The Phoenix Suns won their first game with Kevin Durant in the lineup on Wednesday night. Behind the exploits of Durant (23 points on 10-15 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Devin Booker (37 points on 15-26 shooting, 7 assists, 6 rebounds), the Suns took an early 20-point lead over the short-handed Charlotte Hornets and held on for a wire to wire victory.
Durant looked great in a starting lineup with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Josh Okogie. Some of it was a little clunky, of course, but as Monty Williams put it, Durant erases a lot of mistakes.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to give a guy the ball and he can get to his spot and get a really good shot,” Williams said.
Durant made it look easy. We walked into his favorite shots, simply rose up higher than anyone can contest and drained smooth jumper after smooth jumper. You can’t help but smile at seeing that guy in a Suns uniform.
“It’s a good feeling,” Book said. “I’m a fan first. Watching KD, one of the best to ever do it, do it right here on my team, is something I never thought. But he’s here now.”
As good as Durant looked with the starters, they were only a +1 in 15 minutes together across three different stints. Where Durant made the biggest difference on the scoreboard was with the bench guys around him.
Of Durant’s 26 minutes, almost 8 came alongside four bench players at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters. The Suns were +9 in those eight minutes.
“I think when it comes down to it, one of us will always be on the court at the same time,” Booker said to Duane Rankin after the game.
Suns fans have to be letting out a sigh of relief at those comments.
As much as head coach Monty Williams just loves to play a five-man all-bench lineup a few minutes every night to give his starters a rest, there’s no more stressful part of any game than watching Cam Payne, Ish Wainright, Damion Lee, Torrey Craig and Jock Landale try to score the basketball.
Last night, it felt like that group played a lot of time together, didn’t it? In actuality, all-bench lineups only played 2:31 of game time, but were a -7 in those two and a half minutes.
It seems like, going forward, Booker will finish each first and third quarter while Durant will start every second and fourth quarter, to bridge the time the majority of the starters get their rest. Both Durant and Booker average 36 minutes a night, so they can each take a 4-6 minute nightly shift with four benchies to keep the Suns afloat.
- Book + 4 bench guys: +3 in 3 minutes (2 stints)
- Durant + 4 bench guys: +9 in 8 minutes (2 stints)
- All 5 bench guys: -7 in 2.5 minutes (2 stints)
Each of Book’s stints occurred late first quarter and late third quarter, but stopped short of making it to the final buzzer of the quarter. If you recall last year, Book often played all the way through the end of the first and third quarters. If Durant kicks off the beginning of the second and fourth, that’s the bridge the bench units need.
Two years ago, that’s how the Suns bridged the quarter gaps with Booker finishing the first and third while Paul started the second and fourth. But Paul’s been less effective with the bench units this year because he can’t generate his own shots as much as he used to, so he’s relying on the benchies to score. We’ve seen how that goes. There’s a reason the Suns are only 17th in the league on offense this year after being 9th in 2021 and 3rd in 2022.
Going forward, the Suns should be much better on offense. The team as a whole has just a 113 offensive rating for the season (17th overall, and 5 points per game behind the league leaders), but Book’s own offensive rating is 117. Durant’s is 122 (from Brooklyn, and one game with the Suns). Ayton and Paul are 119. The more we see of those four the rest of the season, the better the Suns offense will run.