The Phoenix Suns have been around since 1968.
During their 45 seasons of existence, they have exactly zero championships to their name. Looking at the current roster, it will take a wild turn of events for that to change before the team celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Do not be fooled, however. The Suns possess one of the richer histories of talent in the NBA. They've made 29 trips to the postseason, and their all-time winning percentage is .552.
That's the fourth-best in NBA history, behind the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
That isn't to say that Phoenix has the history of those three teams—who have won a combined 37 titles—but so much consistent winning over decades and decades means that this is one of the most competitive top 25 lists in the league.
In order to select the greatest Suns of all time, I used the following primary criteria: seasons spent with the Suns, statistical averages and playoff success. When two or more players were very close—as they often were—the secondary criteria used included peak performance (single outstanding seasons), isolated moments of greatness (such as a series-clinching shot) and terms upon which a player left the team (such as demanding a trade).
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com
The primary reason that Cliff Robinson beats out his close competitors for this final spot is his two-way game and the impact that it had on his Suns.
During his four seasons in Phoenix, Robinson not only averaged 16.4 points on 45.7 percent FG shooting and 37.1 percent three-point shooting, but he also averaged over a steal and block per game.
His 3.2 defensive win-shares per season are a major reason why the Suns made the playoffs every year with Robinson on the roster, and his appearance on the 2000 NBA All-Defensive team is a testament to that.
As one of the greatest shooters in team history, Joe Johnson would be at least three spots higher on this list if not for the terms under which he left the desert.
After three-plus seasons, during which the shooting guard improved from erratic rookie to all-world marksman, Johnson left via restricted free agency after telling the Suns not to match the Atlanta Hawks' offer.
Having said that, Johnson enjoyed a strong three years in Phoenix, capped off by a 2004-05 season that saw him average 17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steal. He shot a ridiculous 47.8 percent from deep, draining 177 triples in the process.
Johnson upped his efficiency for the postseason, scoring 18.3 PPG and draining 55.6 percent of his threes.
Maurice Lucas spent only three seasons with Phoenix and was past his prime during all of them. But even while in his 30s, Lucas managed to average 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds on 48.2 percent shooting.
The undersized big man used his body and his love for physical play to eat glass and shut down opposing power forwards and centers. This helped guide the Suns to the postseason during each of his three seasons in Phoenix, where Lucas improved to 17.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG on 50.8 percent shooting.
Raja Bell assumed the role of Suns' starting SG after Johnson's departure in 2005.
Like Johnson, Bell was a deadly outside shooter, and in fact drained far more threes (578 to 335) at a higher percentage (41.9 to 39.6).
Of course, Bell was not nearly the all-around scorer Johnson was, nor was he much of a rebounder or playmaker.
Where he clearly makes his distinction from Johnson is on the defensive end. He made the All-Defensive team with Phoenix twice, and as a result, helped lead the Suns twice out of Round 1 and once to the Western Conference finals.
He was also known as a clutch shooter, and the 48.3 percent he shot from deep during his three postseason trips with the Suns is evidence of such.
A poor man's Charles Barkley, Truck Robinson spit in the face of the "tweener" stigma.
Rather than being too small to play power forward and too slow and offensively limited to play small forward, Robinson was strong enough to dominate bigger guys on the glass and had the shooting and ball-handling ability to tear up wing defenders.
He averaged 18.4 points and 9.6 rebounds on 51.0 percent shooting during his three years in Phoenix. He comes in only at No. 18 due to his subpar postseason play.
On the surface, Charlie Scott looks like one of the greatest Suns of all time.
His 25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.7 SPG are simply not rivaled by anyone else outside of the top 10, and his three All-Star appearances in his three seasons with Phoenix accurately illustrate his unlimited ability.
Unfortunately for Scott, his Suns' teams never appeared in the postseason, and it was in fact the Boston Celtics team that he was traded to in 1975 that beat Phoenix in the NBA Finals the very next season.
Gar Heard's 6.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG are not the stuff of legend. Even when projected over 36 minutes, His 11.1 points and 10.8 rebounds aren't too impressive considering his 41.5 shooting percentage.
However, there are two things that make Heard a Suns' great. The first is his stellar defense.
Even within his 22.4 minutes per game, the forward averaged 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks. His 11.6 defensive-win shares during his four seasons are phenomenal considering his minutes.
The second is his playoff legacy. Not only did Heard hit the biggest shot in team history during the 1976 NBA Finals, but he may have been the biggest reason they got there, averaging 13.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks throughout the playoffs.
What happens when you give Gar Heard more offensive talent and more minutes?
You get Paul Silas.
