The Phoenix Suns players have been the talk around town all year long, as they’ve exceeded expectations every step of the way to reach their first NBA Finals in 28 years.
Coming off an undefeated, seven-game win streak in last year’s bubble, the Suns were poised to take a big step forward this season. With that being said, no could have imagined a Finals run from this young, inexperienced squad.
Then, the organization made a huge splash by signing veteran and future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. While he cost them a pretty penny, he provided exactly what the team needed; leadership and experience.
Like the entire roster, the 36-year-old exceeded all expectations on his way to reaching his very first NBA Finals in what has already been an incredible career. Phoenix is up 2-1 in the series, as they look to win the franchise’s first-ever championship in a city that has not reached the mountain top since the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001.
Most important Phoenix Suns players
The question we are answering today is, who are the most important players in Phoenix Suns history?
Who would it be for this year’s team? Chris Paul finished Top 5 in MVP voting. Devin Booker led the team in scoring. Deandre Ayton led the team in blocks and rebounds.
The individuals that make this list may not have been the most talented on the team. They may not be the best of the bunch. But regardless of their accolades, these are the most important players in Suns history.
The 5 most important Phoenix Suns players in history
No. 5: Kevin Johnson, point guard (1988-2000)
18.7 ppg / 9.5 apg / 3.4 rpg / 1.5 spg
Kevin Johnson is one of the most important Phoenix Suns players for a variety of reasons. First, he is one of the longest-tenured players in Suns history, suiting up for 12 of his 13 career seasons in Phoenix. Halfway through his rookie season in Cleveland, the Cavs traded Johnson to Phoenix as part of a package centered around Larry Nance, who had already proven to be a star in the NBA. Nance would go on to earn two more All-Star bids with the Cavs, while KJ made three All-Star teams with the Suns. In addition, one of the draft picks included in the Nance trade turned out to be Dan Majerle, who made three All-Star teams himself as a member of the Suns.
Johnson was a double-double machine at point guard, notching four-straight seasons averaging 20 points and 10+ assists. He was named to five All-NBA teams during his career and helped lead Phoenix to the NBA Finals in 1993. Furthermore, KJ kicked off what would be a stretch of incredible point guards in the desert, including Kidd, Penny Hardaway, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury, Goran Dragic and more.
No. 4: Chris Paul, point guard (2020-current)
16.4 ppg / 8.9 apg / 4.5 rpg / 1.4 spg / 93% FT / 40% 3PT / 50% FG
This is where it becomes extremely important to understand what we are discussing in this article. These are the most important Phoenix Suns players in franchise history, so the fact that Chris Paul has only been with the team for one season does not discredit his impact during that time frame. The veteran guard is among the best to ever play the position, but his unrivaled leadership is what lands him in the top-5.
Before the 2020-21 season, the Suns hadn’t made the postseason in a decade. In fact, they had been among the worst teams in the NBA for a while. People were shocked when an aging CP3 chose Phoenix as his next destination, especially considering he had yet to get over the hump and make an NBA Finals during his distinguished career. Nevertheless, Paul finished top-5 in MVP voting, made an All-NBA team and was named an All-Star in his long season with the Suns. He is also poised to win his first NBA title, while potentially delivering the first-ever championship in Suns franchise history.
No. 3: Charles Barkley, power forward (1992-1996)
23.4 ppg / 11.5 rpg / 4.4 apg / 1.6 spg
This is where the debate will begin to really heat up. Many of you probably think that Charles Barkley belongs at the top of this list, or at the very least, second. After all, there have only been two Phoenix Suns players to ever win MVP, and he’s one of them. He averaged the second-most points and rebounds per game in franchise history and is the franchise leader in win shares per 48 minutes and player efficiency rating. He was an All-Star and an All-NBA selection in all four seasons with the Suns.
The only thing that keeps him from rising above number three is that he was only with the team for four seasons, and beyond the 1993 MVP season and Finals run, there wasn’t much else to hang his hat on. Don’t get me wrong, Sir Charles is probably the most electrifying player to put on a Suns uniform, but his time in Phoenix always felt like a means to an end for him. It’s hard to gauge a player’s long-term importance to a franchise when they’re not around long enough to see it through, especially when there was unfinished business for both the franchise and the player. Barkley is widely considered the greatest NBA player to never win a title. Right behind him is our next player on the list. And behind him? The previously listed player. Ouch. The Suns have a bitter history of ring-less superstars.
No. 2: Steve Nash, point guard (1996-1998, 2004-2012)
14.4 ppg / 9.4 apg / 3.1 rpg / 91% FT / 44% 3PT / 50% FG
And here is where everyone starts burning my jersey. Yes, Steve Nash is the most decorated player in Suns history, but he was never a spotlight player in the league. When people look back on MVP-caliber players over the years, their minds tend to gravitate towards exhilarating athletes like MJ, Kobe and LeBron. While Nash excited crowds with his pinpoint passing and fast-paced playmaking, he was not the type of player to lead a team to a championship. In fact, much to the dismay of Suns fans, Nash’s two MVP awards are among the most debated in NBA history. During the 2004-05 campaign, Nash averaged more than ten points fewer than teammate Amar’e Stoudemire, making some wonder if he was even the best player on his team. Furthermore, Allen Iverson led the league in scoring at more than 30 points per game, and Shaquille O’Neal averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game while leading the league in field goal percentage.
