Editor's note: This game came up in the comments discussing Devin Booker's 38 and 39 point games. I was planning on writing something new when I decided to search the archives and found Rollin's excellent tale of Tony Delk's big game. In a double throwback of sorts, it is also the first #TBT article in Bright Side of the Sun's history. This article first appeared in July 2014. Please enjoy!
Welcome to Throwback Thursday. The dog days of summer are here, and for those unfortunate enough to not find themselves floating in the swimming pool with a cold beverage, we've got you covered every Thursday right here on Bright Side of the Sun, where we do the time warp and relive some of the more curious moments of Phoenix Suns history. Summer sucks. We're trying to make it suck less.
You know those shot-happy guards that are too small to be wings and lack the playmaking skills to handle the point, so they spend their careers bouncing around from team to team to provide the delicious combination of microwave scoring and deplorable defense off the bench?
While names like Eddie House and Aaron Brooks surely leap to mind, few have fit the mold as well as NBA journeyman Tony Delk.
The 6'1 guard played for 8 teams in his 10 year career, averaging only 68 games played per team. For his career he barely cracked the Mendoza line of NBA shooting with a cringeworthy FG% of .408. He was a little guy without a position that took a bunch of shots and managed to make some of them here and there.
He also wore numeral 00 for most of his career, which is neat.
The Suns signed Delk as a
mercenary free agent in August of 2000 in a largely trivial move to shore up their depth in the backcourt. His tenure as a Sun mostly played out the same way as the rest of his career -- he was a sparkplug off the bench that could get hot from time to time.
But on January 2, 2001, on an ordinary night in Sacramento, he went nuclear and turned in one of the most surprising 50-point games in NBA history, pouring in a grand total of 53 on the Kings.
Read on for the details.
The early 2000's were a largely forgettable stretch for the NBA. The league was at the peak of the post-Jordan hangover. Nobody could shoot, scoring was way down, and high-volume isolation players ruled the roost. Allen Iverson and Jerry Stackhouse were first and second in scoring, and neither of them shot better than 42% from the field.
The Lakers were dominant, Ricky Davis was a thing, and final scores often resembled college games. It was not a rewarding time to follow professional basketball.
As for the Suns, they did a masterful job of eventually turning the Charles Barkley departure into the arrival of Jason Kidd, but then proceeded to do a remarkably poor job of surrounding their All-World point guard with complimentary players.
Kidd was arguably the fastest player in the NBA with the ball in his hands, so naturally the Suns decided to spend a huge amount of money on the slowest frontcourt possible with players like Tom Gugliotta and Luc Longley.
They then threw $86 million at Penny Hardaway and the ill-fated Backcourt 2000, which saw Penny suit up for a grand total of 4 games in 2000/01.
The Suns still possessed a solid core with Kidd at the point, young dynamo Shawn Marion on the wing, and the always-underrated Clifford Robinson's versatile two-way frontcourt play. But with about $146 million tied up in Hardaway and the ineffective Gugliotta, their supporting cast consisted of various cast-offs, has-beens and never-weres.
Corie Blount, Paul McPherson, Daniel Santiago, Chris Dudley, Elliot Perry (part deux), Mario Elie (!!!), and Jake Tsakalidis all saw time that season, and if that wasn't enough mediocrity, a mid-season trade was swung for 34-year-old Vinny Del Negro.
It wasn't a particularly exciting time to be a Suns fan, but they were still a playoff team by virtue of their anti-Sunsian defense, which finished the 2000/01 season number 2 in DRtg under the frownage of head coach Scott
Really, I'm not lying.
After a 15-6 start to the season, they had begun to slowly fall apart like all Scott Skiles teams eventually do and stood at 18-11 on January 2, 2001.
The Kings, on the other hand, were an up-and-coming cast of colorful characters that was one Mike Bibby trade away from becoming a threat to the Lakers' supremacy. They stood at a respectable 21-8. Chris Webber was destroying everything en route to his first team All-NBA selection. Peja Stojakovic was enjoying a breakout season. Future Suns legend Hedo Turkoglu was a 21-year-old rookie seeing limited time. Lawrence Funderburke was a basketball player.
The Kings pushed the pace (2nd overall) and lit up the scoreboard, at least in early-2000's terms (their league-leading 101.7 PPG would have only been good for 13th last season). They, along with the upstart Mavs led by young Dirk and Steve, were pretty much the only team that was enjoyable to watch to the casual fan.
It was a good time for the Kings. They were young, exciting, had a positively European flavor, and had yet to be formally introduced to Robert Horry.
