36 unbothered: Importance of Kevin Young’s return to Phoenix Suns
Oct 1, 2023, 9:17 AM
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.
To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 23 days away from Sunday, 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 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: How the Big 3 develop chemistry
Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as owner
Day 29: How does Suns’ place of play change without Chris Paul
Day 28: Suns can maximize Yuta Watanabe in proper role
Day 27: Deandre Ayton finally is traded
Day 26: Who is Suns’ biggest threat in Western Conference?
Day 25: Matrix and STAT in Ring of Honor
Day 24: Phoenix Suns’ most appetizing lineups combinations
Day 23: Importance of Kevin Young’s return to Suns cannot be overstated
Erik Ruby: The most underrated win for the Phoenix Suns this offseason was not losing Kevin Young, one of the NBA’s most coveted assistant coaches.
Young was in serious consideration for the job that Frank Vogel now holds and could have easily jumped shipped to another team after being passed up. Instead, Mat Ishbia and James Jones locked in Young and brought him back, reportedly as the league’s highest-paid assistant as Phoenix’s associate head coach. He’ll make $2 million per year. That is not only a testament to how this organization is treating this season, but Young’s perspective of what they can do here as well.
The aspect of Young that excites me the most is his offensive focus. With Vogel being a defensive savant, I don’t want him having to lift a heavy burden on the offensive end, and Young can fill that role perfectly. He is already familiar with Booker and, to a certain extent, Durant, and scheming up an offense built around three three-level scorers will give him endless possibilities to tinker with.
Mix in the recent addition of Jusuf Nurkic, who brings ball movement to the position we haven’t seen in a while, along with the shooting inside Phoenix’s depth and the variety of bigs, he can virtually run any type of offense he pleases or whatever the game demands. Plus, he brings a younger perspective to this group of high-level assistant coaches like David Fizdale.
Young will undoubtedly get a shot as a head coach in the NBA at some point in his career, and the Suns know that. He can be the glue that holds a potentially all-time great offense together.
Kellan Olson: With all of the deserved respect toward the talent levels of the guys on the roster, this is not one of those “just roll the ball out on the court and they’ll figure it out” situations. The Suns would likely still be a rather great team in that regard, but in terms of maximizing the potential of this team and being the title favorite, that’s going to come down to the coaching staff.
The individual expected to be the main brain behind the offense is Young, who is on his way to becoming a head coach. And Phoenix gave him a healthy raise so he didn’t go to Detroit with his former fellow coach Monty Williams or elsewhere.
If we’re grading how the Suns were able to get the most out of what Kevin Durant could for the offense by the time the postseason arrived on a scale of 1-10, I’m giving Phoenix a 2. Maybe even a 1.5. And that is not to say the Suns were at fault because it was such a small window already and then Durant’s freak accident in pregame warmups pretty much shut it.
But especially without a traditional point guard on the floor, the structural integrity and variety within the offensive playbook will have to be a constant for the Suns. It’s on the Big 3 to develop the proper chemistry to make it work just as much as it is on Young and the other coaches to put them within the right environments to enable them to do so.
By all accounts, Young is the right guy for the job, perhaps overqualified for a top assistant job. The timing for the Suns was pretty great, to be able to get him for one more year before another round of head coaching interviews Young will surely be a prominent fixture in once again.
Kevin Zimmerman: It’s too hard to judge how much of Young’s fingerprints were on the Suns’ offense over the last few years, and that could still be the case. What we did see in the past was a Suns team that excelled under Monty Williams’ 0.5 philosophy before that style died on the vine after the acquisition of Durant. It matters that Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton were pieces of that mix, taking over only in spurts for reasons related to the former’s age and the latter’s inconsistent play. But we certainly didn’t see Booker and Durant maximize their own dynamic opportunities beyond the obvious things.
High-post touches for Durant drew doubles, and Phoenix made easy work out of those plays. Booker cooked in transition and in halfcourt sets while navigating pick-and-rolls. We should not have thrown Twitter parades, however, the three times that the Suns used Durant as a screener for Booker.
There was just too much left on the table.
Part of it was the quick turn on Durant’s arrival and injury. But there was a lack of imagination, perhaps a fear of stirring things up. Well, when a roster changes, sometimes you just gotta stir away. I’ve gone this far without mentioning Young again because that’s the context to his job this season next to Vogel. He returns knowing that context.
They will have to fight one another over the best lineups combinations — Vogel surely will prioritize defense — and then it’s on to scheming away. It starts with the Big 3, and considering how the Big 2 last year had so much room to grow, the potential sure seems exciting. There are certainly hurdles, but it’s going to be a fun evolution to watch over the course of 2023-24.