Kevin Durant is not one of the Phoenix Suns’ numerous problems right now. I promise.
That’s not to say the prolific scorer, currently 12th all-time in NBA/ABA history, doesn’t bear some responsibility for the Suns’ woes. All the Suns do, and all their coaches do, and the front office does. And Durant, one might (correctly) argue, deserves to shoulder a bit more responsibility for the team overall because he’s such a high level player and makes so much money. Same goes for Devin Booker.
And his attitude, if recent reports about him being disgruntled are true (and since Woj said it, it is), could use a makeover. Nobody should dispute that, because throwing a tantrum isn’t leadership. Leadership may not be officially part of Durant’s job in Phoenix, but for the reasons previously stated, it functionally is, and he should man up and take that seriously if he isn’t.
But all the sniping and griping about his turnovers and his “low energy” play are placing blame where it doesn’t belong. Most every player could admit he could raise his game a little, but Durant is playing at a level rarely seen among men his age.
The Slim Reaper currently ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring, at 30.3 points per game. That’s above his career average of 27.3, and if the season ended today would be his highest for a season since the 2013/2014 campaign.
He’s also still scoring efficiently. Among the top five scoring group of which he is a part, Durant stands at third in true shooting percentage at a rounded 64%. That is, again, just above his career average which is about 62%.
Durant is at least 5.5 years older than anyone else in that top five, a group that also includes Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. You have to go down to Steph Curry at #8 on the list to find another guy past his 35th birthday, and Lebron James is the last such “old guy” in the top 20.
Are his turnovers a bit high? Yeah. But they’re also about in line with where he’s been statistically for the last three or four seasons. This has been baked into the cake with Durant for awhile, and shouldn’t shock anyone that his assist-turnover ratio isn’t making Trae Young jealous. At a certain point, it’s like criticizing Kobe Bryant for not having enough assists. Yes, it’s valid, but it’s also almost besides the point.
Durant has been the Suns’ most valuable player this season, or at the minimum has been co-MVP with Devin Booker, which is exactly what was expected of him. This is a team that has no true point guard, but is paying a shooting guard max money to not play due to injury. That’s a big part of the Suns’ issues right there, and whether the problems end when Bradley Beal returns to the court remains to be seen. I suspect they will not.
I suspect that because the Suns also rank just 20th in the NBA in defense on a possession-adjusted basis, and that is not something Beal will fix. I further suspect that the Suns have already realized they need meaningful roster help, but have limited options to do so because they are capped out and have no appealing tradeable contracts or even particularly appealing draft picks to deal.
I suspect that because Suns Head Coach Frank Vogel has failed to instill in the Suns the never-say-die spirit he claimed he would, even if he might possibly be excused for the team’s pedestrian offensive performance due to Beal’s absence, and for several games Booker’s as well.
The Suns have a lot of things they need to fix, and most of them aren’t arguable. We all see them. And while it is fair to criticize Durant for those things mentioned, let’s not forget one really key point too: he’s the only reason the Suns are even still in the conversation right now.