Kevin Durant Blows the Ceiling off the Suns’ System
The most exciting part of a superteam is the idea. Before the stars take to the court together for the first time, they may be anything— incredible talents maximized in their new, super-charged circumstances, super-skilled facilitators sacrificing vanity statistics for the team, or a radical rethinking of everything we thought we knew about some of the best players in the sport. The reality of these teams is often more complex and, in the case of the Brooklyn Nets, frankly implosive. But as long as the ball is still in the air, a superteam is possible.
Forming such a team could make Patrick Beverly jump on the table in an Italian restaurant. This could lead to LeBron James wildly irresponsible promises at a preseason rally. In this respect: This could inspire a professional basketball team to host a pre-season pep rally.. Spiritually speaking, this is where we now find the Phoenix Suns, who reportedly made an overnight deal to acquire Kevin Durant (along with T.J. Warren) in exchange for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jay Crowder and a host of future picks.
This move completely changes the expectations of the Suns, which have fallen to the average seed in the West, and allows them to think much more broadly. Durant truly is the best dream of a superteam for the simple reason that his game is as adaptable as it is undeniable. Any team in basketball can put one of the most reliable scorers in the history of the game into the mix of what it does. Phoenix gave up good booty for the privilege and thus centered their fight around the KD core, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton. In addition to them, there are questions – for a start, about depth and protection – but there is also a virtual certainty. Phoenix will be almost unstoppable. This is generally true of any team Durant founded, but especially one that already has so much infrastructure to support the ways Durant loves to work.
So many of Phoenix’s approaches to Booker – curls that have Booker running from screens to catch the ball when he’s already stepping on his defender – can easily be transferred to Durant, who can do just about everything Booker can, only with more speed. limit sizes. This is where things get dangerous. The Suns already know how to put together a deadly shooter with enough space and momentum to play the best of it. Now they’re including the most dangerous shooter of all time into that structure – despite Durant honestly not even needing much space or momentum – not even losing to Booker on the deal.
The Suns have learned a lot of hard lessons, including the limitations of a well-designed system, over the past few seasons and this season in particular. At their best, Phoenix has been as agile as any other team that has worked in the past few years. Every action is fueled by some equal and complementary reaction; they take advantage of the small advantage created by Paul and develop it by reading after reading until they get a quality shot. There were no definite endpoints, just options after options. However, when Booker was sidelined with a groin injury, the Suns realized how little they could rely on all that sweet action without the threat of a backup scorer. Opponents lived by letting Bridges create or Ayton try to do something. They let the ball find Josh Okogi, Ish Wainwright or Jock Landale on the perimeter and gently pushed them to shoot. A beautiful offense has turned into a well-meaning team that just rolls around.
Durant isn’t just fixing this problem, he’s changing every sentence that tries to protect the Sun. All of this well-rehearsed action and scenery will be accompanied by one of the best shooters in the game. They will flow through a 7-foot player who can break his matchup at any time and in any way. They will explode with potential in the very idea that the ball could go to Durant, which would almost make the opponents scramble and overreact in response. From this day forward Phoenix has the option to cut back on his approach whenever he wants. Feeding Durant alone remains one of the easiest paths to quality offense in the league. However, the real benefit – as the Warriors learned years ago – is the incredible lift an offense gets just by having Durant in the flow.
It doesn’t take much imagination for the Phoenix coaching staff to get a revamped group to such heights. Durant will do more for the Suns than either Bridges or Johnson ever could, while allegedly holding the same positions. It’s a change in a mechanical sense, but not such a big departure when the intervals and movement patterns to maximize Durant are already built into the offense from the start. As far as superteams go, it’s hard to imagine a star with a less demanding playing style than Durant, or a uniform that fits him as well as Phoenix. One of the heaviest offenses in the NBA just took the league’s preeminent mid-range shooter. It’s a brutal turn of events for teams like Denver and Memphis, who have to contend not only with another elite player on their side of the playoff bracket, but also with someone they can’t protect.
With Durant, Phoenix has the makings of a championship favorite. However, before we jump right into the postseason, the Suns will go through some tough months of real basketball. It’s everything Phoenix could be, and everything Phoenix is now: Booker recovering from a groin injury, Durant still recovering from an MCL sprain, and Paul, 37, in constant trauma care.
Each of these stars should lighten the physical burden of the others, buying them time to recover and making their work easier from night to night. However, in their circumstances, we can see the uncomfortable practical realities of this sort of superteam deal. It’s not always about whether everyone gets along or how a trio of stars accustomed to huge roles will share the same ball. Usually it’s not even about who makes what shots or what positions they occupy. Durant sprained his knee, and the resurgent Nets completely fell apart. The Nets disbanded and Durant became the Sun. It’s a special kind of business, putting together stars after stars, but even extraordinarily talented teams can rise and fall based on the most mundane events.