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Suns monthly mailbag: Questions about Kevin Durant, playoff rotations, top-10 movies and more

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
March 3, 2023

The Phoenix Suns have officially entered the Kevin Durant era, and so now felt like a good time for another Suns Monthly Mailbag!

From questions about Durant’s Suns debut to what Monty Williams’ rotation might look like to possible playoff matchups, there’s plenty of hoops-related content to dive into. But our readers were also curious about favorite movies, Marvel vs. DC and plenty more to keep things fun!

As always, thanks to everyone who submitted questions. Let’s dive into each and every one of them with the latest Suns Monthly Mailbag for Diehards!

Suns mailbag questions about Kevin Durant

@Mattcorral 3 asks: “Have we died and gone to heaven?”

Can’t be sure, but it certainly feels that way after watching Kevin Durant’s promising Suns debut!

Sunderous Punk on Discord asks: “Did we see evidence of KD changing the Suns’ defensive schemes in Game 1? Do we expect them to switch everything in the playoffs 1-5? Is that a good plan?”

We got a taste of it. As I mentioned in our breakdown of his Suns debut, KD mentioned after the game that Phoenix has put him in more pick-and-roll coverages than he was used to with the Brooklyn Nets, where Jacque Vaughn employed a switch-heavy scheme.

Above all else, I think Durant’s presence will allow Phoenix to be more aggressive in their pick-and-roll defense. I covered this more extensively in a defensive breakdown of KD’s game, but to sum up, last year’s playoff loss to the Mavs saw Mikal Bridges fighting through multiple screens on Luka Doncic before conceding a switch, with Ayton in drop coverage and Chris Paul usually winding up trying to hold his own against Doncic.

This time around, Ayton can be more aggressive in playing up to the level, hedging or even blitzing on screens, knowing that Durant will be patrolling the back line to help protect the rim. Against Charlotte, we already saw examples of Ayton being further up in his pick-and-roll coverage, as well as the secondary rim protection Durant brings to the table. All of this helps prevent the type of mismatch hunting we saw last year.

With that being said, Durant also gives Phoenix more switching power, because both he and DA can serve as rim protectors in the frontcourt — a complementary component Ayton’s never really had in his career. I don’t think they’ll switch everything like Brooklyn did, because the playoffs are all about throwing different looks at opposing superstars, but if they need to switch, they definitely can without sacrificing length or shot-blocking near the basket.

@MicahRumsey asks: “There’s been a lot of talk on pick-and-rolls with KD and either CP3 or Book. After watching KD and Ayton run them a few times on Wednesday, what are your thoughts on the double bigs PNR?”

They were pretty good! Granted, we didn’t get a ton of them in the Charlotte game because KD was on a minutes restriction and spent considerable minutes alongside bench-heavy units. But even then, Durant’s work with Jock Landale in the pick-and-roll showed flashes of what he and DA will be able to do in extended minutes together.

This was the lone example with Ayton that directly led to a KD bucket, but he got to the midrange a few more times coming off picks set by Landale. The formula is pretty simple: Create good contact with whoever’s defending your otherworldly scorer, and let him cook:

That double-big pick-and-roll will put opposing defenses in a bind. Not every team has the personnel to switch Ayton’s man onto Durant and hold their own, especially since whoever’s guarding KD would then have to find a way to keep DA from rolling right into an easy rim bucket. Blitz Durant, and he’s got the size to feed Ayton right over the top of the defense. Play in drop coverage to prevent drives or Ayton rolling, and KD will just pull up for his patented middy.

It’s not going to be fun trying to defend the Suns’ actions, especially when they’ve got guys like Book, CP3, Terrence Ross or Damion Lee spacing the floor to keep help defenders honest.

@midgeoso asks: “Are you looking forward to asking KD anything in particular when the Suns play at home next?”

So many things! Since his introductory press conference, we haven’t been able to speak to him yet, since he was previously injured and now Phoenix is on a road trip.

Off the top of my head, I’d love to hear his thoughts on playing with DA in the frontcourt, how he’s adapting to the Suns’ defensive principles, his impressions of playing in Phoenix after his first home game at the Footprint Center, what his communication with Monty has been like while learning all these new schemes, what it’s been like being able to just play basketball with joy again, what his go-to restaurant in Phoenix is….

There’s so much ground to cover! Next week’s first practice back at The Lab can’t get here soon enough.

@iftbastatbp asks: “Do you think Monty is waiting for KD to come back to tweak the rotation?”

