Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 8:00 am  |  44 responses

Decade’s Best: Starting Five

Can you have the decade’s best starting five without even making the Finals?

by Adam Fleischer

The starting unit in the NBA can be a funny thing. It’s not unusual that one of a team’s best players is not a part, instead beginning each game on the sideline. It could be that this player provides a needed spark off the bench, or is more comfortable in that role, or maybe plays the same position as the team’s best player.

In no other major professional sport are those who don’t start the game so crucial to a team’s success. The NBA even gives out an award every year for the most outstanding player who starts each game on the bench. You don’t need to have the best starting unit in the League to win the championship, nor does having the best one ensure pouring champagne in June.

And what exactly does “best” mean with respect to a starting unit? A talented and successful group with clear on court chemistry seems to fit.

These were all questions I considered and facts that I had to convince myself of in choosing the best starting unit of the last decade.

A bunch of teams were in the discussion: One of a few Pistons teams (they were a close second); the championship Celtics (Rondo was a question mark at the time and Perkins was simply serviceable); early decade Sacramento Kings (their success also relied heavily on bench play); a Lakers squad (a couple Hall of Famers over the hump? AC Green starting every game for the 2000 championship team? Nah).

So, ultimately, the nod had to go to an exciting team that took the NBA by storm during the ‘04-05 season out in Phoenix. The Suns were coming off an abysmal 29-53 showing the previous year and had just brought Steve Nash back to town during free agency to run Mike D’Antoni’s offense.

The results, of course, were pretty special.

With a starting five of Nash, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudamire, the Suns started the year hot, jumping to a 31-4 record out of the gate. They finished things up in April with 62 wins and 20 losses—a 33 game turnaround from the year before and good enough for the League’s best record.

A six-year sidekick of Dirk while in Dallas, Nash came back to the desert and made clear his individual value before long. He averaged double digit assists for the first time in his career, dishing a league-best 11.5 per to go along with 15.5 points. He won his first of two consecutive MVP awards and earned his first of three consecutive All-NBA First Team selections.

Amare Stoudamire had a career year alongside his new teammate. He shot 56 percent from the field, attempted a still career best 10 free throws per game, and grabbed nine boards to go along with 26 points a night, fifth highest average in the League. He’s only come close to that sort of scoring output one other time in his career (the 2007-08 season). He was All-NBA Second Team.

The versatile Shawn Marion also flourished running with Nash, catching oops left and right on the way to his second career all-star appearance and the first of two consecutive All-NBA Third Team selection. Marion also posted the second best scoring and rebounding numbers of his career and was third in the League in boards.

Joe Johnson dropped 17 per during the ‘04-05 campaign, which proved to be his final one in Phoenix. His continued growth and impressive showing that season earned him a $70 million contract from Atlanta.

Quentin Richardson was a solid fifth starter to round out the unit. He scored 15 per, a legitimate output from your fifth option. In his only year with the Suns, QRich lead the League in threes made, perpetually posted beyond the arc, benefitting from the chaos created by Nash and Co.

On the season, this five-man unit had a plus/minus of +470. To put that in perspective, the Pistons starters were the second best that year, at +299, and Dallas was third at +219. The Celtics championship team starters were +388 on the season. The Cavs starters last year were +187.

Plus, the Suns scored 110.4 points per game as a team, a remarkable seven points more than the second highest scoring squad; these starters averaged a remarkable 92.9 of those points. No, they didn’t exactly D up (let up the most points per in the League), but this team got the job done when they were out there together. Leandro Barbosa was in just his second year and he, like other bench players, weren’t the hugest factors on a team that counted very heavily on production from its starters. It worked for most of the year, but once the playoffs rolled around, defense and depth proved important, and the Suns couldn’t get past the eventual champs in San Antonio.

Just to recap, the ‘04-05 Phoenix Suns had a starting five of: the MVP, All-NBA First Teamer, all-star, and league leader in assists per game; an all-star All-NBA Second Team performer who was the fifth leading per game scorer for the season; an all-star All-NBA Third Teamer who was third in the League in rebounding per game; a future all-star in his final year before earning a lucrative deal and become “The Man” on his own team; and a solid fifth starter in his only year in Phoenix who was tied for the most three point field goals on the year.

