Kevin Durant is a unique basketball player with his ability. He is arguably the greatest scorer of all time and can do it at all three levels (on three pointers, midrange and at the rim), an incredible feat since he is listed at 6-foot-10 and is probably closer to 7-feet.
But for some reason, he has perhaps not gotten the touches a player of his caliber would deserve in the Phoenix Suns’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Suns lead the series 2-1 after their 129-124 win Thursday night. Fellow All-Star Devin Booker dazzled with 45 points on 18-of-29 shooting, an indicator he has more than figured out the Clippers’ multiple defensive schemes.
Durant had an effective line with 28 points (8-of-15 FG) with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also made all 11 of his free throw attempts.
BIGGEST LEAD OF THE GAME— x -- Suns Lead (@SunsLead) April 21, 2023
SUNS UP 13. KEVIN DURANT SHUTS DOWN THE GYM pic.twitter.com/1NjJKVGvgQ
But too often in the series, he has been treated less than he is capable of in the Suns’ offensive attack.
Suns coach Monty Williams runs a very effective team basketball offense with a point-five scheme that encourages players to make quick reads and rotate effectively. That has led Phoenix to great success in the last two seasons, but it is his fixation on the system that might have limited the Suns from winning a championship or doing more in last year’s postseason run.
Let’s make something clear: Durant has not been extremely limited in this series. He has been very good statistically, averaging 26.7 points on 51 percent shooting in three games. He is also averaging seven rebounds, seven assists and 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals.
Durant’s 28-point outing in Game 3 was the most he has had in this series. But too often, Durant has been left in the corner or standing around in the Suns’ offensive actions when they should be asserting his talent as much as possible.
peep Kevin Durant this whole possession pic.twitter.com/9DLIgMvcKc— Slightly Biased (@BiasedSlightly) April 21, 2023
Durant averaged 29.7 points in 37 games with the Brooklyn Nets this season before he was traded to Phoenix Feb. 8, a move that saw beloved forwards Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson depart from the team.
Bridges is now heavily-utilized in Brooklyn. He averaged 27.2 points in his final 26 regular-season games with the Nets.
Bridges showed in Phoenix he had potential but was reserved somewhat in the Suns’ offense, which caters to Booker’s scoring ability and point guard Chris Paul’s proficiency as a pick-and-roll passer with center Deandre Ayton as a screener and finisher.
But shouldn’t Durant’s talents be maximized, too?
Durant has a usage rate of 30.6 this season (39 of 47 games with the Nets) but it has ticked to 26.7 with the Suns. He has topped 30 points only three times in 11 games with the team, surpassing 20 shots only once.
Again, Durant was not dramatically undervalued in Game 3. He had six points in every quarter and struggled a bit with six turnovers. Los Angeles has been aggressive in their double teams and forcing him off his spot, which is why in part Booker has gone off (he is the leading scorer in the postseason at 36.3 points per game).
Still, there have been times when Durant has had a chance to make an ever bigger impact in this series. In Game 1, he went scoreless in the first quarter for just the second time in his playoff career. He also did not score in the third quarter of that game.
Durant took 19 shots, his most this series, in Game 2. Once the Suns utilized him in the second quarter of that game – in which he had 10 points – and Booker in the third (he had 18), Phoenix proved it is probably the better team since it has two of the three best players in this series outside of Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, who did not play in Game 3 due to a right knee sprain.
"I feel bad for Kevin sometimes because he's an expensive decoy out there."— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) April 21, 2023
Monty Williams, with a laugh, on Kevin Durant opening up the floor for Devin Booker.
The Suns are playing a difficult Clippers team that has shot different matchups against the Suns. They are likely to try to halt Booker now, so this is a chance for Durant to get his.
But will the Suns get him the ball?