Current Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek played with Kevin Johnson (KJ) in Phoenix for four years, from the spring of 1988 to June 1992. As a starting back court, they led the Suns to the playoffs all four years, including two Conference Finals. After Hornacek was traded for some dude, they each went on to play seven more years without each other.
KJ led the Suns to the playoffs in all 10 full seasons of his Suns career, plus one bonus playoffs coming out of retirement to spell an injured Jason Kidd in the 2000 playoffs.
He put up 20 points and 12 assists per game as a 22 year old second-year player in 1988-89. Let me repeat: 20 and 12 at 22! NO ONE in NBA history has put up 20 and 12 before they turned 23 years old. He finished 14th in career assists, made three All-Star teams and reached the Finals once with Charles Barkley.
Is that good enough to make the Basketball Hall of Fame?
"Yeah I think so," Hornacek said in a one-one with Bright Side today. "I think what he did for that stretch. The comparison to me, besides championships, is Isiah Thomas. He'd take over a game."
That stretch was from 1988 to 1995, where he led his team to more wins than any other NBA player, and came in second only to Jordan's Bulls in playoff wins.
"He was the key," Hornacek said. "He made the game easier for everybody else. He'd push the ball, get in the open court, make passes."
For sure, KJ took over games. Here's his 43 point game against Houston in 1995 that gave them a 3-1 series lead in the second round. No, we don't need to look beyond that game from those playoffs, thank you.
And this 38 point game against the Warriors in the 1994 playoffs
"I thought he was one of these guys that became unstoppable, really," Hornacek says. "He could pull up for the jump shot. If you got too close to him, he was lightning quick. Especially his one-dribble-between-his legs-catapulted him to the basket in one quick stride. He could finish with his left hand, dunk over people, go off his one leg, and with his right hand he'd dunk it."
All these scoring highlights and you'd think that's all KJ could do. But he was much more than that. He was a passer of the highest magnitude, finishing 14th in NBA history in total assists despite "just" an 11-year career in which two of those years he hardly played.
"And he was a good defender," Hornacek said, citing his quick hands and 1000+ career steals.
Sure, KJ only finished 81st in NBA history in scoring totals, 51st in steals and never won a championship. But Hornacek doesn't think that should matter.
"To me," Hornacek said. "(the key to being a Hall of Famer) was guys that commanded something out there that everybody had to honor, and that made all his teammates better. And Kevin definitely did that."