The Suns never even advanced to the Finals with this core. But they put in work. Like I said, there’s more to this thing than a starting five.


For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.

  • Add a Comment
  • Share
  • RSS

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • J


  • J

    entertaining. the most entertaining starting five of the decade. but to say the “BEST”? i won’t go that far.

  • http://www.something.com ol dirty basta he kick yo ass

    This Suns team was ridiculously fun to watch, I wish Joe Johnson had stayed he would have brought the RAW. Also, Steve Kerr never stopped working for the spurs, that’s right, lower case b******

  • Hussman25

    Detroit would have been the better selection… Great offense in Phoenix; but Detorit in their prime did it on both ends… Good Read tho… This Decade’s best series has been interesting to read!

  • kas

    15 ppg from your 5th option is more than legitimate


    So best starting five of the decade doesn’t required to have won a chip? … interesting – I guess we’re all have different perspectives of what “Best” means :/

  • http://www.paidtosave.info Dang I’m Nice!!!

    Dagg this brings back memories. These Suns caused alot of problems during the regular season. Those plus/minus numbers are really ridiculous. And 15ppg as a 5th option? That’s most teams 2nd option!!!

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    15 ppg is NOT most teams second option unless your in college.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    that suns team was awesome.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    I’m thinking winning a title should play a big factor in this decision…I’d take Detroit’s 5 over Pheonix any day. They played the best defense in the league and were just fine offensively. Plus 7 Conference finals trips, 2 finals trips, and 1 championship is pretty convincing. They had 4 all-stars in that lineup and a borderline all-star in Prince.

  • el gee

    good idea for an article. not sure i agree with the results but realy really good idea. good stuff.

  • riggs

    i agree with the pistons starting 5, they got it DONE.

  • http://www2.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/jstiglitz/ DIMITRIS DIAMANTIDIS

    ANSWER: NO. By the way:BIBBY,CHRISTIE,PEJA,WEBBER,DIVAC>>>>everybody non final starting five.

  • http://nicekicks.com MeloMan2.0

    detroit nearly had their whole starting line-up in the asg one year…. should be them

  • http://slamonline.com/ niQ

    I’m not from Phoenix but I seriously wish Joe Johnson stayed there. That team was special.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    This was the most talented starting five of the decade, and we don’t know what they would have done in the Western Conference Finals if not for Joe Johnson’s injury.

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    this is bs. yes, they were talented, but only on one end of the court. then theres the playoffs. also 15 and 11 gets you an mvp? wow, i forgot how incredibly bogus that was.

  • Ghost (of Kenny Walker)


  • LA Huey

    Same mindset that gave Nash those MVP trophies must have decided this distinction. Pistons > Suns

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    They were the most OFFENSIVELY talented group of the decade, but last time I checked, there’s two ends of the floor there Allen. Not a single one of them played a lick of defense. Talent isn’t only measured by how many points you put up.

  • hellyea

    Um, Nash/Amare/JJ/Q/Matrix beats Rondo/Ray-Ray/P2/KG/Perkins? I don’t think so…even the Motown crew would beat the Suns anyday.

  • tavoris

    I know they lost & all, but Payton, Kobe, Malone, Shaq, & that fifth guy >>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Gary Payton and Karl Malone were like corpses that year. On paper, they were great, but they were too old. Not to mention it’s the decade’s best starting 5, not the decade’s best starting 4. Plus Detroit’s 5 >>>> That Lakers 5…in 5 games.

  • tavoris

    ur right Wayno, but that assumption puts them over Phoenix too.

  • mems

    nash didnt deserve those MVPs and pheonix doesn’t deserve to be the best anything except wasting the 5 or so years they could have won a championship if they had a coach who knew how to coach defense and players that actually played it. yea, im sure it was fun scoring 115ppg as they lost games and never accomplished anything.

