Phoenix Suns: Best Players By Position Of The Modern Era

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Editor’s Note: The modern era of the NBA is generally accepted to have begun with the 1979-80 season, the advent of the 3-point line in the NBA. The lists to follow—one for each of the NBA’s 30 teams—will only consider seasons since 1979-80. We continue the series today with the best of the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Phoenix Suns have had a bittersweet 46-year existence. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s and then again from the late ‘80s into the ‘90s, as well as in the middle of the ‘00s, the Suns were one of the league’s perennial contenders.

But they’ve never actually broken through to win a title. In fact, the Suns have only made the NBA Finals twice in their existence, once as a Cinderella 42-40 team in 1975-76 and then when they encountered Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls following the 1992-93 season.

Phoenix’s star-crossed history doesn’t end there. In 2013-14, the Suns matched the record first set by the Golden State Warriors in 2007-08, missing the playoffs despite finishing with 48 wins. That is the most wins by a non-playoff team since the NBA expanded the postseason to 16 teams in 1984.

The Suns also hold the overall all-time NBA record for best record by a non-playoff team, missing the playoffs in 1971-72 despite finishing 49-33. In that era, only the top two teams in each division made the playoffs and the Suns had the misfortune of being in the Midwest Division with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Milwaukee Bucks (63-19) and a Chicago Bulls team powered by Bob Love and Chet Walker that went 57-25.

The Suns have won 60 games in a season three times, setting a franchise record with 62 victories in 1992-93 and matching that mark in 2004-05. Their worst season continues to be their expansion year of 1968-69, when they were 16-66.

In the modern era, the Suns’ low-water mark was a 25-57 season in 2012-13.

The team’s all-time winningest coach, John MacLeod, is also the team’s biggest coaching winner in the modern era. He was 579-543 overall in parts of 14 seasons in the Valley of the Sun, putting together a 342-288 mark from 1979-80 through the 1986-87 season, when he was fired 56 games in.

Mike D’Antoni is the only other coach in the modern era with more than 200 wins in Phoenix, going 253-136 from 2003-04 through 2007-08. The best winning percentage of any Suns coach belongs to Paul Westphal, who was 191-88 from 1992-93 through 1995-96, when he was canned 33 games into the season.

Jerry Colangelo was the longest-tenured general manager in franchise history, being the first with the job in 1968 and continuing in place until February 1994. His son, Bryan Colangelo, succeeded him and remained in the position until February 2006. Since then, the Suns have had a bit of a revolving door, with five different people making the personnel decisions for the organization: D’Antoni, Steve Kerr, Lance Blanks, Lon Babby and current GM Ryan McDonough.

And here are the best players, by position, for the Phoenix Suns in the modern era, beginning in 1979-80. Players had to have played 200 games for the franchise.

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Tags: Alvan Adams Charles Barkley Kevin Johnson Phoenix Suns Shawn Marion Walter Davis

  • LawrenceTalbot

    Adams over Amare is a pretty dubious pick, even allowing for Amare’s mostly shoddy D. Johnson over Nash is a lot more defensible, but probably still wrong; Nash in his prime guaranteed you a top 2 offense, and more importantly guaranteed you career years from everybody else on the team.

    I didn’t see enough of Walter Davis in his prime, but his numbers don’t wow me when compared to guys like Hornacek, Majerle, or (this season) Dragic. On the flip side of the coin, Raja Bell was one of the best three or four defensive players in the league during his run on the Suns and was an elite 3 point shooter, if not much else offensively. I’m skeptical that a guy who had a hard time staying on the court and didn’t seem to belong to any particularly strong incarnations of the team is a better choice than any of those four guys.

    Barkley’s an easy pick, and Marion is a shoe-in largely due to a dearth of serious competition at the 3.

    • Phil Watson

      Amar’e was considered a power forward for this list; otherwise he would have blown Adams away. The positional determination was made based on primary listed position–Stoudemire had slightly more games at the 4 than he did at the 5. I’m trying to use easily identifiable standards for this list to avoid choices that appear arbitrary.

      Davis in his prime was far, far better than Hornacek or Majerle at the 2. And he played for Suns teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s that consistently won 50 games a year, but were in a Western Conference/Pacific Division meat-grinder with strong teams in L.A., Seattle, San Antonio, Denver and–at least occasionally–Portland.

      The biggest difference between Davis vs. Hornacek or Majerle is that a lot of what Hornacek/Majerle did was created by what Kevin Johnson did in creating open shots. Davis played with Paul Westphal, a shoot-first point guard; Dennis Johnson, who was a great player, but not a great creator; and Kyle Macy, who was serviceable at best.

      Sweet D was on a Hall of Fame path before the drug problems took over and his numbers reflect those problems both in decreased playing time and production. Yet, for the time period I looked at, it still was the head of the class. Add in the two years he played before the introduction of the 3-point shot and it’s an even easier choice.