The Phoenix Suns have spent much of the regular season so far leaning on the superhuman talents of Kevin Durant, in the absence of both Devin Booker and Bradley Beal through injury. The latter yet to make his competitive debut for the franchise, although he is getting closer.
This was not meant to be the long-term plan for the Suns, with Durant now 35-years-old and Booker the face of the franchise. Nevertheless he has answered the call, as he so often has, and has been on a tear offensively for a Suns team that currently sits at 3-4.
Which is why his early season MVP snub is a strange one, given all that he is doing for the Suns on a nightly basis while surrounded by role players.
To be clear, Durant isn’t going to care about where he places on a mock MVP board. It is all about championships and legacy for him now, plus we are only in November. No award worth anything was ever won after only a handful of games played.
But that’s also not the point either. Basketball Reference, a website that we have all logged onto at one time or another, and which has as solid and unbiased a reputation as you will find, recently posted who they believe to be the top 10 players in the MVP race so far this season. For Durant not to make it at all, well… that just doesn’t feel right.
Right now he is the sixth highest scorer in the entire league, putting up 29.9 points per game while taking 20.3 field goal attempts, the 10th highest mark in the league. Interestingly, Booker is right behind him in shot attempts at 20, but his unavailability is exactly why Durant should be getting more love here.
There are a couple of things wrong with that list, although you certainly couldn’t argue Durant should be inside the top five. He shouldn’t, and the Suns’ losing record is a big reason for that. He’s also simply not on the level of Nikola Jokic right now, or even Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum on most nights. Joel Embiid? Fair enough.
Tyrese Maxey? With the game on the line who would you rather want to have the ball in their hands. Exactly, plus both Maxey and Embiid are teammates on the Philadelphia 76ers. Of course it is possible to have two MVP candidates, but they generally cancel each other out. So people better keep that same energy when Booker is back and both he and Durant are playing at an elite level.
Really though having three Boston Celtics make the list seems to go against the very essence of the award. Tatum should be there, and even Kristaps Porzingis in the early goings has been a revelation for the Celtics. But Jrue Holiday? As fantastic as his impact has been, why don’t we just stick Derrick White on there as well.
The MVP award is often looked at as an offensive-oriented gong first and foremost, although previous winners in Jokic and Embiid certainly did everything and were elite defensive players. Durant will always be viewed as a scorer, and in year 16 his continued output makes him one of the best scorers of all-time.
But on the defensive end so far, the Suns have surprised many by posting the 10th best defensive rating (109.6) in the league. Many thought the roster would struggle on this end, and instead be an offensive powerhouse the likes of which we’d never seen before. That may still turn out to be true when Booker and Beal return, but for now Durant is having a stellar defensive year.
The team are even better when Durant is on the court, posting a rating of 109.1. The Suns traded Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkic this offseason, and defensively he has never been the kind of player you can lean on for large stretches. Drew Eubanks has been a fine backup, and Bol Bol and Chimezie Metu don’t really play.
That has left Durant to play more minutes than most would be comfortable with at the five, and yet the results have been much better than anybody could have expected. Again this will change when Booker and Beal return, but isn’t the point of the MVP award to be whatever your team needs you to be while winning?
The Suns might be lacking in that second part, but Kevin Durant has been everything and more to the organization in the early stages of the season. He’s not a top five candidate for the MVP award right now, you can’t argue that. But failing to make the top 10? Just straight disrespect to one of the best to ever do it, and the Suns’ leading light so far in 2023-24.