36 unbothered: How Suns’ new Big 3 needs to develop chemistry

Sep 23, 2023, 8:15 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2023, 7:57 am

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns high fives Devin Booker #1 after scoring against the Denver Nu...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns high fives Devin Booker #1 after scoring against the Denver Nuggets during Game Four of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals at Footprint Center on May 07, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Nuggets 129-124. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/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 31 days away from Saturday, 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.

Previously –

Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something

Day 31: Big 3 chemistry

Kellan Olson: It’s rare to know when you are at the ground floor of something that is probably going to be special. That is all of us collectively watching this Suns team, from the start of training camp up until the start of the postseason.

I’m getting cheesy here to magnify how we get to watch Booker, Durant and Bradley Beal develop continuity from scratch. Booker and Durant didn’t even get 20 games together, and that was a scattered mess in terms of the hyper-specific part of the sport we’re talking about. Three games, long break, five meaningless games at the end of the regular season and then thrown into 11 at the highest level.

It’s not going to be perfect and will have bumps along the way. But how the three of them balance not only running the offense but ensuring they all stay involved in it too is going to be the secret to all of this. They cannot simply rely on the times when they aren’t on the court together to go get theirs.

If the three of them figure that out by Christmas, this is the best team in the NBA by a considerable margin. If it takes until the trade deadline or longer, requiring nearly the whole regular season to have it all click, then they won’t reap the benefits as quickly. The trio has the required mindset to maximize it, which is why it’s so exciting.

Erik Ruby: There is not a doubt in my mind that Booker, Beal and Durant will have fun playing basketball together this season. Put all the potential wins, personal accolades and maybe even a ring aside, these three could pull up to a park, shoot that orange sphere together and go home fulfilled. At their cores, the “Big 3” all fall under the same category, “hoopers.” Some might not think that would translate into success at the highest level, but I believe it could be the Suns’ biggest advantage.

“There is only one ball!”

Yup, that annoying phrase has been used since the creation of multi-superstar teams in the NBA, but I couldn’t be less worried about that with Phoenix. At the end of the day, Booker, Beal and Durant want to win, and they all know that in order to do that on the highest level, they have to sacrifice. Durant still looked unstoppable when sacrificing some of his game when he played on the Warriors. Devin Booker hit another level when he sacrificed his on-ball reps when Chris Paul showed up. Just because someone must sacrifice one part of their game, it doesn’t mean they have to be a less impactful player. And as those three each find their special ways to amplify the others’ talent, their connection on and off the court should thrive.

Not to mention, Booker’s and Durant’s off-court demeanor are more than lined up with each other. Beal is also more lowkey off the court than some of the other premier scorers in the league, and I imagine them all getting along fine. Chemistry is, and will always be, a critical element to a basketball team’s success on any level. Teams with lower levels of talent that have better chemistry consistently give teams on the opposite ends of both spectrums trouble, but if you get a “Big 3” and surround them with high-level role players and complementary talent, that chemistry turns into a deadly edge.

Of course, that is if all goes the way it is expected to, and despite my confidence that it will turn out that way, that doesn’t happen in professional sports 100% of the time.

Kevin Zimmerman: It said a lot that Kevin Durant forced his way to Phoenix wanting to play with Devin Booker. Bradley Beal, to some degree with his no-trade clause, did the same before he flat-out called the Suns Booker’s team during his introduction to Phoenix.

There won’t be head-butting, but there will inevitably be a learning curve to this. The Suns can hope that the learning curve looks something like all three players shooting well above their career averages to start. To be honest, these guys are too good of shooters to not find it easy. And if anyone is slumping like Durant at points last season, it’ll be even less pressure to get out of that slump with two other guys who are probably going to be scoring just fine on the court alongside.

To be honest, I’m curious how the Big 3 develops on defense. One of them, at minimum, will have to take on an elite scorer each game. Surely teams will target and test the Frank Vogel-led defense. That is the only place where I could see this going south. If it’s south enough to where this team is floating around .500 or so for half the year — even in a loaded Western Conference — then I could see some room for attitudes to sour quickly and fans to become worried about this grand experiment. Chances of that? Maybe 15%.

But again, that ain’t going to be about how those three players perform on offense. They’ll be fine there.

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