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Understanding what the Suns are: a team still integrating Kevin Durant

Phoenix is deeper than many think and integrating KD is a process.

Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings Set Number: X164313 TK1

Do you ever feel that you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t?

The Phoenix Suns have added one of the most dynamic scorers in the history of the NBA. Since his arrival into the starting lineup, the team is undefeated. Since March 1 they’re averaging 120 points per game (9th), a 124.6 offensive rating (7th), a 111.1 defensive rating (6th), which equates to a +13.5 net rating (2nd).

I understand the two of those victories came against teams that currently aren’t in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Fair. But I find it interesting — nearly comical — that the national pundits refuse to give the Phoenix Suns any respect for the way that they performed since the addition of Kevin Durant.

ESPN’s First Take had some interesting comments on Monday as they talked about the Suns 130-126 win against the Dallas Mavericks. “They don’t have enough,” Kendrick Perkins stated. “They don’t have enough depth to go out there and compete in the Western Conference,” he added.

Are there areas of opportunity? Absolutely. Every team has them and no team is perfect. But it’s darn right irresponsible for Stephen A. Smith to say that CP3 and DA are, “standing around and looking at Booker and Kevin Durant to save the day”.

Deandre Ayton has attempted a total of 20 shots since Durant‘s arrival (6.7 per game). Prior to KD’s insertion into the starting lineup he was averaging 13.8 attempts a game. His touches have gone down by 10 per game. Yet with limited involvement, he’s averaging 10.7 points and 11.7 rebounds on 65% shooting.

Chris Paul has seen his usage rate drop by 4% since KD’s arrival, but the 37 year-old Point God is stepping up as needed. His assist totals have gone from 8.9 to 9.3. He is scoring 5.7 of his 8.0 points in the fourth quarter, showing us he is fresh and ready when needed.

Should we be concerned about their lack of involvement? Hell no.

Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, the teams’ two primary scorers and offensive leaders on the team, are learning to play together. They’re learning their spacing on the floor and figuring out how to balance their effectiveness without upsetting the balance of the other. And they’re winning while they’re doing it.

Take a look at Dallas, for example. They too have been in the process of trying to integrate an All-Star into their lineup. With their loss to Phoenix on Sunday, the Dallas Mavericks are now 2-5 in games with both Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving.

Why? It starts with the fluidity and insertablility (not a word, but a fact) Kevin Durant plays with. Good, bad, or indifferent, Luka plays a very specific type of basketball. Slow it down. Play physically. Try to get to the line. Whine. Watch me, watch me! Wash, rinse, and repeat in the clutch-time minutes.

The dynamic duo for the Suns couldn’t be more different. They are constantly moving, coming off of screens, and personifying the 0.5 offense that Monty Williams wants to execute. Kevin Durant is a longer, taller, more efficient version of Devin Booker. The current Suns system plays to KD’s strengths. The same can’t be said in Dallas.

What we are seeing from Kevin and Devin is historic. As they are learning to play together, they are carrying the team.

The lack of depth irks me as well, admittingly probably more than it should. “Your bench is very, very thin,” Stephen A. Smith said on First Take on Monday. Since KD has arrived, the bench is +4, which is 11th in the NBA. I understand that these are national pundits; people who don’t watch this team with regularity. They don’t understand the true roster construction that Monty Williams has provided.

Phoenix might not be “deep”, but they are extremely flexible, which allows them to play in multiple different ways.

When it comes to the postseason, we know that the rotations will shrink to 8 to 9 players. Based on the matchup, Monty Williams has numerous effective and experienced players at his disposal. Need some physicality? Insert Torrey Craig or Ish Wainwright. Need some shooting? Insert Terrence Ross, Damion Lee, or T.J. Warren. Need some speed or energy? Insert Cameron Payne or Jock Landale. Need some Defense? Insert Bismack Biyombo or Landry Shamet (if he ever gets healthy).

When Kendrick Perkins askes, “Who are the others?”, THEY are the others.

For the season, the Suns have the 11th best scoring bench in the league at 35.6 points. They are 9th in three-point shooting (36.4%), 9th in rebounding (16.2.), and are 4th in +/- with a +96.

When you analyze how the Suns offense is being run, you’ll notice that the catch-and-shoot three-point shot is where the bench needs to excel. Durant, Booker, or CP3 will create enough gravity to lead to open shooters. Typically these shooters are open in the corner as defenders sag off to provide assistance.

How do the “others” stack up in catch-and-shoot three-pointers and shooting from the corner?

  • Terrence Ross (4 game sample size): 31.3% catch and shoot, 45.5% from the corner
  • Josh Okogie: 33.9% C&S, 30% corner
  • Cam Payne: 25.3% C&S, 38.5% corner
  • Ish Wainright: 36.4% C&S, 38.5% corner
  • Landry Shamet: 39.1% C&S, 47.2% corner
  • Torrey Craig: 40.4% C&S, 4.4% corner
  • Damion Lee: 46.5% C&S, 60% corner

Perhaps it’s the 40 minutes played by both KD and Devin Booker played on Sunday that has the national media in a tizzy. The last time Booker played 40 minutes? December 17. KD? October 27. There is no need to overreact to one game in which Phoenix was fighting back on the road on a Sunday afternoon nationally televised game.

We’re seeing what they are not. They don’t see the vision relative to rotations, for they are not observing that either Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, or Chris Paul will always be on the court. For 48 minutes a night a future Hall of Fame playmaker will be on the court. When we reference the depth of this team, you must take into account that every single bench player will be playing alongside either KD, CP3, or D Book. That is the vision.

Continue to hate on this team, national media, it’s fine. We had expectations last year, and personally I prefer this way.

There will be challenges because nothing good in life is easy and everything you want is on the other side of hard. There will be adjustments in the postseason. But I am not sure that you can look at what the Suns have done over the last three games and make any postseason conclusions, relative to depth or playing style.

Again, these players are learning to play with each other. Learning! These last 17 games school is in session. Class one: permit your superstars to learn to play together. The more confident they become in each other, the trickle down effect will occur. Class two: integrate DA and CP3 more to take pressure off of what you learned in Class One.

Your bench players? They’ll be taking Class Three the entire time: find your role and perfect it.

Carry the hell on.

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