You’re in your second semester of AP Basketball History, you love really good teams, and you love lists. With precious little drama left in the NBA’s 2015 offseason, why don’t we hit the barroom and/or barbershop, pour ourselves a frosty mug of Barbicide, and get to arguin’ over each franchise’s most formidable starting five-man lineup.
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Because we don’t like making tough decisions, the lineups will reflect the All-NBA line of thinking. There will be no differentiation between separate forward and guard positions, and the squads will be chosen after careful consideration of individual merits only – we don’t really care if your team’s top shooting guard and point guard don’t get along.
C: Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire was technically listed as a power forward for four of his eight seasons in Phoenix, and yes he did play alongside Shaq in two of those “power forward” years, but he also played alongside low-minute starters like Jake Voskuhl and Scott Williams in the other two years at the supposed “four.” Averaged 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds a contest with the team, made five All-Star teams, and was a whole heck of a lot of fun to watch. Also may have always wanted to make sure everyone knew who he was.
F: Charles Barkley. The Suns of the late 1980s and 1990s badly needed someone to put them over the top, and usually such an acquisition comes in the form of a sage veteran or young sixth man spitfire. Rarely does it come in the form of an MVP-level franchise player, but that’s exactly what Phoenix got in 1992. Barkley nearly led the Suns to a championship in 1993, and though back woes and bad timing crippled his attempts to put the team over the top in the years that followed, he turned the franchise around. Averaged 23.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists in four seasons with Phoenix. Just kidding, Phoenix doesn’t have “seasons.”
F: Shawn Marion. Switching expertly between forward spots, Marion’s unending cadre of all-around strengths helped usher in the NBA’s modern era. Pitched initially as yet another swingman that could dunk, Marion turned into a rebounding force, spot-up shooter, and killer defender. Whatever his team needed, he provided, to the tune of 18.4 points, 10 rebounds and 3.3 combined blocks/steals.
G: Kevin Johnson. Phoenix turned an aging but still potent Larry Nance into not only Kevin Johnson, but the draft pick that would turn into Dan Majerle after a 1988 deal with Cleveland. Johnson would go on to turn into one of the NBA’s great scoring guards, minding his own store to the tune of 18.7 points per game as a Sun while still finding ways to feed his teammates without complaint (sometimes). When Jason Kidd was injured down the stretch of Phoenix’s 1999-00 run, Johnson came out of a two-year retirement to play damn well until Kidd could return to action in time for a two-round playoff run.
G: Steve Nash. Nash was drafted by Phoenix in 1996, but he joined a team already featuring Kevin Johnson at lead guard. Sam Cassell would then join the team later that summer, only to be traded for Jason Kidd during the second month of Nash’s rookie campaign. Nash put up great per-minute stats but basically had to work as trade bait for the first two seasons of his career before being dealt to Dallas for the pick that would turn into Marion. Upon returning as a 30-year old All-Star in 2004, Nash shocked the many critics that presumed the Suns had overpaid for his services by turning in two MVP seasons and eight more campaigns of brilliant basketball with the club.
Center Alvan Adams was more than a one-year wonder, and we’ll get into his contributions as a Sun in a longer column later this summer (seriously). Beyond that, the Suns have always been known as a doughnut team, with that hole in the middle usually being represented by journeyman both anonymous (Mark West) and rather famous (Shaquille O’Neal).
The team has enjoyed the work of plenty of swingmen, however. Paul Westphal was a brilliant offensive force for this team, averaging over 20 points and five assists a game for several great Suns outfits – including the 1976 club that nearly won an NBA title. Dick Van Arsdale was a great talent, peeling himself off of the expansion draft pile heap to become a three-time All-Star, and while Walter Davis wasn’t exactly a big hit with his later teammates, he did average over 20 points per game and make six All-Star teams with the Suns. Dan Majerle was Thunder Dan. That’s all you need.
Big forwards Larry Nance and Tom Chambers were both a little before their time, and perfect for their era. They mixed superior hops with shooting and ball-handling skills and drove defenses absolutely crazy as members of the Suns. Connie Hawkins worked much in the same way in the 1970s.
That’s our five. Who would you take?
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