Silas not only averaged 14.1 points and 12.1 rebounds during his three seasons in Phoenix (along with an absurd 16.1 points, 15.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists during his one playoff appearance in 1970), but he also made one All-Star team, two All-Defensive teams and had a magnificent 1971-72 season, averaging 17.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Mark West is a return to the Gar Heard-model with a little Paul Silas thrown in.
His limited offensive game and minutes led to averages of only 6.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in 21.6 minutes with Phoenix, but he did shoot an outstanding 62.5 percent from the field (in contrast to Heard). He also blocked 1.7 shots, which is 2.8-per-36 minutes.
Finally, West appeared in every single game during his six years with the Suns, making him the ninth-most prolific Suns player of all-time (the rest of the top 10 appears higher on this list).
Like previously listed guard named Johnson, Dennis Johnson would be higher on this list if his three years in the Valley of the Sun didn't end with a desire to leave due to fallout with the coaching staff and management.
While on the Suns, the Hall of Famer showed off his all-around game by averaging 17.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks on 45.5 FG shooting and 80.7 FT shooting.
He appeared on two All-Star teams, one All-NBA first team and three All-NBA Defensive first teams. Twice he led the Suns out of the first round, averaging 20.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks during the playoffs.
Connie Hawkins is best remembered as an ABA legend, but he was dominant during his four seasons with the Suns as well.
The forward averaged 20.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists in Phoenix, making the All-Star team every single year.
However, even though Hawkins was one of the best PFs in the league, his Suns made only one playoff appearance and his ranking suffers because of it.
Whether early in his Suns' career as a sixth man or later on as a starter, Dan Majerle was an integral part of both Phoenix's offense and defense, helping his team to make the playoffs during all seven of his seasons.
His numbers don't scream at you (14.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG), but his ability to defend (two All-Defensive teams), slash, space the floor for Jeff Hornacek and Kevin Johnson and provide instant offense off the bench made Majerle a consummate team player and winner.
The first star of the Suns, Dick Van Arsdale spent nine years in Phoenix. He averaged 20 points during his first five seasons and retired with a 17.6 point average, but his legacy is about far more than his averages.
Van Arsdale is fourth on the Suns' all-time games played list, fifth in scoring and third in offensive win shares.
He played alongside multiple generations of Suns stars—from Connie Hawkins and Paul Silas to Charlie Scott to the 1976 finals team with Paul Westphal, Alvin Adams and Gar Heard.
Larry Nance is perhaps best remembered as the NBA's first slam-dunk champion, but he was far more than a high flyer for Phoenix.
The big man averaged 19.2 points and 8.6 rebounds during his tenure with the Suns, but more impressive than that were his 56.8 FG percentage, 1.2 steals and 2.1 blocks.
Nance was especially great during his final season in the desert, averaging 22.5 points. This career year facilitated a trade that netted the Suns Kevin Johnson, Mark West and Dan Majerle, all three of whom appear on this list.
While the trade doesn't greatly boost Nance's ranking, it should be noted that his dominance made him valuable enough to be traded for much of the core of Phoenix's great 1990s teams.
Alvan Adams spent his entire NBA career with Phoenix, and his averages with the team are brought down by his later years.
During his first eight seasons, however, Adams went for 16.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG and 1.0 BPG on 49.7 percent shooting.
Based on tenure, productivity and versatility, that's a good enough resume right there to crack the top 20 of this list. When you add on his final five seasons, Adams vaults up to No. 11, as he is the franchise's all-time leader in games, rebounds and steals, while placing in the top five in many other categories.
Throughout all six of Jeff Hornacek's seasons with the Suns, he was a great passer and a pest on defense.
During his final three years, however, he became an all-round force. Hornacek added a lethal three-point shot (42.5 percent), a tenacious approach to rebounding (4.6 from the PG/SG spot) and even saw his FG percentage (52.1) and FT percentage (88.1) rise to all-world levels.
Hornacek was eventually traded for Charles Barkley, but is forever a Phoenix legend, remembered as one half of the Suns' best backcourt of all-time (alongside Kevin Johnson) and one of the most efficient scorers of his generation.
Tom Chambers put up ridiculously strong regular season numbers—particularly during his first two years in Phoenix, averaging 26.5 points and 7.7 rebounds—but it was his ability to perform in the playoffs that makes him one of the greatest players in Suns history.
During the 1989 playoffs, Chambers averaged 26.0 points, 10.9 rebounds 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks, carrying the Suns to the conference finals. The normally offensively-inclined Chambers continued to play as a two-way postseason force, twice more leading the Suns to the third round and once helping them reach the NBA Finals.
He also appeared in four All-Star games and on two All-NBA teams during his five seasons in the desert.
As you may have noticed by now, the list of the greatest Suns of all time is riddled with ridiculously versatile players.
Jason Kidd takes that theme to an entirely new level, although it is a level that will be encountered again before this list is concluded.
