1993 or 2022? Who was the better Phoenix Suns team?

Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley (Photo credit should read PAUL GERO/AFP via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley (Photo credit should read PAUL GERO/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports /

The 1992-93 Phoenix Suns defied usual conventions caused by the hard and tough style of 1990’s basketball.

The Suns led the league in three-point attempts per game, notable in an era where teams eschewed the three-point line. Ainge and Majerle took exactly ten threes per game, more than sixteen teams averaged that season. Even Barkley was a serviceable three-point shooter (30% on 2.6 attempts per game) with a nice stroke.

On the other hand, only four teams took fewer three-point attempts per game than last season’s Suns. To give you an idea of how the game has changed so drastically in the past 30 years, they attempted nineteen more three-pointers per game than their 1992-93 counterparts. Yet, Chris Paul (the Point God) and Devin Booker (26.8 points per game) would have fit right in the 1990’s with their prolific midrange game.

However, 1990’s defenses were no joke: the rules were entirely different. Zone defenses were prohibited. Help defense was not allowed. Defenders either had to double-team the ball or stay tight to their man. Hand checks and other forms of on-ball contact were not only permitted but encouraged at that time.

The “no blood, no foul” stereotype of the 1990’s NBA was due to the unintended consequences of these rules and how offenses were constructed at that time. Offensive players saw multiple defenders camped in the paint whenever they would attack the basket. Proper floor spacing and freedom of movement rules has significantly improved the quality of life for basketball players on offense (and thereby made playing defense almost impossible in today’s NBA).

It is therefore impossible to accurately project how the 1993 Suns would have fared in today’s game. Likewise, it is impossible to project how today’s Suns would have fared nearly 30 years ago.

Or is it impossible after all? These stats are so identical that it is borderline eerie.

  • Both teams finished 1st in the regular season (they finished two games apart)
  • Their net rating was separated by less than a point
  • Each team had seven players who scored in double figures per game
  • Their pace was the exact same (99.8 possessions per 48 minutes)

The similarities continue! Booker and Paul’s Suns did not win the 2021 NBA Finals mainly because of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who I consider as the best basketball player on the planet today. Barkley’s Suns did not win the 1993 NBA Finals mainly because of Michael Jordan, who I consider to be the greatest basketball player ever.

Wow, these teams are nearly identical. So who would win a winner-take-all showdown between two of the most prolific Phoenix Suns teams ever? Here is a breakdown of a hypothetical matchup only available in NBA 2K simulations (and anybody with access to a time machine).

One caveat: this is going to be played under today’s rules. No retroactively applying those nonsensical 1990’s rules in today’s NBA!