36 unbothered: Kevin Durant finally can be integrated with Phoenix Suns
Sep 21, 2023, 9:00 AM
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.
He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.
Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.
A lot happened this offseason. NBA-wide, all eyes are on the Suns with massive change and great expectations.
So to keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 33 days away from Thursday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will be joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby to dish on 36 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season.
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Erik Ruby: There is not too much left to say about the sheer greatness that Kevin Durant brings to the game of basketball. Actually, scratch that, there IS a lot left to say about it. Think about it this way: if the story of basketball was being told to someone from start to finish and only the most important players and people were mentioned, not a single soul would leave out KD.
His offensive prowess will unlock every player who laces them up next to him, and that was shown repeatedly during Phoenix’s playoff run, as we saw a new level of Devin Booker next to Durant. But it’s not only the superstars who thrive next to Durant, just take a look at how Yuta Watanabe played next to him in Brooklyn. As long as someone works hard, makes the right choices and plays unselfish basketball, playing with Durant will elevate their game.
The NBA’s most versatile scorer will now be paired with two of the league’s most dynamic guards with plenty of shooting and rim-running around them. Imagine trying to guard a Booker/Bradley Beal pick and roll with Durant as the screener, Watanabe and Gordon spacing and Ayton looming down low for a short-roll pass. How can someone defend that? Rotate off of Booker? No. Off Beal? No. Then you’re left with two prolific catch-and-shoot threats to leave open or a center who is very efficient around the rim. Durant and the Suns will have defenses making so many decisions they are sure to be worn down through 48 minutes.
Not only is Durant’s historic dominance on offense something fans will be dazzled by every time steps on the court, his defense can also unlock a lot for the Suns. His over 7-foot stature and lanky limbs bring a level of versatility and adaptability that Frank Vogel will surely maximize. His instincts for the game allow him to be a deadly help defender, his vertical reach has to be reckoned with when driving to the lane, and his sheer length swallows up space on the perimeter.
Above all else, KD loves to hoop. His pure joy radiates when he’s on the court, and he has consistently driven teams to deep playoff success and even championships. He’s an all-time great who is not in his prime as I type this, but he is still in the conversation to be a top-5 player alive right now.
Health is always a worry with the future Hall-of-Famer, but that risk is well worth the reward.
Kellan Olson: To provide my perspective as the guy covering the team, this is the most excited I have been coming into a season. It’s an easy thing to say because this on paper might be the best Suns roster ever but the excitement is more from getting the full Durant experience. To be honest, we got rather ripped off on that last season!
It is bizarre to say given his statistical prowess through it all but the closest we got were the three initial games before the freak accident in pregame warmups. If you watch those games back, even the highlights, it’s clear. Everything looks more natural, even though it was his first moments with his new teammates.
The race to find any continuity in the remaining games following the injury, especially in the postseason, ultimately did both the team and Durant in. Watching him on a game-to-game basis is unlike anything else in the sport and that will quickly become more apparent for Suns fans in the regular season. As one of the greatest postseason performers ever, Durant is coming off two straight underwhelming playoff outings. I’m expecting a particularly dominant campaign, especially considering who his partner in crime is.
Kevin Zimmerman: Let’s frame this from a skeptical point of view: Kevin Durant is 34 years old, has the fifth-most career minutes played of non-retired players, has gone through an Achilles injury that used to be career-ending and is coming off a playoff performance highlighted by him, one of the best scorers ever, basically admitting he was just having a bit of a shooting slump (33% from three).
That postseason saw him average — checks notes — 29 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on 49% overall shooting.
Maybe you believe there is a natural downturn, and the Suns’ trade for Durant was risky — sure it will be because of its length but ask the Rams if winning a Super Bowl is worth being in a bad spot the next few years. But so long as Durant is on the court, he will find a way to impact the game.
Like LeBron James and Chris Paul over the past few years, maybe that means picking his spots. Or maybe it means letting Booker and Beal handle the energy-sucking isolation scorer duties and being more of a playmaker. Or maybe it means playing on the backline of small-ball units to match up with certain teams (Game 1 against the Warriors might tell us a lot about Vogel’s thoughts on this!).
Durant found a way to impact the game in the playoffs last year, namely by bullying into the Clippers and Nuggets when necessary and killing them at the foul stripe while getting them into foul trouble. Greatness will find a way, and watching the evolution of his career, like watching Paul on the Suns the last few years, should be fascinating.
But also, like, Kevin Durant is still really good. He’s yet to play 20 games with Phoenix, and you’d think improving from the starting point of last year makes the ceiling pretty high.