The future Hall of Famer spent only four of his 19 NBA seasons with Phoenix, but that doesn't make his 14.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 9.8 APG or 2.1 SPG any easier to believe.
On the contrary, it makes his three All-Star, three All-NBA first team and three All-Defensive first team appearances even harder to fathom.
Oh look, more delectable versatility.
Is it his 22.5 PPG and 5.6 APG? Or maybe it's his 51.8 FG percentage and 83.3 FT percentage. His 1.8 SPG aren't bad either, nor are his four All-Star and four All-NBA appearances.
This dilemma of which attribute to call Paul Westphal's best is exactly why he posted 50 win shares in five seasons with the Suns.
Rookie seasons can be deceiving. Oftentimes the best players have modest rookie seasons and break out a couple years down the line, whereas superstar-level rookies can struggle to build on or even match their early productivity.
Count Walter Davis among that latter group—although the swingman did go on to have a fantastic career, averaging 20.5 points, 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 52.0 percent from the field and 84.1 from the line during his 10 years with the Suns.
Still, Davis never quite lived up to his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1977-78, when he averaged a career-high 24.2 points and 6.0 rebounds.
He ultimately had to settle for being a six-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player and the leading scorer in Suns history.
Charles Barkley is widely considered (no pun intended) the greatest Phoenix Suns' power forward by a long shot, but Amar'e Stoudemire makes the debate closer than one might believe.
In eight years with Phoenix (twice the time Chuck spent), Stoudemire averaged 21.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on 54.4 percent shooting.
If not for injury problems, Stoudemire would not only be higher on this list; he would likely unseat Barkley.
In his four healthy seasons (after his rookie year), Stoudemire averaged 23.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks with a 57.0 FG percentage, 25.0 PER and an astounding 51.1 win shares.
Considering that his five All-Star and four All-NBA appearances came despite all his health problems, it's fair to say that Amar'e Stoudemire was the most talented player to ever put on a Suns' uniform.
It's only fitting that "The Matrix" spent the prime of his career with the Suns. Even on a franchise that has seen so much incredible two-way play and do-it-all-ness, Shawn Marion's versatility stands out.
During his seven full seasons in Phoenix, Marion averaged 19.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 82.9 from the line.
It's one thing to read those stats next to each other, but the sheer absurdity of Marion's all-around dominance is perhaps better described the following way.
Marion is fourth on the Suns all-time offensive win-shares list and second on the defensive list.
He's first on the overall list with 93.1 total win shares.
As the greatness level rises, the "what could have been" level rises with it. Such is life for a championship-less franchise.
Of course, Kevin Johnson—more so than Stoudemire—was extremely productive for Phoenix. During his first 10 seasons with the Suns, the PG averaged 19.8 points, 10.0 assists and 1.6 steals on 49.7 percent FG shooting and 83.9 percent FT shooting.
But like Stoudemire, injuries held back what could have been the career of the greatest player in Suns' history and one of the best point guards of all time. After averaging over 20 points and 10 assists during his first three seasons—a feat only done before by Oscar Robertson and Isaiah Thomas—and nearly his fourth, Johnson played in only 339 of 492 possible games.
Three All-Star, five All-NBA and 11 playoff appearances later and K.J. "only" comes in at No. 3.
In just four seasons in the desert, Charles Barkley indisputably established himself as one of the top three Suns' players of all time, and has a legitimate case to be No. 1.
Barkley's regular season numbers—23.4 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 4.4 APG and 1.6 SPG on 50.1 percent shooting—are those of a hard-working, efficient, physically dominant, unselfish player.
This was especially the case in 1992-93, when Barkley's 25.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG and 5.1 APG earned him the NBA MVP Award and earned the Suns a trip to the NBA Finals.
Barkley's Suns never won a title, but that's a burden that every player on this list shares—and one that his 26.5 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.7 SPG and 1.0 BPG in the postseason essentially free him from—and that he is one of only two Suns players to hold a claim as the NBA's best player throughout a season.
Steve Nash is not as easy a choice for No. 1 as one might think.
He has fewer win shares than Marion or Johnson and never led his team to the finals like Barkley did. His 16.3 PPG are not awe-inspiring, and his mediocre defense has him falling short of the lockdown guys that have dominated this list.
But here's the thing: Nash averaged 10.9 assists during his eight years in Phoenix, averaging over 11.0 and leading the league five times each.
He also shot an unparalleled 51.0 percent from the field, 43.7 percent from deep and 91.2 percent from the line.
Only five other players have ever had a 50-40-90 season, and Nash averaged that over eight years in Phoenix, all while being the most dangerous passer in the NBA by a mile.
Nash is also one of 10 players to win back-to-back NBA MVP Awards, doing so in 2005 and 2006. That, along with his absurd numbers, place him in the conversation for best offensive PG of all-time.