Our mailbag was a bit late in getting around to this question, but I do. I think we may not have a good idea of what his bench rotation will be until KD has about 10-ish games under his belt. And that’s a good thing! The Suns suddenly have a bunch of viable options for their nine- or 10-man rotation, and it’d be encouraging to see Monty Williams take the time to evaluate them all properly.

Seeding is important, but this is the opportune moment to see what certain guys can and can’t give you.

With Durant back, I expect Josh Okogie to continue starting (hopefully this isn’t a game-to-game thing where he keeps adjusting the starting lineup based on Phoenix’s opponent). I expect Torrey Craig to eat most of Ish Wainright’s minutes. I expect T.J. Warren (but not Darius Bazley) to earn a few last-ditch opportunities to prove he deserves playing time. And I expect Terrence Ross to get more minutes than some might be comfortable with.

Beyond that, I have no idea what to expect — and that’s okay! Evaluate everything. Experiment. Don’t sacrifice wins just to tinker, obviously, but there’s still time to learn about the potential rotations Phoenix could utilize before committing to them fully over the final stretch.

Damn it, we jumped the gun! Let’s just dive into it then….

Suns mailbag questions about the rotation

@neilruby asks: “Feel we left last playoffs wanting to secure PG backup depth just in case. Where’re we at with that in your opinion?”

In a similar place of probably relying a bit too heavily on Cam Payne, but those concerns are somewhat mitigated by Kevin Durant’s arrival. Phoenix definitely could’ve used another ball-handler last summer to serve as an upgrade for Payne, or at the very least, insurance in the event he disappears again like last year’s playoffs. The right foot sprain that held him out for seven weeks compounds the concerns over how reliable he’ll be whenever Chris Paul needs a breather. He’s only got a six weeks to kick it back into high gear.

However, the Suns no longer need to directly replace CP3’s minutes with Payne whenever the Point God rests, mostly because they have Devin Booker and KD to shoulder the ball-handling and playmaking duties. As long as one of Paul, Booker or Durant are on the floor at any time, Phoenix has someone to initiate offense in a pinch.

The Suns will still need a good 10-15 minutes from Payne come playoff time, but they’ll be a lot less reliant on him being good for those stretches now.

@34deadpirates asks: “If CP3 gets hurt in the playoffs, who is the Suns’ third self-creator?”

Probably Payne or T-Ross. Booker and Durant are obviously the main two creators, and while DA remains an elite play finisher and one of the Suns’ main scoring hubs, until he adds a serviceable handle to his game, he doesn’t quite fit that category.

In other words, let’s hope CP3 doesn’t get hurt.

@SunderousDunks asks: “Should Bazley and Warren be getting minutes right now and over who?”

I hate to break it to the faction of Suns Twitter that is obsessed with finding out what Darius Bazley can do, but I don’t think he will (or should) be in the playoff rotation. I’ll admit I too have a morbid curiosity about what he might bring to the table, and it’s only natural to want to get some type of look at a mysterious new 22-year-old who will be a restricted free agent over the summer.

But Bazley’s minutes with the Oklahoma City Thunder had been declining for a few seasons now, and that was on a sub-.500 team. What, exactly, has everyone so convinced he suddenly deserves bench minutes from one of the juggernauts out West?

As I covered more extensively in our breakdown of Darius Bazley’s game, he brings upside, athleticism and rim protection, but his offense leaves something to be desired. He plays more like a wing with a shaky handle than a pick-and-roll big, which is what the Suns would need him to be for him to crack the rotation.

As for Warren…well, let’s talk about him!

@34deadpirates asks: “Will T.J. Warren ever be all the way back from his injuries?”

Yes, but it will probably take more than a few months after being away from the game for two years? That’s what seems to be lost in the conversation about Tony Buckets deserving more minutes: Yes, he can score, but is he actually all the way back yet?

Just because he averaged 9.5 points per game on 51 percent shooting in Brooklyn doesn’t necessarily mean he should automatically earn minutes on a deeper Suns squad. Phoenix loves what Wainright brings to the table, and while Warren obviously can give this team more on the offensive end, he — like many new players — is probably still trying to get a grasp on the Suns’ defensive schemes.

That kind of thing is important to Williams. Fair or unfair, it may be the thing that’s holding him back, and Ross’ arrival didn’t help matters. Warren should still get a few opportunities to prove he belongs in the rotation, but they’ll be sparing, and he has to capitalize on them quickly. So far, his 28 total minutes in a Suns jersey haven’t shown much, and it’s worth noting that he himself mentioned he’s still working his way back during his first media availability.

