Steve Nash, Kevin Johnson and the 10 Greatest Guards in Phoenix Suns History
As a Suns fan, I can attest to the fact that we have not had a wealth of big men throughout our history. Ever since we lost the coin flip to Milwaukee for Lew Alcindor, it has been one Luc Longley follwed by another Jake Tsakalidis.
We make the most with what we have and fortunately for us, we have had some amazing point guards don the purple and orange. Delving into the various lineups throughout the years, I have to say that we definitely have had a who's who in the overall pantheon of point guards who have graced the NBA hardwood.
Of note, a lot of the positioning in this list is predicated on overall ability, but each player's role in Suns history needs to be taken into account. There may be a player who had more skill than somebody listed ahead of him, but they did not have a similar impact on the team.
Also, we have had some stellar two guards who would facilitate a little bit, but were not a true point guard. For example, Dennis Johnson and Paul Westphal.
With all that being said, let's dig in.
No. 10: Elliot Perry
There have been more talented point guards throughout Suns history, but for any Suns fan, Elliot Perry has to rank among their favorites. Perry was listed at 6'0" and 150 pounds, but that may be generous, and the measurements may have been taken while he was wearing stilts and a flak jacket.
In a sport of giants, Perry was an inspiration. I can recollect him crowding a hulking Karl Malone and with one swift motion, Malone knocked Perry out cold with an elbow. Perry may have been knocked down, but how many people have the guts to get into a confined space with a player known for using his elbows like jack hammers?
Fans loved his diminutive size, heart and his white socks that were always pulled up to his knees. I don't want to just paint a picture of Elliot that makes him sound as if he never contributed beyond overcoming the cards he was dealt in life.
He actually was a very solid backup for the Suns from 1993-1996 and contributed greatly to some of the greatest teams in Suns history. In 1994-1995, the Suns won 59 games with Perry as the primary backup. He was runner-up for Most Improved Player that year while averaging nine points, five assists and two steals. Those do not seem like enormous numbers, but there are times that numbers do not truly reflect impact.
Perry represented one aspect of the game of basketball that I love. People generalize and state that basketball is a game dominated by giants. This is partially true, but there are players like Elliot Perry, the average man, who somehow find a way to leave their imprints on the hardwood.
No. 9: Ronnie Lee
Ronnie Lee was aptly nicknamed "The Kamikazee Kid". People around Phoenix also would call him "Floor Burn" from time to time as well. Much like Elliot Perry, Ronnie Lee was a backup for the Suns who was a fan favorite. Besides having a fantastic afro, he was known for his continual effort and fire. It's hard not to root for a player who cares so deeply about winning.
He never averaged beyond 12 points per game, but he was a terrific defensive player and actually led the league in steals in 1978. While he wasn't dynamic offensively, he had a sound all-around game and made the NBA All-Rookie team in 1977 after the Suns drafted him with the 10th overall pick.
His tenure with the Suns did not last more than three years, but he is a memorable player that all Suns fans seem to recollect.
The best way to display the appreciation that they have for him is through a story my father tells to this day. Ronnie Lee came into Phoenix as a visitor with the Detroit Pistons later in his career. That particular day happened to be his birthday. Suns fans paused at the beginning of the game to bring Ronnie a birthday cake.
Do you ever recollect fans appreciating a player like that? His passion was what a fan only hopes they can see from the players on their respective teams.
No. 8: Ricky Sobers
Ricky Sobers was selected by the Suns with the 16th pick in the 1975 NBA Draft. He only played from 1975-77 but he was a key member of the Sunderella Suns in 75-76. In Game 5 of the 1976 Finals, a game that some people feel was the best ever, Sobers was able to contribute in a big way with 25 points and six assists.
He was a versatile guard who could score and dish but also play stifling defense. Unfortunately for Suns fans, his best seasons didn't come until after he left and moved on to Indiana and Chicago. His contributions, though limited, should not be forgotten because he was a pivotal part of one of the greatest Suns teams ever.
No. 7: Leandro Barbosa
I always had high hopes for the Brazilian Blur. I remember tracking the draft and trying to get any information on this electric kid from Brazil who I was hearing about. I was initially sad to see Western Conference rival San Antonio draft him, but I was ecstatic when I heard the Suns traded for him.
There is always the initial hyperbole that comes with a draft pick, but many of the Suns brass were comparing Leandro to "Sugar" Ray Richardson due to his length and blazing speed. Barbosa was never able to reach that potential and never truly became a "pure" point guard, but he did become a pretty explosive scorer.
Leandro was an integral part of the Suns' high octane offensive engine. He progressively matured into his role as a sixth man for the team and provided valuable minutes while Steve Nash took a breather. His best season as a pro came in the 2006-2007 season when he was the recipient of the sixth man of the year award.
He ended up averaging 18 points, three rebounds and four assists per game off the bench. Barbosa never reached my expectations, but maybe I set them too high for the guy.
He was an excellent Sun, a terrific person and was a part of some Suns teams that were among the greatest offensive teams in NBA history.
No. 6: Gail Goodrich
When people think about Gail Goodrich, I'm sure they think about him while donning a Lakers jersey. His best years were with the Lakers in the early 70's, but he was part of the initial Suns team in 1968. Gail could facilitate but was truly in his element when he was able to create for himself offensively.
