Tuesday night was a timely reminder of not only how amazing Kevin Durant is as a basketball player at 35-years-old, but also just how important he is to this Phoenix Suns team. While much of the talk around this team this season has been about Bradley Beal's health and if Devin Booker is a true point guard or not, Durant has handled business.
He should be considered a fringe MVP candidate, while he ranks third in the entire league in 3-point shooting percentage at an absurd 47.1 percent. Best of all, Durant is totally fine with this being Booker's team, but he has zero problem stepping into the role of closer when needed, as he did in the massive, come from behind win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.
In the aftermath of the game, Durant revealed just how much he is willing to help and hold himself accountable, in words that will have surely given his teammates a lift.
Durant is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, depending on your opinion one of the 15-20 best players to ever do it, and may just be the most complete offensive player the league has ever seen. His 29 points per game better than he has managed in 11 of his previous seasons in the league, including two occasions when he went on to lead the league in scoring.
You would be forgiven then for expecting Durant to take some plays off, especially on the defensive end. There is nothing wrong with this - he has to save his body for what it is hoped will be a long postseason run - and the front office went out and got young players last summer to take some of the strain off Durant's body.
Which is why the likes of Drew Eubanks or Chimezie Metu can get extended run from time-to-time. To allow them to bang with bigger bodies down low, while the likes of Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon chase elite scorers around the perimeter. Durant doesn't want to hear any of this though, and he told the assembled media after the win versus the Kings;
"I offered myself up this summer, we were having conversations about how we wanted to play and I told coach (Vogel)... my job is to be a lockdown defender. Obviously I'm not going to be perfect every night, but to go out there and trust that I can go out there and make life tough for opposing players. That's a part of my job description."- Kevin Durant
For such an accomplished offensive talent to hold himself accountable on the other end of the court - and in his 17th season in the league no less - is fantastic news for the Suns. Especially given this was a group that was put together with scoring very much in mind, with the hope that coach Vogel could maximize the talent at his disposal on the other end of the court.
It is clear too that Durant simply loves playing basketball in a way few others do. The win over the Kings the latest example, he was seen smiling in pressure moments and loves the competition. Durant was quick to speak to De'Aaron Fox after the game as well - Fox having fouled Durant which led to the game winning free-throws - and clearly respects the talents of his opponents.
Durant wasn't finished there though, going on to explain just why his team should be expecting a lot from him on the defensive end.
"I'm long, athletic, I can move, I'm experienced. Why shouldn't I be held accountable to play top line defence against anybody in the league? I'm not saying I'm stopping everybody, but I think I can make life tough for any player in the league. It's some great players out here, but I feel like I can just play hard and use my length and my attributes to make life tough. I want those assignments."- Kevin Durant
The eye test would also appear to back up what Durant is saying here. He may not be able to contain a lumbering big man like Nikola Jokic - but with certain matchups like Domantas Sabonis - Durant is more than capable of holding his own and making life difficult.
The numbers though highlight the fact that this is actually Durant's worst season in the league on the defensive end. When he is on the court, the Suns have a rating of 115.2. Last season in his brief time with the Suns, it was a much more impressive 107.0. With the Brooklyn Nets before being traded to The Valley, it stood at 111.0.
Again this is understandable because Durant is getting older, has had a couple of major injuries, and can't be playing high level defense in November. Yet despite this regressed figure, the Suns are somehow even worse on the season as a whole anyway (115.4), which means that Durant isn't the problem. Rather this is a group that was built to outscore opponents every night.
But as long as Durant keeps holding himself to the standards he has outlined above, then the Suns are going to win games. That level of commitment is also infectious to end of bench players like Metu and Bol Bol as well. If one of the best to ever do it believes they can give all of themselves to the cause on the defensive end, while still putting up 29 per game, what's their excuse?