  • Pingback: SLAM ONLINE | » Hot Topics

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Defense isn’t predicated on talent, it’s predicated on effort.
    The Suns had the most talented starting five of the decade in my opinion. You’re welcome to disagree.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    Tony Parker
    Manu Ginobli
    Bruce Bowen
    Tim Duncan

    This starting four was way better than any other starting five on a few occasions.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com doyouwantmore

    If you count Manu as a starter. (Which you should)

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Really? It doesn’t take talent to be good at defense? What about the timing it takes to be a good shot blocker or to get steals? What about being able to predict where the ball is going to bounce as a rebounder? While the talent it takes to play defense isn’t as straight forward as the talent it takes to play offense, it’s foolish to attribute good defense simply to effort. That would imply that any NBA player could be an all-defensive team worthy player if they put effort into it. I think NBA players could be better defenders if they put more effort into it, but you can’t say it’s simply effort that makes good defenders.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    I’d take the Pistons’ championship starting five over these guys any day. I’d even take the Mavericks’ starting unit over 2005-2007 over these guys.

  • http://slamonline.com Dave

    Controversial pick for a pretty questionable subject.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Logues

    ok so they were really good on offense and sucked on defense, so… how are they the BEST starting five of the DECADE?

  • http://slamonline.com Dave

    Yeah. This is just wrong. I think anyone who picks that Suns lineup over the C’s championship team has spent too much time in Fantasy land. That what this is about, right?

  • http://hoopistani.blogspot.com hoopistani

    completely disagree… this is the most offensive starting five – the best starting five of the decade belongs to none other than chauncey, richard, tayshaun, rasheed, and ben. There were no reasons given for these 5 to not be named “the best” apart from saying “they were a close second”

  • http://dsjfhklf.com Jukai

    I mean… 2004 Lakers… Kobe, Shaq, Malone, Payton… whoever the hell they used as their small forward? That lineup was sick, just for the big names, and probably would have won a chip if Malone didn’t injure himself constantly.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    The Celtics starting five of Rondo, Pierce, Allen, Garnett, and Perkins is definitely one of the best starting fives ever. Even with Rondo’s body-checking-Heinrich self.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Actually though, Adam has a good point: The Suns starters did the most for their teams. Other great teams that went to the finals also had great benches. Phoenix Suns definitely don’t have the best team of the decade, but starters is quite possible. I mean come on, Mike D’Antoni plays with like a 7 man rotation, so the starters have to all play well every night for them to compete. Also, Mike D’Antoni is a pretty bad coach right now.

  • tavoris

    The Sun’s 6th man was pretty darn good too. On many nights, Barbosa was-at worst-the 2nd best player on the team.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    This is also true.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    tavoris leandro barbosa is a one gun kinda guy. specially in 04-05. Hit a three and run real fast thats all he did. No defense, no halfcourt playmaking ability. On his best night he was the 4th best player on that team

  • http://dfinney0415@yahoo.com KR

    Detroit > Phoenix but we can agree to disagree. Still a good read.

  • J

    tarzan: i agree on the whole suns team but not on nash. he may be the exception case in MVP, its his overall effect/impact not his gaudy numbers that won him the award. and if were gonna insert the kobe’s lebron’s on this whole impact thing where gonna have 200 comments following this one. and really would they be the suns team that were talking about if not for nash? d’antoni, yes, has something to do with it but it couldn’t be on this level if not for steve. but i think he’s second MVP was the one really questionable.

  • Kyle

    It’s funny… has Kobe or LeBron ever brought an overweight, underachiever from the dead like Nash did with Tim Thomas? He loses Amar’e and makes Diaw look like an up and coming star. Let’s Marion lead the team in scoring(ha), and scores more himself.

    Would any of these so-called MVPs ever make Channing Frye a productive starter in this league? I don’t even know if Paul could do that. Sure, Magic and Stockton could…

    Not to mention Nash shoots over 50 percent the past 6 seasons, well over 40 percent from 3(almost the same percentage Ray Allen shoots from the field, but this guy is taking 3′s on the run.) Not to mention he’s the best freethrow shooter since Rick Barry.

    This season Nash has taken a team expected to fight for an 8th seed(if that)and made them winners. They’ve had an unfair amount of road games compared to the Lakers. Look at who Kobe has around him. Nash has one great player, and a few good players(1 or 2 have been hurt consistently.) Sure he doesn’t play defense, but the way he controls a game is absurd. Only Stockton did it better(Magic was a lil diff, cause like Bird… he could actually play 3 or 4 positions.)