The Phoenix Suns have slid into February and a seven game road trip that saw them go 4-3, and which once again highlighted the importance of Kevin Durant to this group. Without question the Suns' MVP through the first-half of the season, he has had real help lately in the form of Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
The two guards taking turns picking up the slack, with Booker being named the Western Conference Player of the Month for January, and Beal going for 43 points in a win over his former team the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon. Exactly what the 35-year-old Durant needs at this point in the season from his star teammates.
Never one to shy away from any basketball related topic of coversation, Durant also imposed some wisdom on the younger players in the league after the Wizards win as well.
Durant was far from at his best, posting 18 points and four boards in only 26 minutes of action. Then again - with the Suns dishing out a 140-112 beatdown on a Wizards team that has only won nine games all season - Durant didn't need to be in anything other than second gear throughout the game.
That didn't stop some of the younger Wizards players from trying to make a name for themselves in guarding Durant tightly when presented with the opportunity. This is the sort of thing that can annoy older stars, given that the game was never really in doubt and the fact it was Beal who had it going. Not Durant though, who had this to say to Bijan Todd of the Monumental Sports Network;
"Yeah just physicality (on being guarded by Deni Avdija and Bilal Coulibaly), making everything tough. A lot of those fadeaways, I hit 'em but they're still tough shots. I respect dudes that just play physical and don't give a (expletive) what my name is. That just push me to become a better player."- Kevin Durant
Durant has always come across as a player who truly, truly loves the game like few others, and comments like those prove it. On the seventh road game in a row, in a blowout win for the Suns, he is praising players like Deni Avdija and the rookie Bilal Coulibaly for trying their hardest when matched up against him.
That is the kind of mentality that has seen Durant become one of the 20 best players to ever do it, and it also shows that he is aware he is getting the best shots of pretty much everybody who guards him each and every night. He didn't stop there either, going on to explain;
"The young guys who got the opportunity to guard a player like me, their coach trusts them to guard a player like me, and Book (Devin Booker), and Brad (Bradley Beal), and they come out there and play hard like that, I respect that."- Kevin Durant
Durant's comments are important for a different reason, and it is one that has been expanded upon already this season. It shows that he is up to the task of doing the hard work involved to elevate this group to true contender status. Not only on the offensive end - with having youngsters like Coulibaly giving it their all - but on the defensive end as well.
Durant has spent some time as the Suns' center so far this season, and it is no surprise that head coach Frank Vogel has largely kept a lineup with Durant at the five under wraps. It has looked extremely effective when used - and especially with Booker and Beal also on the court - and the likelihood is we will see the Suns turn to this lineup a lot more once the postseason starts.
It will then be on Durant to also take the best hits from all of the elite bigs, as well as some scoring wings, when thrust into that position, but his comments on a Sunday afternoon after a walkover of the Wizards should be music to the ears of his coaching staff. Doesn't matter who the player is and if Durant is being guarded by them or defending himself, he will gladly take all their best shots.
This will also surely have done the world of good to the confidence of Coulibaly and Avdija in this instance, but really any young player looking to stick in the league. Durant sees you, and he is letting them know that trying to lock down superstars is a great way to get yourself noticed, and to prove you belong as well.