The obvious happened on Wednesday night when Kevin Durant made his debut with the Phoenix Suns. However, the obvious doesn’t always happen with superteams, so let’s enjoy it.
When the playoffs come around, this Suns team will be a powerhouse with Durant at the helm. They are the favorites in the Western Conference. Finals contenders. Even though they are coming together at an oddly late point in the regular season, this NBA team is sure to be in the top three.
Yes, beating the Charlotte Hornets 105-91 is not a top-level test. Charlotte was already a bad basketball team before LaMelo Ball broke his ankle and lost the rest of the season. Even though we only saw KD as Sun for 27 minutes in Phoenix, what we did see was scary for every other NBA team that still wants to win the title this year.
Durant, who hadn’t played since Jan. 8 because of a sprained MCL, looked great. He used to play for Brooklyn and now plays for Phoenix, but not much else has changed. Rust and moving to a different part of the country didn’t mess up his basketball skills.
Durant missed his first shot, and then little glimpses of how well he could fit into this team started to show.
With a pass from his new teammate Chris Paul, Durant drove to the basket and made a layup for his first two points with the Suns. Durant blocked a shot on defense, then got the ball on the other side of the court and sank a smooth three-pointer. This showed, once again, how good he is and will be with his new team.
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During the game, 10 of the 15 shots that Durant took were successful. He ended up with 23 points. He got back six missed shots. He turned away two shots. He looked like he had been playing well for a long time. All of this happened in just under 27 minutes.
Beyond that, it was easy to look at a pretty bad basketball game and see how a very good player has already convinced rival general managers and Las Vegas that Phoenix is a contender today. Don’t worry about how everything will fit together.
If this seems like a master-of-the-obvious moment, just remember that what the league thinks is a great idea often turns out to be vague, confusing, unproductive, and bad.
Check with the Brooklyn Nets. They can show you many examples of this being true. When Paul George and Kawhi Leonard came to Los Angeles in 2020, ask the Clippers. You can ask them again now that they have added Russell Westbrook, which proves the old saying that it’s hard to win in this league.
The same goes for the Mavericks, who are 2-5 since Kyrie Irving’s first game in Dallas and 1-4 when both Irving and Luka Doncic play. Or the Lakers, who really thought they were going to have a good season this year.
Ask the Atlanta Hawks or the Memphis Grizzlies, who have to deal with a lot of off-court news about Ja Morant right now. It has to make them feel a little queasy.
There are a lot more sure things that don’t turn out to be so sure, but the Suns won’t be one of them.
There were signs of that everywhere Wednesday night, and not just in Durant’s stats.
The 37 points scored by Devin Booker are a sign of things to come. Yes, Booker has always been a great scorer on his own, but Durant’s presence on that team, as we saw against Charlotte, will give the Suns’ young star a lot of easy shots and less defensive attention.
As a comparison, think about what a healthy Steph Curry has done for a good Klay Thompson over the years.
The same thing happened to Christians Paul, but in a very different way. Before KD, it was crazy to think that the Suns could get far without Paul playing well. But this game showed a glimpse of a new possible reality in which CP3’s terrible shooting doesn’t mean the Suns are doomed, at least in terms of their chances.
Even though Paul had 11 assists, he was only 1 for 8 from the field and only scored two points. Maybe Durant’s presence will make things easier enough that Paul can get back to being great in the coming weeks. But it’s also possible that if Paul can’t play as well as he has in the past, Durant will be good enough for both of them.
All of these things will be changed by Durant. He’ll make things much easier for players so they can show off their skills. He’ll help take a lot of the load off your shoulders. He can cover up for days or even weeks when he isn’t working. He should bring a level of pure talent that, when added to Booker, Paul, and DeAndre Ayton, makes the team too good to be anything but a top team.
There was only one. It was a bad team that was missing its best player and didn’t have a real floor leader. It’s still early in the KD test.
But any overreaction will be fine as time goes on.
If the Suns stay healthy, every team they play in the playoffs will have less of a chance of winning.
The talk was right: when KD goes to the Suns, they are automatically a contender. We saw too much of that fact on Wednesday for it to be anything but inevitable.