middle-of-the-pack team in that area.
Beal serves as their best playmaker when all three All-Stars are on the floor at the same time. While shifty with the basketball, Beal is more of a scorer than a distributor. Durant and Booker, while elite scorers, often catch a rhythm feeding off of sound playmaking in halfcourt sets.
The Knicks may want to entertain ball denial off of the inbounds to make life difficult for Beal and the rest of the Suns’ ball handlers. New York will need Quentin Grimes to play well as their best on-ball defender despite battling a reduced role in the rotation.
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Forcing Tough Looks and Keeping the Suns Out of the Paint Will Better the Knicks’ Chances of Winning
The Suns are a very efficient offensive team. They are fourth in three-point percentage (38.2 percent) and free throw percentage (83.5 percent). Conversely, despite a stout defense, the Knicks are allowing opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc, good for No. 20 among all teams, but do commit the third-fewest personal fouls at 17.8 a night.
The Knicks may catch a break as sharpshooters Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen are both listed as Gametime Decisions. Regardless, the Suns’ big three in conjunction with Yuta Watanabe and floor-spaacing center Jusuf Nurkic have the firepower to light it up from deep.
Nurkic has a feathery touch around the rim but struggles to corral passes off of the pick-and-roll, often leading to turnovers. The Suns as a unit do well in converting points in the paint. Without the services of Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, Jericho Sims, and Julius Randle will have added pressure to protect the rim.
The Knicks have the size and defensive chops to limit the Suns. Durant, Booker, and Beal have not had much run together either. Disrupting their quest at developing continuity while executing a strong defensive game plan will give them the best shot at improving to 14-10 and re-entering playoff seeding in the East.