“Just be myself and just continue to work my way back,” Warren said. “It’s hard to make up two years in two months, but I’m still continuing to get that feel back, mentally and physically. So it’s all going in the right direction.”

All of this brings us to the hot-button issue….

@co_dhunt asks: “Rank the following by how many minutes you think they’ll get in the playoffs: Terrence Ross, Ish Wainright, T.J. Warren and Torrey Craig?”

@Calebmd01 asks: “What’s your best guess at the bench rotation? I’m guessing right now they’d be running Payne-Shamet-Ross-Craig-Landale when everyone is healthy.”

First things first:

  1. Terrence Ross
  2. Torrey Craig
  3. Ish Wainright
  4. T.J. Warren

I think the starting five is locked in, not only because Okogie has earned it and brings valuable point-of-attack defense to replicate some of what Mikal Bridges provided, but also because it prevents a shooting guard logjam off the bench. If Craig started, that would leave Okogie, T-Ross, Damion Lee and possibly a healthy Landry Shamet to fight for limited minutes at the 2-guard spot.

Payne will play because the Suns still need a backup floor general. Ross will play because he was promised minutes when Williams, general manager James Jones and owner Mat Ishbia recruited him. Craig will play because he was crucial in keeping Phoenix afloat without Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder.

That leaves Lee, Warren, Wainright and possibly Shamet to duke it out for minutes. For now, I’ll go with Payne, Ross, Craig and Landale, with minutes for Lee and Wainright sprinkled in. I think Warren deserves more of a look, and if he can prove himself defensively, he should overtake Wainright’s role. But minutes will be hard to come by for that Lee-Wainright-Warren trio, even if Williams does the right thing and keeps a returning-from-injury Shamet out of the equation.

Suns mailbag questions about the playoffs

@LegendJoey_ asks: “Do you think the mentality of ‘all business’ and the adrenaline of knowing how good this team can be is sustainable?”

I do. Over the course of an 82-game season it can be a lot harder to sustain, and that’ll be the challenge for this group next year, regardless of who is still on the roster by that point. But for a group with only 20 regular-season games to build chemistry before the playoffs begin? Everyone is rightfully on the same page about being “all business.”

If anything, that sense of urgency to start peaking at the right time may be something that last year’s mighty Suns squad lacked.

@azsportsguy17 asks: “What team would you like to face off in the first round?”

@BenjaminGolan asks: “Of the teams currently projected to be in the playoffs, name three teams that if you’re the Suns you want to avoid in the first round and three teams you want to face?”

The three teams I think the Suns would prefer to avoid in the first round:

  1. LA Clippers
  2. New Orleans Pelicans
  3. Dallas Mavericks

For the Clippers, it’s because a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is a challenging prospect for any team. LA is probably the only team in the West with two elite wing defenders capable of making life difficult for Booker and KD. They have a ton of wing depth behind them, not to mention a terrific adjustments coach in Tyronn Lue. Admittedly, they’re slightly less scary now with Russell Westbrook.

For the Pelicans, it’s because — despite their ongoing slide — they still match up well with Phoenix. Their physicality and offensive rebounding is problematic, they’d be out for blood after last year’s playoff clash, and if Zion Williams got healthy in time, the Suns would have no answer for that man. Granted, Zion being healthy is a big “if,” but they were the No. 1 team in the West for quite some time until injuries derailed their season.

For the Mavs, it’s because they simply seem to be the Suns’ bugaboo. An inexplicable mental block has followed that Game 7 beatdown, and it feels like it’s permeated into this season. Having Durant could certainly help exorcise those demons, but between Luka Doncic owning Phoenix lately and now the Kyrie Irving factor, there’s too much PTSD to make this the straightforward matchup it should be. Phoenix should make light work of a team that ranks in the league’s bottom third in defensive rating, but for whatever reason, Dallas feels like the Boogeyman.

Tackling both questions at once, here are the three teams I think the Suns would be okay with:

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves
  2. Utah Jazz
  3. Golden State Warriors

There would need to be some jostling in the standings for the Wolves or Jazz to climb high enough for this first-round matchup, but both are .500 (or sub-.500 teams) masquerading as playoff squads. Utah fell back down to earth and then traded away some key pieces at the deadline, and Minnesota hasn’t been scary all season. The Rudy Gobert experiment doesn’t bother Phoenix in the slightest, and they’d turn a healthy Karl-Anthony Towns into the world’s largest pigeon.

