If there is one thing the Phoenix Suns did not want Kevin Durant to be this season, it was the franchise cornerstone who had to carry the group for large stretches of the regular season. That was supposed to be Devin Booker, in what it was hoped would become an MVP type campaign.
Instead Booker has been in and out of the lineup all season – first with an ankle issue and more recently a calf problem – which has meant that Durant and Bradley Beal have had to be the focal points of this group offensively. Not a bad place to be, but not the plan this organization had in mind.
Much as the Suns would not have wanted the 35-year-old Durant to be everything that Booker is supposed to be to the franchise, he is just that.
To this point Durant has started all nine of the team’s games, and leads the roster in minutes per night at 36.8. Booker on the other hand has only been seen twice, and at eight years Durant’s junior, it was meant to be he who was leading the way in minutes played to begin the year.
Durant is also exempt from the stricter rest rules around back-to-back games this season, not that the Suns have had the opportunity to avail of this. They have needed him for every minute possible, and even that hasn’t been enough as seen in Friday night’s in-season tournament loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Durant has a team high 38 points and was magnificent, as he has so often been during the season so far, but it was still not enough. Playing a whopping 39 minutes of action (Jusuf Nurkic was the next highest at 33, and that in itself is another problem), the team still fell 122-119 at home to a Lakers group that has had its own issues to start the season.
For Durant not to be in the top 10 in the MVP race is a disgrace. Not that he or the Suns will care, but without his all-time talent, it is worrying to think where this 4-5 franchise with title ambitions would be right now. There is still so much basketball left to play, but languishing in a play-in spot doesn’t look nice even now.
Durant alone couldn’t help the Suns beat the San Antonio Spurs, who came away from The Valley with two wins recently. Throughout this period, Durant has led the organization in shots taken per game at just over 20 as well. You would think the introduction of Beal would help, but his 14.7 shots per game so far may suggest otherwise.
You would think then that Durant’s 30.2 points per game would lead the team, but you would be wrong. Booker has averaged 31.5 in his limited run so far, as if to highlight the fact he is missing right now even more. In the early goings of this year, it is supposed to be Booker who leads the team in minutes, scoring and shot attempts, not Durant.
The inability for Booker to get onto the court has also exposed another fatal flaw in the makeup of this roster, and it is one even Durant is struggle to cover. They lack a true point guard – while former shining light Chris Paul excels with a title rival – and when Booker is out of the lineup, neither Jordan Goodwin or Saben Lee start in his place.
Instead it is up to Durant to become a bit more of a playmaker, a bit more of everything offensively really, and he has tried to do just that by chipping in with 4.7 assists per night. Less even than Nurkic’s five, and miles behind the fantastic 10.5 Booker had offered up across his two outings to date.
Which shows that the Suns’ front office always believed Booker could play the bulk of the regular season, and in doing so mask the fact this roster lacks a true floor general. Durant was supposed to compliment Booker’s ascension to MVP level talent nicely, but instead has been thrust into an all too familiar role.
That of superstar savior, while role players such as Josh Okogie, Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen try to keep up with their elite teammate. In a crowded Western Conference, you’re not going to make much noise relying on Durant at this stage of his career to constantly bail you out of a bad possession and keep you in a game.
He will continue to do this, and do it well, but until Booker can be the Suns’ best player on a consistent basis, and in doing so allow Durant to be the best offensive second option in the league, disaster will never be far away. It is a minor miracle Durant himself has yet to be hit by injury, and they need their younger superstar to take some of the load off his teammate soon.