When the Clippers acquired Chauncey Billups by claiming him off of waivers from the Knicks and then acquired Chris Paul via trade about a week later, they suddenly became as deep at the PG position as any team in the league. The combination of Billups, a five time all-star, NBA champ and Finals MVP with Paul, also a five time all-star and all NBA first team performer, have the Clippers off to their best start in years, currently sitting atop the Pacific Division.
But as far as depth at the point guard position goes, historically, you’d be hard pressed to trump the Phoenix Suns teams of the 96-97 and 97-98 NBA seasons. For two seasons they featured a back court led by Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. Any way you slice it two of those three players will make the hall of fame.
KJ probably won’t get the love, but as a 14 year vet with career averages of 17.9 ppg, 9.1 apg, 1.5 spg, a career .493% shooter from the floor and .841% on free throws, Johnson was one of the best point guards ever. Unfortunately for him, he played in the same era as John Stockton, which makes him the Dominique Wilkins to Michael Jordan in terms of scoring titles- no matter what he did, he would always be overshadowed.
In 1996-97, KJ was the Suns leading scorer averaging 20.1 ppg. But at 30 years old, he was playing 38 mpg and the Suns knew it couldn’t last forever, thanks to lingering injury issues that also overshadowed Johnson during some of the most successful stages of his career.
As a stopgap, they drafted Steve Nash from Santa Clara in the 1996 NBA Draft. Prior to the end of the 96-97 season, the Suns also acquired Jason Kidd from the Dallas Mavericks via trade. Kidd took off immediately, starting 23 of 33 games, playing 35.5 mpg, averaging 11.5 ppg, 9 apg, 4.8 rpg and 2.4 spg. That same year Steve Nash came off the bench and played 10.5 mpg but averaged 3.3 ppg and 2.1 apg in limited duty.
The writing was on the wall for KJ heading into the 97-98 season, but he still squeezed out another solid year (9.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 25.8 mpg) while splitting minutes with and mentoring Kidd and Nash. Kidd started all 82 games and maintained the productive pace he set the previous year putting up nearly the same numbers (38 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 9.1 apg, 6.2 rpg, 2.0 spg), while Nash doubled his minutes (10.5 vs 21.9) and increased his production across the board (9.1 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.1 rpg). Suddenly the Suns had a three headed monster at PG and they went 56-26, a 16 win improvement over the previous season.
But that was the apex for the three as teammates, as Nash was dealt to Dallas after the 1998 draft for four players and a first round draft pick (which later turned out to be Shawn Marion, interestingly). KJ retired after the season. And suddenly, J Kidd was the undisputed #1 PG.
So who, historically could even stack up against a backcourt of KJ, Kidd and Nash?
Sure, you could argue Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe of the Knicks in the 70’s, and at the very least they certainly stack up with the Clippers of 2011-12.
But in my mind it’s got to be the three Suns. In NBA history not only are all three of them in the top ten for assists per game, but fittingly they’re all stacked together- KJ in 7th with 9.13, Kidd in 8th with 9.09 and Nash in 9th with 8.51.
Image credit: Keith Allison