Following a ten-game absence due to a sprained ankle, Kevin Durant made his long-awaited home debut for the Suns last week. The Suns struggled at times without Durant but were able to win just enough games to keep themselves from falling into the play-in. The Suns now enter the home stretch with the four seed locked up and must focus on getting to the playoffs healthy.
Of equal import for the Suns will be building up some chemistry with Durant before the playoffs begin. After all, if KD plays in each of the Suns’ last three games, he’ll have only played in ten total. It’s fair to wonder if that’ll be enough time to lay the foundation for a deep playoff run, but many factors are working in the Suns’ favor.
Feeling bullish on Durant and the Suns
The biggest reason for my optimism is the unique nature of Durant as a superstar. So many stars require the entire team to be built around them, both schematically and in terms of personnel, but that has never been the case with Durant. He’s excelled in several roles, from a high-usage, ball-dominant player that initiates the offense to a more complimentary off-ball player.
In his short time with the Suns, we’ve seen that not much has changed in terms of the way they play. Devin Booker has had his numbers skyrocket in Durant’s games. Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton have seen their numbers dip a bit, but the Suns’ offense still revolves around their pick-and-roll game, even if they’re not scoring as much as we’re used to. Those two were the ones to put the finishing touches in Wednesday’s game against Minnesota, while Durant and Booker took a back seat.
The other part of the equation is that Booker, Ayton, and Paul have been together for years and are adept at playing off one other. It’s a lot easier to integrate one player when the others are already so familiar with each other.
The west is wide open this year for Phoenix to fly in
The fact Phoenix could hold onto the four seed despite a mediocre 4-6 record in Durant’s absence because none of the other West teams in their vicinity played remotely well during that period, either.
That’s been the story of the conference the entire year. Virtually every team, but especially the ones the Suns are likely to face in the first round, has dealt with injuries, struggled to acclimate new players, and every other issue under the Sun. The Suns would be at a disadvantage in any other year, but in a year where the only consistency is inconsistency in the West, they’ll be on an even playing field.
The most negative impact we’ll see from KD playing so few games is in the rotations around the stars. With guys like Terrence Ross and TJ Warren also being new to the team, we don’t have a great idea of what lineup combinations are effective just yet, especially when Durant is staggered with bench units.
It seems like Monty is well aware of this, though, as he’s been throwing everything but the kitchen sink on the floor in these games with Durant. These last few games might be enough time to settle on some rotations as we head into the playoffs.
There is no precedent for a star the caliber of KD getting traded, let alone getting traded and playing so few games before the playoffs. As such, it’s hard to tell what kind of effect this will have, but with Durant’s uncanny adaptability, and a wild West, the Suns have a chance to set a high bar.