The Warriors are the dicey inclusion here, but it’s by default; since we’re talking about teams currently in the playoff picture, play-in candidates on the outside like the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers don’t qualify. The Suns match up well with the Sacramento Kings, but the Kings would have to drop pretty far for that 4-5 matchup to come about, which feels unlikely. The Denver Nuggets or Memphis Grizzlies would require a drop on Phoenix’s part that I just don’t see happening.

That leaves us with the defending champs. Speaking of which….

@joeburgers asks: “Do the Warriors have a puncher’s chance in the West?”

Possibly? I don’t want to count anyone out since the West lacks an overwhelming favorite. The Nuggets have distanced themselves as the 1-seed with the likely MVP, but so did Phoenix last year (to a much larger degree), and we all remember how that turned out. Denver still has questions to answer about health and playoff mettle.

The Suns should be the new favorites to win the West, but they also have injury-prone guys and a short amount of time to put it all together, which, historically speaking, has rarely translated to championship success in this league.

The defending champs have a lot to figure out first, however. Stephen Curry is set to return this weekend from a lower leg injury, but the Dubs have underwhelmed all season with a middling defense and offense. Injuries have played a big part in that, but it just doesn’t feel like this team has “it” anymore. Maybe it was Draymond Green’s punch, Father Time settling in or something else, but whatever’s going on, the Warriors don’t feel like they pose the same threat as usual.

With that being said, write them off at your own risk. Phoenix is 3-0 against the Warriors this season and won each one by double digits, but a healthy Steph Curry is never a fun prospect in a playoff series, and especially so in a first-round matchup. Klay Thompson has been red-hot since the start of 2023, and the Dubs have quietly climbed all the way up to the 5-seed. Who would be more motivated to prove a point between KD and his former team might be an underrated swing factor in a matchup like this one.

Suns mailbag questions about the future

@MascoTommy asks: “You think KD ends his career here?”

That would be pretty neat! If he does, it means the Suns probably won a championship, and one of the game’s all-time greats was content enough here to ride out his twilight years alongside Booker in the desert. Don’t forget, as good as KD is, he’s also 34 years old and has a notable injury history to consider.

He’s under contract through the 2025-26 season, at which point he’ll be 37. If he’s healthy, Durant’s game isn’t dependent on athleticism, which means he’ll still probably be a highly effective player at that point. Maybe the Suns re-sign him to ensure he retires here. Maybe he’s ready for a new challenge and signs elsewhere. Maybe Phoenix falls short of its title aspirations and he flees for greener pastures at his first opportunity.

It’d be great to see Durant close his Hall-of-Fame career out here, but there are too many variables to consider to say it’ll happen with any type of certainty. He and Booker seem close and have the potential to do great things, but because of all the uncertainty that lies ahead, and the fact that Durant could very well play into his late 30s, we’re going to leave the door open for KD to close his career out somewhere else — even if it’s only on a series of one- or two-year contracts.

Psychoblue on Discord asks: “In June, will the Era of Solar Dominance begin?”

Not sold on the nickname, but it sure is possible! Even with rotations and chemistry to figure out, this team is built for the playoffs and should be right up there with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics as title favorites.

@mike_xidis asks: “Who’s more likely to be on this team in 2023-24 season, CP3 or Ayton?”

Ayton. This season is his golden opportunity to play a pivotal role on a title contender, and he’s said all the right things about simplifying his offensive role and doing the little things that helped the Suns reach the Finals in 2021. As contentious as things seemed over the summer with his contract situation and even at the start of the season, DA got his max and now gets to buckle up for a potential championship run alongside two top-10 players. I expect him to respond accordingly.

Paul, meanwhile, is battling Father Time, and even if the Suns fall short of their championship aspirations this season, his position on the floor is most likely to be the one in need of an upgrade. CP3 has adjusted his game to become an effective off-ball shooter, but if he becomes the targeted weak point in the defense and Phoenix comes up short as a result, that will be where James Jones looks to improve his roster.

It doesn’t help Paul’s case that only $15.8 million of his $30.8 million salary for next season is guaranteed, or that his entire salary for 2024-25 is non-guaranteed.

