It’s been pretty hard on many of us seeing the way the Phoenix Suns have responded following Kevin Durant’s ankle hiccup. Let me be the torch bearer to guide you to safety: it’s not as bad as you think it is.
First item to note: the Suns have been 4th in the West for all but two days over the last month or so.
Having lost their last three in a row, the #5 Golden State Warriors and #6 LA Clippers are each just 1.0 game back of the Suns but those two also each have 1.0 game behind them before finding themselves in the play-in tournament again.
As for tiebreakers, the Suns won the series 3-1 over Warriors so they already have that locked up. They lead the Clippers 2-1 with the regular season finale determining whether the Suns will win that series or tie it on Apr. 9. And even if they finish tied, the Suns already have a sizable lead in other tiebreakers like division record and conference record.
The standings comfort us where the “unfair” officials from a Milwaukee matchup can’t — the Suns are in a pretty good spot still. I thought it would be fun to dive into how the team — and some individual — numbers have changed since Durant joined the lineup and since his ankle forced him out of the lineup.
One of the major points of interest to me is the defensive rating not taking too much of a hit; that can be partially attributed to Josh Okogie, who saw his minutes increase slightly from 29.1 to 30.7 following KD’s departure from the lineup.
Credit also needs to be given to Ish Wainright, whose minutes have nearly doubled since KD left. He’s been huge in defending ball handlers; according to Synergy, Wainright ranks in the 60th percentile among all players guarding pick-and-rolls, yielding just 0.867 points per possession on 29-69 shooting (42.0%).
It’s my personal belief — and has been since last July — that the minutes should stay up for Wainright even when Durant is back; he actually checks a lot of boxes as a fifth guy with the core four on nights when Okogie is cold, similarly to the close win over Dallas when Wainright hit four fourth-quarter threes.
Another point I wanted to look at was how the starting backcourt’s effectiveness changed as the lineup fluctuated in such a major way, and some things really stand out.
First and foremost, just not much more we can really say about Devin Booker at this point, always proving he’s a top 10-15 talent in this league at worst. The 36 and ~eight playing alongside Durant is the type of thing that makes you salivate over what it could look like in May and June, but maintaining such elite production on even better efficiency reinforces what we all know: Book is that guy.
When it comes to Chris Paul, things are a bit more enigmatic. The 14 and 11 over the last few games is closer to his full-season marks than the Durant numbers, which gives me a little peace of mind, but seeing such success focused on a stretch where he needs to be successful is big.
With double-digit scoring outputs in his last six games (granted, four of them are as low as 11 points), Paul has his second-longest streak of double-digit scoring this season. It’s also the longest streak playing alongside Booker.
All in all, let’s pump the brakes a bit on panicking. For the most part, even the worst numbers are just middle-of-the-pack across the league over the last four games, and the Suns have still been competitive in just about every minute of that stretch.
All the teams behind the Suns — and even in front of them — have question marks that are just as real if not more real than an ankle keeping the Suns from having the league’s bona fide best 1-2 punch.
Yeah, it’s really important to stop the bleeding of this short losing streak, and it’s really important to do it now, when the Suns have a tanking opponent like the Orlando Magic in front of them next at home on Thursday night.
But these Suns have truly earned the benefit of the doubt to let this play out without anyone panicking.