'07-'08 Team Better than '04-'05 Team

[Editor's Note: The Weekly Checkup is going on hiatus for a couple of weeks so I can catch up on some things. In the meantime, here's a nice subject to debate about from the Diaries. Thanks, Hawk42!]

This Phoenix Suns team is slowly working the kinks out of their attack. I have read about the comparison between the two versions of Suns teams, and have also seen the idea pooh-poohed on other boards. So I thought it was time to do an objective comparison. See what you think.

First of all, what was the defining characteristic of the '04-'05 team? I have heard some say it was the way they completely swamped the opposition. Others will say the catalyst was the players that gathered voluntarily before the season. Still others say that the arrival of Steve Nash turned a promising bunch of directionless talent into a basketball Maserati. I think that athletically, it has to rank as the best Suns five. However, we did eventually discover the team's Achilles heel. Injuries devastated the music, whether it be Nash's midseason malady, or Joe Johnson's unfortunate plunge into the hardwood.

There were two Suns in the interim between the clubs I aim to contrast. The '05-'06 team was defined by two offseason events that conspired to destroy the new found relevancy on the Phoenix sports scene established in Nash's comeback season. These two events were 1) Joe Johnson's bitter divorce and subsequent trade to the Atlanta Hawks, and 2) the horribly bad news that our unstoppable big man could possibly be finished as a dominator. Having acquired Raja Bell as a backup SG, he was instantly slated to start in Johnson's old position. Kurt Thomas was obtained in a messy trade of Quentin Richardson to the Knicks. But little did fans know that the player obtained for Johnson, Boris Diaw, would prove to be enough medicine to salve the Stoudemire wound temporarily. The team picked up a can do spirit, and finished an injury or two short of the finals.

And we all know what happened last year. Amare's comeback was a resounding success, but the way the season ended left a bitter taste in the mouths of Suns fans that some speculated would never wane. Was the promise of that magical 05 season lost forever? Fans were left to play kick the can as a way to work out frustrations. Will fans ever drink champagne from the silver chalice of victory? Or did someone slip us a dixie cup of vinegar?

I don't intend to get into statistics, so let's look at the two teams in the familiar way of the diehard hoops fan, position by position:

There are three common starters:

Steve Nash
Amare Stoudemire
Shawn Marion

and one common reserve - Leandro Barbosa

I think we can say the three starters are close in production to three years ago. STAT is a better rebounder, and his jumper is close to that of Karl Malone (if he learns to defend like Karl, it's all over). Barbosa is a much better player. We can measure his improvement in light years. Some fans were ready to dump him.

We lost Joe Johnson from that team. The 08 team has Grant Hill. But while JJ is younger and quicker than Hill, I think we can agree that after seeing what Hill brings to the table, this is at least a push. That sweet jumper of JJ's is better than that of Hill, and his 3 point shooting is better, but Grant sees the floor better, and makes better decisions with the ball.

Raja Bell for Quentin Richardson. About the only things Q did better than Bell was rebound and post up. But since both players played on the perimeter, those advantages were negated, Raja's shot is better. He plays better defense. He brings the same fiery spirit.

So based on the above comparison, the starting fives are even. I'd rate the 07-08 team better already, based on a 5-on-5 comparison. Throw in Barbosa versus, say Jim Jackson (since a comparison with the 05 Leo is ridiculous). I take him over Jackson in Jimmy's best year.

What do we have left? Hunter vs. Brian Skinner? Puh-lease. No contest. Brian even knows what he's doing out there, something Steven Hunter could never be accused of. Boris Diaw vs. Walter McCarty? Even the seemingly out-of-place Frenchman on two bad ankles is more useful than McCarty. What if he figures it out and flashes his '05-'06 form? And we have a promising rookie, DJ Strawberry. I don't even remember the last two guys on the 05 Suns bench. But were they any better than Marks and Pike?

Conclusion - This year's team has every bit of firepower that the former team did, and has three players (Bell, Marion, and Skinner) who excel on defense. One of the bugaboos on the 05 team was the offense bogging down when Nash is out. But now, with Diaw and Hill, the team can actually hold their own and even increase leads while Steve is out. It is easy to get caught up with Steve's current binge of dimes (maybe we should call a 10 assist game a 'dollar' game). But have you looked at the totals racked up by Grant Hill? We will see in a brutal stretch of December games how the team handles the big boys.

Anyway, have at it. I am anxious to see what you think. Oh - and by the way, after the parade down Central, we might get to pick first in the draft! Imagine the griping by the Mavs and Spurs fans.