Kevin Durant finally made his debut with the Phoenix Suns almost a month after they acquired him from the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster mid-season trade.
Durant has been sidelined since injuring his knee on January 8 in the Nets’ 102-101 win over the Miami Heat, yet did not miss a beat in his first game with Phoenix. He helped the Suns take a 105-91 victory against the Charlotte Hornets with a highly efficient 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting along with six rebounds, two assists, and two blocks despite being limited to only 27 minutes of action.
The 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player slotted into Phoenix’s starting line-up as their nominal power forward together with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Josh Okogie. At certain points of the game, it was clear that the Suns were still acclimating themselves to life with their new teammate, but the offensive brilliance of Durant smoothened the transition as he still managed to score off broken plays.
Another key development from the 13-time NBA All-Star Durant’s maiden game with the team was that Phoenix head coach Monty Williams deployed him with their reserves from the third period’s last few minutes to the early portion of the fourth quarter. Durant thrived with this line-up and scored nine consecutive points over a three-minute stretch in the final quarter to maintain their distance from Charlotte.
The ability of Williams to have either Durant or Booker on the floor at any point in time will be key for them moving forward as these two are among the best scorers in the league today. Come the postseason, baskets will be harder to come by and having two players of this caliber is a luxury that not many teams in NBA history have ever had.
Furthermore, when Durant and Booker share the court, it will pose a difficult dilemma for opponents who will have to make tough decisions with regards to the priorities of their defensive coverage. In their first game together, Booker was freed up by the presence of Durant and finished with 37 points on 15-of-26 shooting, three three-pointers, six rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and only one turnover.
While Durant and Booker are highly capable of manufacturing their own shots, they will still have the steady hand of the 18-year NBA veteran Paul orchestrating their offense. Paul may not be as explosive as he once was, but his court vision and veteran instincts remain which still make him a highly effective point guard.
In their win over the Hornets, Paul tallied 11 assists and it is likely that he will keep producing at a similar level with Durant and Booker around.
The spacing provided by sharing the floor with Booker and Durant also benefited their starting center Ayton. The top pick of the 2018 NBA Draft hit seven-of-10 field goal attempts and both of his free throws en route to an efficient 16 points. He completed his line with 16 rebounds, four assists, and one block.
Moreover, the 6’10 Durant and 6’11 Ayton engaged in a few pick-and-rolls in their win versus Charlotte. This could wind up becoming an unguardable action once these two players who boast of a deadly combination of size, quickness, and a soft touch grow more comfortable with one another.
On defense, the shot blocking prowess of Durant is something that Ayton has never had in a frontcourt partner. This should unlock some of his defensive versatility too as he can roam away from the basket more often given that Durant can protect the rim in his stead.
It may have been just one game, though it is already clear that these Suns deserve to be mentioned as contenders for this year’s NBA title. Durant remains a top-five player in the NBA at the age of 34 and his presence gives this methodical Phoenix team an element of unpredictability that it has not had in recent years.
These Suns are for real and it seems like the only thing that can ultimately stop them is their health. If Durant, Paul, Booker, and Ayton can avoid a serious injury, this team may very well be the one that hoists the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy this coming June.