EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Shawn Marion’s Ring of Honor reflection includes battles with Kevin Durant

Dec 15, 2023, 9:50 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2023, 12:30 am

PHOENIX — Shawn Marion’s greatness over his time with the Phoenix Suns doesn’t need any type of certification. Those who know, know.

But it sure helps with nights like Friday when he is inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor and has his No. 31 hanging up in the rafters.

“Special. It’s surreal right now. … There’s definitely some chills through my body,” Marion said.

Marion has been asked a lot over the years about how he should have been in the Ring of Honor sooner. He, however, felt like the timing was right for the present and it wouldn’t have been in the past. To take a page out of The Matrix’s book there, instead of focusing on all of that, how his time ended here in the Valley and all the “what if’s?” along the way, the night should be about giving flowers to the player he was.

Visiting New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau back in the mid-2000’s was on a Houston Rockets coaching staff that got a first-hand look at the start of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns teams Marion starred on. A defensive-minded coach, Thibodeau described those Suns as “impossible.” Suns head coach Frank Vogel even remembered Phoenix’s 7-1 preseason in that first year, noting the tape revealed, “Nah, this isn’t preseason. This team is scary.”

Both Thibodeau and Vogel lit up when asked about Marion, who never played for either coach, but that tells you about how much of a coach’s dream he was as a player.

Thibodeau described his game well.

“One of those guys they didn’t run a lot of plays for him or anything but he just had great impact on the game in so many different ways,” he said. “The thing that always stood out was he was a team-first guy. When you think about Shawn you think about his ability to run the floor, his ability to move without the ball, to do things for the team, his defense, multiple efforts, hustle — just had an incredible career.”

Metrics attempting to portray a player’s total value are imperfect but can demonstrate what a player like Marion meant to the franchise. He is first in total win shares and value over replacement player (VORP), while also placing third in box plus/minus. In terms of the total production he provided the Suns over nine years, Devin Booker is the only guy who has a shot of putting together as good of a resume over a total Valley career.

On the all-time leaderboards, Marion is second in rebounds and steals, third in blocks and fifth in points. To contextualize that a bit further, Marion’s 343 double-doubles of points and rebounds are over 100 more than the man in second, fellow Ring of Honor member Alvan Adams (240), per Stathead. That’s also one more than Steve Nash (342) on the overall Suns double-doubles rankings.

And when it comes to Marion’s specialty of “stocks,” aka steals and blocks, he reached at least two each in 142 games, far ahead of Adams’ 93.

“Naturally, one of the things I’ve come to realize about this game of basketball, when you play hard and you make yourself available and you leave it on the floor, the ball will find you,” Marion said, noting one of the reasons he’s not coaching is because lack of effort would drive him up a wall.

While Marion’s career wrapped up in 2015, the league is still littered with players he had memorable moments facing across the years. One of them is Kevin Durant, who entered the league during Marion’s last year in Phoenix.

“I feel like we had some real battles,” Durant told Arizona Sports. “I felt like it was a real rivalry, for lack of a better term, you know? I felt like we competed hard against each other. He pushed me, he was physical with me, I pushed him and made him a better defender as well as he made me a better player so I always respect those battles we’ve had against each other. Those Dallas teams were incredible and they were right down the road, so it felt like a rivalry.”

They got acquainted immediately. In Durant’s second-ever NBA game and first in Seattle, his home debut, Durant’s SuperSonics drew the Suns in November 2007, a few years into their incredible run. Naturally, Durant scored 27 points and then 28 the next and last time they met before Marion was traded to Miami.

“Coming into the league, I was No. 1 on the scouting report, so I had to go against the guys I looked up to, the defenders I looked up to,” Durant said. “The Ron Artest’s, the Andrei Kirilenko’s, the Shawn Marion’s — those guys, they just made my life so much tougher as a rookie. I couldn’t run from those guys. I had to go to battle with them.

“Shawn was one of those guys who the night before every game I just tried to go through my mind and figure out how I’m gonna approach this. A lot of defenders didn’t give me that much trouble as far as preparation but Shawn did. He’s a unique player that set the standard for that 4 position. He don’t get the credit for pioneering that spot as much as some other guys do.”

Two seasons later is when the matchup really intensified, with Marion’s arrival in Dallas starting up a string of outstanding matchups between the Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder. That included a 2011 Western Conference Finals showdown Dallas took down in five games en route to a championship while OKC would get revenge the next year in a first-round sweep.

“I love KD,” Marion said. “We beat OKC to go to the Finals in Dallas to win a championship but that rivalry will be something serious. … I loved playing against KD. We both bring the best out of each other and it’s tons of respect and we always show love and respect.”

Durant in his own right is clear with what he said when it comes to the player Marion was, and the face of the franchise  Booker made sure to shout out Marion pregame with his shoe choice while warming up.

“Man, Book is something special,” Marion said of that. “He’s one of the few guys who definitely paid respect and homage to the guys who paved the way before him.”

There is always that game to play as a fan, wondering how players of old would fare in the way basketball is played today. Marion even admitted pregame he thinks about how he could plug in on this iteration of the Suns.

But just like 20 years ago, Marion would fit seamlessly on any team, and he would have been perfect for the modern style of play.

“Yeah, I think so,” Vogel said when asked if he agrees. “He does it all. He can hit the 3, his athleticism and speed with elite space — I think he’d be even better.”

Marion broke down the evolution of positional importance since he entered the league to now, and how the shift right now has really prioritized two-way wings.

Even with the pace Phoenix was playing in the Seven Seconds or Less era, the current increase would have made Marion an even more dynamic offensive player. Defensively, with the amount of emphasis on versatility and switching, Marion would have been a star on just that end alone.

He was in his day too, but Marion’s preposterous lack of any All-Defense nods he referred to as “disgusting” would have instead been a decade long in today’s NBA.

“I would probably be averaging five, six steals a game. Easily,” Marion said to laughs from the assembled media. “The way they throwin’ that ball away right now. It would be pickings!”

Marion’s legacy is undeniable, and in a similar way to how Booker always talks about having the respect from others he deserves, it has to matter the most to Marion that his peers have it.

“It’s pretty cool, the standard he set, so now I try to live up to that as much as I can,” Durant said. “Not just ‘Trix but all the other guys that wore this jersey before me.”

The banner helps, though.

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