- 10:39 - Assisted 17-footer over Jason Williams, who sort of contested it but not really
- 5:09 - Wide open from 18 feet off a cross-court transition pass from Kidd
- 2:55 - Sneaks backdoor, scores on Funderburke, who forgets to use his arms to defend
- :41 - Hits a Beasley (long two with your foot directly on top of the 3-point line) on a transition pull-up
- 11:27 - Drives and scores on Hedo and Scot Pollard, which is funny
- 3:28 - Hits another Beasley, this time off the dribble with 13 seconds still left on the shot clock, over Doug Christie, who clearly was not anticipating such an asinine shot attempt
- 1:57 - Another 17-footer over White Chocolate
- :40 - Takes Christie off the dribble, scores over a nonplussed Vlade Divac, who sort of waves at the layup attempt
- 11:27 - Takes Funderburke off the dribble, hits a tough floater despite excellent defense from his teammate Chris Dudley
- 6:22 - Transition layup over a helpless Peja on an assist from Kidd
- 6:07 - Nails an 18-footer over two Kings instead of making the easy pass to an open Rodney Rogers. He's in shoot-everything mode now, even more than usual
- 5:28 - Fadeaway 18-footer ... good contest by Divac on the switch but it doesn't matter
- 4:01 - Christie doesn't pick him up in transition ... wide open 18-footer off a Kidd assist
- 1:26 - Breakaway layup on the pass from Mr. Rogers off a turnover ... easiest bucket of the night
- :49 - Driving layup over Divac
- 10:00 - Wide open 20-footer off a kickout from Uncle Cliffy
- 8:39 - 18-footer off a curl screen from Dudley ... they're actually running plays for him at this point! Kidd assist
- 7:51 - Another play run for him, and another curl screen, this time from Rogers. Kidd assist
- 3:58 - Coast-to-coast transition layup. Peja again displays hilarious transition defense
- 3:24 - Transition layup, with an assist from Young Matrix and his fuzzy hairdo!
53 points on 20/27 from the field and 13/15 from the stripe. Most baffling of all, Delk didn't hit a single 3-pointer (he only attempted one).
Unfortunately, the Kings prevailed 121-117 in overtime despite Chris Webber only logging 7 minutes (injury?), with Peja and Vlade combining for 67 points on 24/37 from the field. Divac attempted 16 freethrows -- all of which I'm sure were the result of legitimate fouls.
For the Suns, Kidd had a most Kiddesque line of 17 assists to go with a 5/18 night from the floor.
The Suns fearsome frontcourt reserves -- Chris Dudley, Corie Blount, Jake Tsakalidis and Daniel Santiago -- combined for 51 minutes, 13 boards, 12 points, 1 block, 14 fouls, 2 turnovers and 0 assists.
Somehow it wasn't enough.
The Suns delivered a 51-win season that year, but it was about as unappealing as a 51-win season can possibly be. Kidd was arrested shortly after Delk's career night for domestic violence, and just a month after that, Clifford Robinson pulled a Beasley (the other kind) and was arrested for spliffing and driving.
They bowed out without much of a fight in the first round of the playoffs against the same Kings team, quietly losing in 4 games.
The Colangelos cleaned house that summer. Kidd was flipped to Jersey for Stephon Marbury, and Robinson was shipped to Detroit for Jud Buechler and John Wallace(no that is not a typo).
In a way, Delk's night in Sacramento was a perfect microcosm of that 2000/01 Suns team. A nice achievement, but ultimately lost in a swell of disappointment and mundanity.
As for Delk, a little over a year later he was sent with Rodney Rogers to the Celtics for Randy Brown, Milt Palacio, a first-rounder that would become Casey Jacobsen, and future all-NBA Joe Johnson. So if you're scoring at home, Tony Delk begat Joe Johnson begat Boris Diaw begat Jason Richardson begat Marcin Gortat begat Tyler Ennis.
Apparently it takes 12 years for a Tony to become a Tyler.
Delk was the third Sun to join the 50-point club, after Tom Chambers did it twice in 1990 (34 days apart) and Clifford Robinson the year prior. In 2005, on the four-year anniversary of Delk's 53, Amare Stoudemire joined the club by hanging 50 on the Blazers.
The all-time mark belongs to Chambers, who reached 60.
Delk's Place In History
Last season provided a double-dose of scoring anomalies as both Terrence Ross and Corey Brewer delivered 51-point games. This of course sent the stat geeks at the Elias Sports Bureau into a frenzy, and they offered some perspective for how rare it is for such modest scorers to reach such a milestone.
Wouldn't you know it,our old friend Tony Delk had set the bar.
From ESPN, the lowest career high in scoring at the time of scoring 50+ points was a tie between Terrence Ross and Tony Delk, both at 26 points.
The lowest career scoring average at the time of scoring 50+ points was Ross at 7.4, followed by Delk at 8.0.
Basketball novices will glance at that stat years from now and assume that Ross is the more average player than Delk, but if there were any fairness in this cruel world there would be an asterisk next to Ross' name. Since he achieved his 51 point game in only his second season, he has only a fraction of the mediocre body of work that Delk had.
By 2000/01, Delk had already registered 4 seasons of meh, and was 5 years older than was Ross in 2013/14.
So, Terrence Ross, kindly step away from our Kool-Aid.
Mr. Delk, we here at Bright Side salute you, and will tell all of our friends and neighbors that you are truly the most average player in the modern era to crack the 50 point barrier. You're like a Disney film sprung to life; a testament to the notion that magical things can happen at any turn, even to the most average of us.
Rock on, Mr. Average.