The Phoenix Suns have officially played one-quarter of their 2023-24 regular season slate of games, and there has been much to talk about for the organization. The most pressing of which has clearly been the inability of Bradley Beal to stay on the court.
He has been limited to only three games so far, while teammate Devin Booker has spent time in and out of the lineup with some injuries of his own. When he's on the court and healthy, Booker is a legitimate MVP candidate. When he is forced out however, the Suns are then operating without not only one of their best players, but also their lead ball-handler as well.
Around these two ailing stars, head coach Frank Vogel has built a competitive rotation that is headlined by Grayson Allen, Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Okogie and Eric Gordon. Role players such as Nassir Little and Keita Bates-Diop have had their moments as well. Then there is Bol Bol - a player who coach Vogel recently gave a positive update on regarding his future with the team.
But when deciding who the Suns' first-quarter MVP of the season has been there can only be one answer, and that is Kevin Durant.
At age 35, Durant has been incredible for the franchise through the early goings of this season. Although he missed a pair of games a couple of weeks back - and is about to sit again - Durant has done it all for the Suns, and more often that not, that has happened on both ends of the court too.
The fact Nurkic has been healthy has been an added bonus for the Suns up to this point, which has meant Durant hasn't had to bang inside the paint as often as many anticipated. Despite this, he is still having a positive impact on that end, and are marginally better (113.3) when he is on the court when compared to how they've ranked defensively all season (18th, 113.8).
Scoring the basketball was always going to be where Durant carried this team however, and the 31 points a night he is pouring in is the highest he has managed since 2013-14. In fact, it is the second highest mark of his career to date. The Suns' front office knew they were trading for a superstar in getting Durant, but to have gotten such high scoring in the early goings of the season has been huge.
A big reason for the scoring surge has been the ridiculous 50 percent Durant has shot from 3-point range on 4.6 attempts per night. That figure will come down, but the attempts are right in line with his career average (4.6), and playing next to bombers like Allen and Gordon - not to mention Booker when he is healthy - has led to Durant getting some easy looks.
Not what opponents want to be giving perhaps the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA. Really though Durant nabs this award because he has not only been available for the Suns, but he has willingly allowed the team to lean on him. Durant was added very much with the postseason in mind, with the hope being the younger Booker and Beal could carry them through the regular season.
Instead it is Durant who has been there up to this point, and the fact he has no problem sliding over to become the second option when Booker is out there cannot be overstated. Durant is in the MVP mix and is an all-time great. One who has shouldered a lot of the responsibility up to this point. Yet when Booker plays it is his team - as it should be - and Durant is absolutely cool with that.
This has set the tone for the whole roster, who have watched a player of Durant's calibre stand up and be counted, but also slip back into his role when the group is fully healthy. An underrated aspect of his play has also been the 5.7 assists he has dished out, up considerably on the 4.4 he has managed throughout his career.
This again is in part to Booker not always being available, but for a pure scorer to quietly tinker his game to help the team is part of the reason why the Suns have remained competitive in the Western Conference. Sitting in seventh spot doesn't look great, and losing to the Los Angeles Lakers three straight times already is most certainly a warning shot ahead of a possible postseason matchup.
But the Suns would be in a much worse place without Durant, whose 36.7 minutes per night is more than he managed with the Brooklyn Nets (35.7) and Golden State Warriors (34.1) before that. The Suns have to be careful not to lean on Durant too much, in case his body breaks down again. But they can ask for nothing more from the player right now, who wins this award in a landslide.