What the Phoenix Suns learned while Kevin Durant was out

(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

With Kevin Durant set to return after as many weeks out as games played for the Phoenix Suns – three – we explore what we learned about the Suns in the process.

Although the sample size was small, it is obvious that adding Durant to the Phoenix Suns as constructed gives the team a legitimate chance to contend for the title. Without Durant, we saw the Suns may not even have a puncher’s chance, but fortunately for the valley, KD is returning. While the Suns may not be true championship contenders without Durant, we did learn some things about this team.

Devin Booker is ready to take the next step for the Suns

Whether or not Durant plays for the Suns, it is obvious that one Devin Booker is poised to take the next step into superstardom. Since returning from his groin injury, Booker has been on a tear, which has occurred with and continued without Durant.

In 19 games since returning from injury, DBook has averaged 29.7 points per contest, and Durant only played in three of those games. His shooting percentage in those games has been over 50% 11 times and over 60% seven times. Many centers in the league would love to have Booker’s shooting percentage, and they are taking far more high-percentage shots.

The one potential flaw in Booker’s game over the last six weeks has been his turnovers, with Booker committing 59 turnovers (3.1 per game) since his return. In fairness to Book, most of the turnover comes from him trying to do too much and facing a lot of double teams.

The good news for Suns fans and Booker is that in the three games with KD in the lineup, Booker only had two turnovers total. Now with Durant back, do not be surprised if Booker takes a leap more than a step.

The Suns’ bench is capable but needs some curating

No one on the Suns’ bench replaces Durant, Booker, Chris Paul, or even Deandre Ayton. However, we’ve seen over the course of the season, and in the last few weeks, the Phoenix bench has some contributors who can provide legitimate cover. Another story is which players to use when and for how long to get the best out of the bench.

The Suns have inside help in Bismack Biyombo, a solid backup point guard in Cam Payne, and many wings on the bench. With Biyombo and Payne, their rotation and role are becoming clear as the first and, in Payne’s case, only option off the bench. However, the wings – while very productive – have been hit or miss for Monty Williams.

Since joining the team, Terrence Ross and TJ Warren have flashed at times, and holdovers like Ish Wainright show they can still contribute. Even Damion Lee came on the other night and hit a three in very limited minutes.

The point is the Suns have some options; however, getting those options right will be a challenge, but less so if Booker or Durant is always on the floor.

Phoenix is still only one injury away from disaster

This is true of all teams, with an injury to their superstar likely derailing things. And while the idea of Durant or Booker missing any time in the playoffs would be a significant blow to Phoenix’s chances, the reality is the Suns are paper thing in the front and backcourt.

While Williams has many options at wing, the options are much more limited at point guard and center. The Suns are only carrying two point guards on the roster, and given that Paul and Payne have missed a combined 53 games this season, that is a risky proposition heading into the playoffs.

Likewise, DA has not been a pillar of health this season. Jock Landale has played some decent minutes at times this season, but he is a dropoff from Bizzy, and then there is nothing behind Landale.

While we know Phoenix can ill-afford another injury to Booker or Durant, we also need to hope for a point guard and center health. As we’ve seen, the Suns are far from perfect as constructed. However, there is enough there, with a little good fortune, the one-two punch of Booker, and a returning Durant to play with anyone.

Next. Bench helps Phoenix overcome Utah. dark