It’s early, but this Kevin Durant-led Suns team looks like it’s about to get late for others’ title hopes
The obvious showed up Wednesday night in Kevin Durant’s brilliant debut with the Phoenix Suns, but the obvious doesn’t always show up on super teams, so let’s face it.
This Suns team, led by Durant, will be an absolute force by the time the playoffs begin. They are Western Conference favorites. Final contenders. A solid top three NBA teams in the making, even if they come together at a strangely late time in the regular season.
Yes, a 105-91 win over the Charlotte Hornets is far from a top-tier test. Charlotte was a bad basketball team even before LaMelo Ball broke his ankle this week and his season came to an end. And while the Phoenix only gave us a 27-minute sample of KD-as-Sun, what we saw was intimidating for any other NBA team that still aspired to be NBA champions this year.
Duran, who has been sidelined since January 8 with an MCL stretch, looked incredible. He was with Brooklyn then, he’s with Phoenix now, but not much has changed. The rust and new part of the country didn’t get in the way of any of his basketball gifts.
Durant missed his first shot, and then there were flashes of how seamlessly he could integrate into this team.
There was Durant, with a pass from new teammate Chris Paul, who scored the first two points of his career. There was Durant blocking a shot on defense, then finding the ball on the other side of the floor and deftly hitting a triple, a sequence that – again obvious – flared up just how big he is and will be with his new team.
As the game progressed, Duran made 10 of his 15 shots. He scored 23 points. He grabbed six rebounds. He blocked two shots. He looked like he had been playing without a hitch for months. In just 27 minutes on the floor.
Plus, it was easy to peer into a pretty bad basketball game and see how a rather outstanding player had already convinced rival general managers and Las Vegas that Phoenix was the contender today. To hell with worrying about how things turn out.
If this seems like a moment of power over the obvious to you, just remember that the league often sticks, as it is clear that a great idea often becomes nebulous, confusing, fruitless, and disastrous.
Ask the Brooklyn Nets. They can give several examples of this fact. Ask the Los Angeles Clippers in 2020 when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard came to town. And you can ask them again, right now, after they added Russell Westbrook, proving the axiom that this league is very hard to win.
The same goes for the Mavericks, who are 2-5 since Kyrie Irving debuted in Dallas and 1-4 in games that featured Irving and Luka Doncic. Or the Lakers, who really thought the good days would return this season.
Ask the Atlanta Hawks or the Memphis team, who are suddenly facing so many off-court headlines about Ja Morant that they should be a little nauseous.
There are many more examples where sure things might not be so sure, but the Suns won’t be one of them.
Beyond Durant’s individual statistics, signs of this were everywhere on Wednesday night.
Devin Booker’s 37 points is a sign that everything is ahead. Yes, Booker has always been a prolific goalscorer, able to score on his own, but having Durant on this team, as he did against Charlotte, will create so many easy shots and detract from the young Suns star so much on the defensive side.
As a player, consider what the healthy Steph Curry has done over the years for the fit Clay Thompson.
There was also an influence on Kiers Paul, but in a completely different way. Before KD, the idea that the Suns would go deep without Paul’s good performance seemed like a farce. But this game provided a glimpse into a new possible reality in which a hard-fought CP3, at least in terms of his shooting, doesn’t doom the Suns to chance.
Despite 11 assists, Paul was 1 of 8 from the field and scored just two points. Perhaps Durant’s presence will ease things enough for Paul to regain some of his greatness in the coming weeks. But it’s equally possible that if Paul can’t return to the level of play his career has marked, Durant could be good enough for both of them.
Duran will affect all of these things. It will put players in much easier situations so they can tap into their talents. It will help shift most of the load on your shoulders. He can cover up on weekends or even weekends. He has to add a level of sheer talent that is too good paired with Booker, Paul and DeAndre Ayton to be anything but a top team.
It was one game. It was against a bad team that didn’t have the best player and a real floor general. This is the beginning of the KD experiment.
But any overreactions will grow old.
If the Suns stay healthy, every team that faces them has no chance of making the playoffs.
The noise was spot on: KD for the Suns automatically becomes a contender. A glimpse of this fact was too clear on Wednesday to write it off as anything but inevitable.