He was only with the team from 1968-1970, but he set the precedent for excellence at the point guard position with the Suns by averaging 22 points and seven assists during his time with the team.
Had he been able to play out his career with the Suns and was surrounded by more talent, he could be in the top four of this particular list.
No. 5: Don Buse
When you think of the flash and glamor of recent Phoenix Suns point guards, Buse doesn't exactly fit the mold. He played for the Suns from 1977-1980. He never averaged above eight points per game, but that was not his calling card. In all three seasons as a Sun, Buse was a member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team. He anchored the Suns defense on the wings and distributed at a pretty good clip with an average of four assists per game.
Buse was more about grit and tenacity than flash, but all Suns fans should never forget his contribution to the team in the late 70's, as he was one of the best defenders in Suns history.
The combination of him with his backup Ronnie Lee was the most formidable defensive duo that the Suns have ever put on the floor. Don Buse was the Yin to Steve Nash's Yang, you might say.
No. 4: Stephon Marbury
There is an elegance about Stephon Marbury's game, but it is heavily derived from brute force. He would barrel down the lane and bounce off defender like a pinball. Stephon always attacked the cup and was completely fearless while doing it. His outside jumper was never consistent, but when he was on, look out. Defenders would struggle with him off the dribble already, and when you threw in that additional shooting layer, he was extremely tough to handle.
He was capable of displaying good vision and would flash it with an occasional no-look pass. He was an OK defender and rebounder, but his true calling was simply him with the ball in space. His time with the Suns was brief, but his ability to penetrate and attack the rim made him similar to a more powerful version of Kevin Johnson.
You could not deny his talent and when he left the team, it made sense. He could not properly orchestrate the D'Antoni masterpiece.
No. 3: Jason Kidd
All I truly knew about Kidd's game before he was a Sun was that he had phenomenal vision. I would see his behind-the-back dimes and lobs, and any fan couldn't help but appreciate that. Like any great player, it's hard to appreciate all the pieces to their game until you see them consistently.
Kidd has improved in his later years as a shooter, but he really struggled from distance earlier in his career. Beyond that, he didn't have any chinks in his armor. Jason was constantly in his opponent's pocket while on defense, was a nightmare in transition and simply made everybody around him better. Truly making other people better is the biggest compliment you can ever give a point guard.
In his five years with the Suns, they made the playoffs every year. That is saying something considering the weak supporting casts he had at times. I will always remember him going full-speed all the time and also always being a threat to get a triple double.
Jason Kidd was special, and I hope people understand that when they view him from an historical perspective.
No. 2: Kevin Johnson
Every kid I knew while growing up wanted to be Kevin Johnson. We all practiced his crossover move on the playgrounds and wanted to know how he magically navigated past all defenders.
What I know now is that Kevin Johnson had one of the best first steps in NBA history. You could not keep him in front of you, and even if you tried to deny penetration, he would kill you with the mid-range pull up. He was a terrific passer and was also great in the passing lanes.
In his 11 seasons with the Suns, KJ was an All-Star three times and an All-NBA Second Team member four times. He led us to our greatest season in 1992-1993 as well. Prior to the new wave of athletic point guards playing above the rim, KJ was their grandfather.
For all young folks, do yourself a favor and check out his dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon. Unfortunately for all of us, the only thing that ever seemed to stop him beyond Michael Jordan was injuries.
Beginning in 1992, Kevin Johnson never played in more than 70 games. Every year it seemed like something else on his body would break. It was frustrating as a fan because you really felt cheated in not being able to see him play.
He started to get a soft label around town for a while and in retrospect, that is a shame. He was always attacking the basket recklessly and thinking about it now, it's a wonder why he wasn't always hurt.
I truly do wish the injury bug never found him, because I think we would be talking about a top-20 player in NBA history here. If you doubt me, look at his stat lines from 1988-1992. I put those up against any of the greatest point guards of all time. KJ should have been in the same breath as Isiah, Stockton and even Magic. That may seem like hyperbole, but the stats don't lie.
No. 1: Steve Nash
I can't even pretend like Steve Nash isn't my favorite Suns player ever. He represents many of the qualities in the game that I hold pure. If you sit down and write a list of all the qualities you want your point guard to have (beyond defense), Steve Nash is the prototype. He is selfless to a fault and has the best vision I've ever seen. I can't even remember the number of times he has thrown a pass that I could not anticipate.
I have played my entire life and feel like I have a good idea of the flow of the game, and he still surprises me all the time. It brings out a joy in me that few players can genuinely create in you. The really great players can leave you mesmerized and feeling like a kid again. Nash's numbers and awards tell a prolific story, but I just ask you to watch him play.
Look at the pace he plays with on the pick and roll and the perfect timing and angle he has for his passes when hitting the roll man. Watch him run down the court full speed and stop on a dime and nail a 24-foot jump shot. See his vision on those halfcourt lobs or those behind-the-back passes he does with his off hand.
I have been truly fortunate to watch his creativity for nine years with the Suns, and regardless of how you may feel about his MVP honors, he is still one of the 50 greatest to ever wear Jerry West on their chest and is the best Phoenix Suns point guard ever.