Based on his recent work, it’s easy to dismiss Shawn Marion as merely a creation of Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni.
However, while playing for the Phoenix Suns- and that is what we’re doing here- Shawn Marion was the NBA’s best sub-6’9” rebounder and posted the NBA’s eighth best rebounding average (10.4 rpg) from 2000- 2008. Additionally, Marion is one of the best individual defenders in the NBA, both on and off the ball, as a help defender and playing passing lanes.
And then there were the fast breaks. While it’s debatable exactly how much of Marion’s exceptional play on the wings was made possible by Steve Nash, it’s worth noting that no one has thrived while running the break alongside Nash the way that Marion did. Shawn Marion was James Worthy to Steve Nash’s Magic.
In eight full seasons in Phoenix, Marion earned four All-Star selections and a pair of All-NBA Third Team selections. He averaged 19+ ppg for five straight seasons (2000-01 through 2005-06) and at least 9.3 rpg for seven consecutive seasons, beginning with his second NBA season. He reached the peak of his powers in the two seasons from 2004- 2006, when he averaged 20.6 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2 spg, 1.6 bpg (Nash wasn’t playing defense and grabbing his rebounds for him too, was he?) and shot over 50% from the field and 82% from the free throw line.
Marion played in the postseason five times with the Suns, three times playing in 11+ playoff games (2005-07) and twice (2005 and 2006) reaching the conference finals. In his three lengthiest playoff runs (46 total games), Marion averaged 18.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.6 spg and 1.5 bpg. He was at his best in the 2006 playoffs, when the Suns knocked off both Los Angeles teams in a pair of grueling seven-games series before falling to the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the conference finals. Marion was fantastic in those 20 games, averaging 20.4 ppg, 11.7 rpg and 1.9 spg.
Among forwards in Suns’ history, Marion is the all-time leader in games played (660), points (12,134), FG attempted (10,136) and made (4,879), 3-pointers attempted (1,905) and made (652), offensive rebounds (1,689), defensive rebounds (4,928), total rebounds (6,617) and steals (1,244; no one’s even halfway there). In franchise history Marion ranks in the top five in games played (5th) and points (4th), is in the top three in the remaining categories above, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in defensive rebounds.
A very honorable mention for the man whose picture I’d expected to be atop this page, Brooklyn-born and Rucker-trained Connie Hawkins. Had the league- through the actions of its own commissioner at the time- not been robbed of his best years, Hawkins would occupy a far more prominent place in NBA history. As things stand, he’s remembered as one of New York’s best-ever playground stars, who bounced around in his early 20s and dominated for two seasons in the ABA before being allowed to join the NBA toward the end of his prime.
Though it’s been told before, Hawkins’ story cannot be retold often enough.
After starring at Boys high School in Brooklyn and at Rucker Park, basketball’s urban cathedral, Connie Hawkins accepted a scholarship to the University of Iowa. However during his freshman year, he was wrongly implicated in a point-shaving scandal that was traced back to New York. While he knew some of the individuals involved from his youth, Hawkins had neither knowledge of nor involvement in the scheme.
Although he vehemently maintained his innocence and never admitted any wrongdoing, Hawkins was expelled from Iowa, unable to secure a scholarship from another school and blacklisted from professional basketball.
He spent one season with the ABL’s the Pittsburgh Rens, with whom he averaged 27.5 ppg, 13.5 rpg and was named league MVP. Following the ABL’s downfall, Hawkins spent three years with the Harlem Globetrotters. During this time, he filed a lawsuit claiming the NBA had unfairly banned him, and that there was no evidence linking him to point-shaving. It was at this time, in 1967, that Hawkins joined a new league- the ABA.
Hawkins joined the Pittsburgh Pipers in the league’s inaugural season, and had one of the best seasons in the brief history of the ABA. He averaged a league-best 26.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg and 4.6 apg, was named an All-Star, won the league MVP and led the Pipers to a 54-24 regular-season record. In the postseason he was good for 29.9 ppg and 12.9 rpg as he led the Pipers to the 1968 ABA championship and won the playoff MVP award.
After the season, Pipers moved to Minnesota, where Hawkins averaged an awesome 30.2 ppg and 11.4 rpg in 47 games, in an injury-plagued 1968-69 season. After the season, Hawkins’ suit with the NBA was settled, and at age 27 his rights were assigned to the expansion Phoenix Suns.
Not bad, huh? So that’s all stuff that we can’t consider for this spot.
Although he’s become synonymous with Suns’ franchise, Connie Hawkins spent just four seasons with the Suns, one of them great, two very good and one solid. He was named an All-Star four times, All-NBA First Team once and was a part of the only playoff team in the Suns’ first seven years.
Hawkins’ best season in Phoenix was his first, 1969–70, when he averaged 24.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.8 apg and was named both an All-Star and to the All-NBA First Team. His outstanding season was only good enough to lead the Suns to a 39-43 regular season record, but this was enough to earn them a playoff spot. In the playoffs, the Suns squared off against the West-Baylor-Wilt-led Lakers, and managed to push the eventual conference champs to seven games, with Hawkins leading the way, averaging 25 ppg, 14 rpg and 7 apg.
Hawkins put up 21 ppg and 8.7 rpg over the next two seasons and earned two more All-Star selections, though the Suns missed the playoffs each season- ironically with 47 and 48 wins, respectively. Hawkins’ last season with the Suns was 1972-73. That season, he was selected to a fourth straight All-Star team despite averaging a solid but unspectacular 16.1 ppg and 8.5 rpg.
He was traded to the Lakers eight games into the 1973-74.
Without a doubt, Connie Hawkins’ total body of work through 1973 would have been enough to trump Shawn Marion’s, but based solely on his time with the Phoenix Suns, the Hawk is an excellent player that falls short.
Also deserving a mention here is Paul Silas. Silas began his three-year run in Phoenix the same season that Hawkins began his, 1969-70. Silas was a monster on the boards for the Suns, averaging between 11.7 and 12.5 rpg each season he was with the team. His third, 1971-72, was Silas’ best, as he averaged 17.5 ppg (12.5 the previous two seasons), 11.9 rpg, was named an All-Star and was selected to the All-Defensive Second Team for the second consecutive year. In 239 games with the Suns, Silas averaged 14.1 ppg and franchise-best 12.1 rpg.