Nevertheless, Nash did win two MVPs, make six All-Star teams and earn five All-NBA selections with the Suns. Along with head coach Mike D’Antoni, he helped the game of basketball evolve into what it is today. The fast-paced style that the mid-2000’s Suns teams played was unprecedented. But when push comes to shove, the only thing that matters to sports fans is winning championships. Unfortunately, Nash is the only one in the top-5 that never even reached an NBA Finals.
It should be said that Nash left a little parting gift when he was traded to the Lakers in 2012. One of the picks included in that deal was a 2018 first round selection that was traded around the league for a while. Ultimately, the Philadelphia 76ers used that pick to draft Mikal Bridges in the first round of the 2018 draft before immediately trading him to none other than the Phoenix Suns. Bridges has become an integral part of the 2021 team currently in the Finals.
No. 1: Devin Booker, shooting guard (2015-current)
23.0 ppg / 4.6 apg / 3.7 rpg
If you think this pick for most important player in Suns history is absolutely ludicrous, you might have a point. After all, it may be a little premature, considering he’s only played six seasons with the Suns so far and hasn’t achieved the level of accolades as the three men listed before him. But just hear me out.
Prior to the 10-year postseason drought that the Suns recently experienced from 2010-2020, the longest streak of playoff-less basketball in Phoenix was just five seasons from 1970-75. Ironically, that drought ended with a run to the NBA Finals, where the Suns lost to the Celtics in 1976.
My point is, the Suns had never experienced losing like they have over the past decade. Star players like Stoudemire and Nash began to leave the franchise. Fan favorites like Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw left town. There wasn’t much for Phoenix fans to hang their hat on.
Then, in 2015, Phoenix made a bold move to draft Devin Booker in the lottery. He wasn’t even 19 years old yet and did not start much during his lone season at Kentucky. It didn’t take much for him to burst onto the scene and bring new life to a demoralized franchise. While the Suns churned in sub-par records year-after-year, Booker was giving Phoenix fans a taste of what was on the horizon.
First, he became just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game in 2017 and by far the youngest at 20 years old. Mind you, that was just his second season as a pro.
Then, he won the NBA three-point contest in 2018. He made his first All-Star team in 2020 before going off in the bubble and leading the Suns to a 7-0 record prior to missing out on the playoffs.
He’s only 24 and already signed a max contract to stay in Phoenix through 2023. And in the interest of franchise importance, if the Suns win the title this year, much of the credit needs to be given to Booker. After all, CP3 has made it quite clear that the main reason he chose to come to Phoenix was Booker. Hopefully, they can close it out and bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Valley.
P.S. Suns fans could legitimately be watching the next Kobe Bryant. Booker not only idolizes the late Laker legend, but he has a lot of similarities to the Black Mamba. They were both drafted 13th overall. They were both drafted before their 19th birthdays. They are the only two guards to score more than 70 points in a game. They both had dads that played in the NBA but ended up finishing their careers overseas.
Amar’e Stoudemire, power forward (2002-2010)
21.4 ppg / 8.9 rpg / 1.4 bpg
Amar’e Stoudemire is arguably the most exciting Suns player in franchise history. He provided half of one of the fiercest pick-n-roll combos in NBA history. Every time he rolled to the basket and Steve Nash floated the ball towards the rim, the entire arena would rise and erupt on the ensuing flush by Stoudemire. During his time in Phoenix, he was named Rookie of the Year, a five-time All-Star and a four-time All-NBA selection.
Shawn Marion, small forward (1999-2008)
18.4 ppg / 10.0 rpg / 1.9 spg / 1.4 bpg
Joining Nash and Stoudemire on the run-and-gun Suns team of the 2000’s, Shawn Marion was one of the most consistent two-way players of his generation. The lengthy wing averaged a double-double, while always taking on the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. Marion went on to notch four all-star bids and two All-NBA selections during his time in the desert. Unfortunately, he did not spend any of that time fixing his jump shot.
Jason Kidd, point guard (1997-2001)
14.4 ppg / 9.7 apg / 6.4 rpg / 2.1 spg
Jason Kidd didn’t spend a huge part of his career with the Suns and will likely be remembered more for his time in New Jersey and Dallas; however, he helped continue what has become a run of elite point guards in the Valley. In fact, the 1998 roster featured three of the best point guards in Suns history; Kidd, Kevin Johnson and Steve Nash. During his five seasons in Phoenix, he earned three All-Star bids, three All-NBA selections and three All-Defensive selections.
Tom Chambers, power forward (1988-1993)
20.6 ppg / 6.6 rpg / 2.3 apg
Tom Chambers played five of his 16 professional seasons in Phoenix and certainly had his most memorable stretch with the Suns. He earned three of his four All-Stars bids and both of his All-NBA selections while playing in the Valley. As a 20-point scorer, Chambers was the leader of the late-80s Suns teams. Then, they made the blockbuster trade for Charles Barkley, as he was coming off of leading the 1992 Dream Team in scoring that summer. Playing the same position as Chuck meant less minutes, so while Chambers was an important part of the team that made the Finals in 1993, he was certainly at the tail end of his career. Also, let’s not forget that levitating dunk over Mark Jackson back in 1989. Legendary.
Paul Westphal, shooting guard (1975-1980)
20.6 ppg / 5.2 apg / 1.6 spg
Paul Westphal might have been the first true superstar for the Phoenix Suns organization. Coming off an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 1974, Westphal emerged from the shadow of Jo Jo White to explode onto the NBA scene with the Suns. He averaged more than 20 points in all five seasons with the team and notched four All-Star bids during that time. He was also All-NBA four times with the Suns, including three first-team selections. Westphal was arguably more important to the organization as a coach, leading the previously-mentioned 1993 team to the Finals.