36 unbothered: Do the Suns still have the best star duo in the NBA?

Oct 18, 2023, 8:27 PM

Devin Booker and Kevin Durant...

Devin Booker #1 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns in the second half of Game Three of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Arena on April 20, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/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.

To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is six days away from Wednesday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will round out the last 12 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season after being joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby for the first 24.

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: 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: The importance of Kevin Young’s return to the Suns
Day 22: The revamped Suns sunburst jerseys

Day 21: TV antennas and Phoenix Suns basketball for all
Day 20: Is there room on the Suns to unlock Bol Bol?
Day 19: What Grayson Allen brings to Suns
Day 18: Suns’ championship expectations
Day 17: Drew Eubanks could bring pop to Suns’ center group
Day 16: Olympic implications
Day 15: Jusuf Nurkic changes the Suns in the middle
Day 14: Jon Bloom takes over for Al McCoy on the airwaves
Day 13: Eric Gordon was the Suns’ biggest offseason signing
Day 12: Do the Suns need to trade for a point guard?
Day 11: The Suns need Josh Okogie

Day 10: How Phoenix Suns can build a championship defense
Day 9: How Suns can lose the Deandre Ayton trade
Day 8: Who is the Suns’ most important player outside Big 3?
Day 7: Is there a way for the Chris Paul trade to come back to bite the Suns?

Day 6: Do the Suns still have the best star duo in the NBA?

Kevin Zimmerman: I would like to issue a formal complaint about this question. Are we discussing, like, a composite player ranking? Collectively as a unit? Does it matter if one individually is a true star star or not?

If we are talking about skillsets and god-given talents with a basketball, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving deserve mention even if thinking about their playoff viability and possibilities of hating one another by the end of this year will make me laugh.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are top-15 players easily if they’re healthy, but it’s not easy to imagine they will ever be relatively healthy.

Jamal Murray is probably a top-20 player who is teamed with an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic, and I have to mention them here.

If we’re going by some composite rankings, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both top-10 individuals, but there are health concerns there. There’s a reason they got to the Western Conference Finals with a squad patched together two months earlier, so that’s a strong, strong duo to start with.

Damian Lillard is a top-10 talent and I could see that being remembered if the Milwaukee Bucks meet expectations as one of the two best squads in the Eastern Conference. In terms of complementary duos, they are right there with James-Davis and Booker-Durant.

Let’s frame it this way: Which teams have two guys who could finish the regular season and not know which one should deserve MVP? I’m not sure I could ever pick Lillard over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

could have more trouble deciding between James and Davis or Booker and Durant. And considering career trajectories (age), I would still take Phoenix’s duo.

Kellan Olson: Wow look at this guy questioning my ideas for content. That’s crazy. As the editor taking in that formal complaint, I am going to print it out, crumble it up into a ball and throw it in the trash from about 15 out in honor of the kings of the midrange we are about to discuss.

My esteemed colleague covered all the options to choose from. Hot take: Murray and Jokic should be his choice if he’s not going with Booker and Durant. As a guy myself who heavily weighs playoff performance into his metrics for such discussions, those two are it.

But I’m still going with Booker and Durant. Yes, even as the Dame guy and his move to Milwaukee inspiring the question.

Durant at his apex is on the same plane as Antetokounmpo or Jokic, if not ever so slightly above. It’s easy to forget Durant was arguably the MVP of the league in Brooklyn last season until he got hurt. He was playing unbelievable two-way basketball. Expect to see that fella back this year.

Booker hasn’t reached his own apex yet but he assuredly got better again like he does every year and he’s already been a bonafide top-10 player for the last three seasons. I have no clue what that means in terms of what we have in store for us with him this year. As someone who has seen every NBA game he has played and covered quite a few of them in person, watching those postseason explosions live was almost like an out-of-body experience because he was unrecognizable. I had never seen him “like that,” a dude’s game I like to think I know pretty well.

So, yeah, the Suns still do.


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