The Point God has been instrumental in helping the Suns build their culture and winning ways. His first year here, he helped get Phoenix to the Finals for just the third time in their franchise’s history, and just last year, he earned Third Team All-NBA honors while helping the Suns win a franchise-record 64 games. Those accomplishments shouldn’t be swept under the rug, and it’s worth noting that Ayton would have more trade value, even if his max contract is a bit steep for what he provides.

But at age 37, it’s clear that Paul has taken a slight step backward. If he’s the final piece holding the Suns back from getting over that championship hurdle, he feels more likely to be moved somehow than a 24-year-old who hasn’t hit his prime yet.

@Heath_Gunderson asks: “I would love to see an article that talks about the upcoming offseason now that they got KD. What kind of limitations will they have when it comes to free agency in correlation to the luxury tax? Also, who are some veterans that will be available that could come for less $?”

I am sorry to disappoint, because I understand the impulse here. Rest assured we will be diving into those topics in depth…just, not yet.

The Suns just got Kevin Durant! And have 20 games before a potential championship run! For now, we’ll keep the focus on the hoops. Once the season’s over, I promise we’ll take a look at how Phoenix might revamp its roster for next season.

The fun, random Suns mailbag questions

@Espo asks: “Who is your favorite co-host and why is it Espo?”

…Sure! Let’s go with that.

@thatpatrickguy asks: “What do you think about NBA analysis from AI like @bing‘s ChatGPT style AI?”

Did we learn nothing from I, Robot?? This is how it starts!!

In all seriousness, for those unfamiliar with ChatGPT and this kind of AI technology, John Oliver did a wonderfully informative segment on it for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver:

Stuff like this boggles my mind, and it also slightly (highly?) creeps me out. Lost in the regurgitation of stats and key moments from the game, though, is the soul. Basketball is too beautiful a game, too poetic in its movements, to be described by robots. I need some personality!

@Shoffology asks: “You can only watch 10 movies for the rest of your life. What 10 movies are they?”

A difficult question that I spent far too long pondering, but in no particular order:

  1. V For Vendetta
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  4. Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  5. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  6. Avengers: Infinity War
  7. Dumb & Dumber
  8. Superbad
  9. White Men Can’t Jump
  10. Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Honorable Mentions: Every other Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movie, every Harry Potter movie, Wedding Crashers, Black Panther, Tommy Boy, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Big Daddy, Casino RoyaleShrek, either Ace Ventura movie, Liar Liar, The Princess Bride, Coco, Gladiator, Troy and the original Aladdin.

@nerrotika13 asks: “What is the absolute worst film you have ever seen?”

Cocaine Bear.

Nah, but seriously, as bad as it was, it doesn’t beat the newest Tom & Jerry, which was a monstrosity. Or Wonder Woman 1984, which was even worse, because unlike Cocaine Bear, it wasn’t actively trying to be one of the worst films of all time.

My most disappointing trip to the theaters remains Public Enemies. The most overrated movie I’ve ever seen is La La Land, hands down.

@CactusOnIce asks: “What’s your favorite G-Rated review that you’ve done so far?”

They’ve all been a blast. I love talking about the bevy of movies and TV shows that I consume in my spare time, and it’s been awesome getting to hop on shows with my other PHNX co-workers that I normally wouldn’t get to collaborate with.

For now though, my favorite was either Letterkenny or Glass Onion. You can check out some of the other G-Rated reviews we’ve done here!

@Jon_Ramirez09 asks: “Are you a Marvel or DC guy? If so, did you collect any comics growing up?”

Batman is my favorite superhero of all time. He has not only the best cast of villains of any superhero, but also the best superhero movie ever in The Dark Knight. But in terms of the movies as a whole? It’s Marvel, pretty easily.

I know everyone’s got superhero fatigue at this point, but as much as Phase 4 of the MCU lacked cohesion as a whole, I didn’t hate most of those projects like some people did. And until the DCEU can get its collective shit together with superior projects like Harley Quinn on HBO Max and more than one decent movie in a row, I’m firmly planted on Team Marvel.

As for the comics, while I didn’t collect them per se, I played all the superhero video games and was well-versed in the comic book storylines. I’d definitely flip through them at Noble, an old collectibles and trading card store in Albuquerque that I used to love going to as a kid, so a lot of these storylines we’re seeing on the big screen have been embedded in my head for years now.

@WarzoneAnalyst asks: “Do we think Cam Payne hits the griddy at some point in the future?”

Given what we know about Payne and recent history, the answer is always yes.

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