The last time the Phoenix Suns made their way to an NBA Finals, Jurassic Park just hit theaters, Whoomp! (There It Is) by Tag Team was popular for its initial release—not a remixed GEICO commercial, beanie babies were popular toys, and our own Devin Booker was still three years away from being born. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.
But despite their place far down Phoenix’s timeline, that 1993 Suns team certainly deserves another look. Forging a lead-best 62-20 record during the regular season, the ’93 Suns posted a winning percentage at .756, tied as a franchise best with their 2004-05 team that lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals.
The ’93 Suns made it a step further though, advancing to the Finals against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Taking the series to six games, the Suns put up an admirable fight but eventually saw their dream season come to a disappointing end. Few hold it against them though, with the team having run into the greatest player of all time, who averaged 41.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game during the series.
Although today’s Suns certainly hope their story ends with champagne baths and confetti rather than a raised white flag, some eerie parallels between the two teams certainly exist. Similarly to the 2021 Suns, who traded for superstar point guard Chris Paul during the offseason, the ’93 Suns traded for NBA legend Charles Barkley ahead their season. Both players joined the Suns as well-established names, oozing with accolades certain to one day endorse them as Hall of Fame candidates, but somehow still missing an NBA title.
Additionally, both Barkley’s Suns and Paul’s Suns faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers during the postseason’s first round, initially falling behind with no choice but to battle back. The ’93 Suns even lost their first two games, at one point trailing LA 0-2. That partially mirrors the ’21 Suns, who lost two straight contests themselves and fell back 1-2.
But despite their early struggles, the late great Paul Westphal guaranteed a series victory for the ’93 Suns, which eventually came to pass after the team won three straight games. Although the ’21 Suns refrained from voicing any similar prophecies, they still delivered one, winning three straight games themselves to move on.
But if you put them up against each other, which Western Conference champions take the cake? Well, this question remains impossible to definitively answer. You cannot reverse time, and I seriously doubt Barkley’s ability to make it up and down the court these days.
However, it still seems like something destined for Suns followers to debate across the next few years, especially with the ongoing rift between basketball modernists and old-school fans. So, feel free to refer to this as a launching point.
’93 Phoenix Suns vs ’21 Phoenix Suns: Offensive Comparisons
The ’93 Suns absolutely dominated from an offensive standpoint, averaging 113.4 points per game, the most amongst all NBA teams that year. Barkley averaged 25.6 points per contest, shooting 52.0 percent from the field.
However, the thick stash of scorers behind Barkley lifted the Suns from just a great team, to true contenders that year, with six additional players averaging over 12 points per game. That included Dan Majerle (16.9 PPG), Kevin Johnson (16.1 PPG), Richard Dumas (15.8 PPG), Danny Ainge (11.8 PPG), Tom Chambers (12.2 PPG), and Cedric Ceballos (12.8 PPG). This group worked as a real team, with several different players threatening to go off every night.
But even outside the NBA’s analytical days, this team played very efficiently as well. Across all teams playing during the 90’s, the ’93 Suns earned a top 15 true shooting percentage at 56.6 percent to help them stand out amongst the crowd.
Additionally, even though the 3-point shot lacked popularity at the time, the ’93 Suns jumped on board with it early. During the 1992-93 season, this Phoenix team averaged the most 3-point attempts per game (13.4), 3-pointers made per game (4.9), with the third highest 3-point percentage (36.3). While these numbers might look lackluster compared to modern ones, if you consider their league-leading nature, again with the 3-pointer’s inflation over time, they hold up moderately.
Onto the ’21 Suns, this year’s team scores the seventh highest points per game at 115.3 per contest, a mark slightly higher than the ’93 Suns, but one not too impressive considering scoring inflation. Booker averages 25.6 points per game, followed by Paul averaging 16.4 per game.
Unlike the ’93 Suns, the scoring averages per player drop off much faster as you move down the roster. But even with a less balanced attack, the ’21 Suns strike more efficiently from an offensive standpoint, with a true shooting mark at 59.2 percent. They also play far more fluidly, with an assist to turnover ratio at 2.15, compared to their ’93 team’s at 1.56.
With each team possessing different strengths and weaknesses, it feels incredibly difficult to determine who owns the offensive edge. But once considering the limitations forced onto the ’93 by their time period, I give them the nod here, but only by the slightest of margins. Their willingness to let it fly from deep even before the 3-pointer became so widely utilized just feels too ahead its time to not properly credit, additionally going paired with their overall top-ranked offense.
Offensive Advantage: ’93 Suns
’93 Phoenix Suns vs ’21 Phoenix Suns: Defensive Comparisons
Calling current NBA defenses “weak” or “soft” compared to past ones feels like beating a dead horse at this point. But the grittier play taking place during the 90’s absolutely factors into our latter Suns team and their defensive prowess.
The ’93 Suns gave up 106.7 points per game to their opponents, and allowed a 47.9 opponent field goal percentage. Both those numbers combined to name Phoenix as the league’s ninth best defensive team.
From a physical standpoint, the ’93 Suns starting lineup collectively stood 32 feet and five inches tall. They also possessed significant muscle between Barkley, Chambers, and Dumas. Majerle though worked as their best defensive player, earning fifth place voting for the Defensive Player of the Year award that year, averaging 1.7 steals per game.
However, the Bulls absolutely shredded this same Suns defense to end their season, even prompting Barkley to proclaim that his own team was “not a defensive team” after a game.
The ’21 Suns absolutely differ regarding this matter. Allowing 109.5 points per game and a 46.7 opponent filed goal percentage, they rank as the league’s seventh best defensive squad this year. Phoenix best illustrated their abilities to bother opposing offenses against the Los Angeles Clippers during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, where they force the Clippers to shoot 32.5 percent from the field, the lowest mark all year for a top ten ranked offense.
Physically, their starting five outstretches the ’93 Suns by one inch, a small advantage—but an advantage nonetheless. However, the ’21 Suns really separate themselves with their speed and lateral quickness.
With fast, yet strong players like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder ready to dispose, the ’21 Suns seem far more equipped to close out on anyone from the ’93 Suns team pulling up from three, while too staying ready for steamrolling drives or moves along the block from Barkley.
With Ayton anchoring down low, as the tallest player between both teams, this team stands ready to stop anyone from getting easy baskets. The ’21 Suns just check too many boxes here to not gain favor, and with Barkley himself admitting the team’s defensive inabilities, things tip the other this time way by a much wider margin.
Offensive Advantage: ’21 Phoenix Suns
’93 Phoenix Suns vs ’21 Phoenix Suns: Conclusion
While each team holds an advantage over the other on different sides of the ball, the defensive gap between the ’93 team and the ’21 team feels a bit wider than the offensive one. While each team might go tick to tack scoring the ball, today’s Phoenix team seems much more likely to force crucial stops down the stretch.
For that reason, your 2021 Phoenix Suns look like the better team, and the one more likely to win a seven-game series if the two somehow faced off.