Shawn Marion: Versatility Ahead of His Time

Shawn Marion
by Cody Cunningham

The Phoenix Suns’ ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ era revolutionized the game of basketball forever due to their quick pace, three-point shooting and constant movement. But the team’s identity wasn’t the only thing ahead of it’s time. The versatility of four-time All-Star Shawn Marion was something unseen in the league as he modernized the sport by introducing what’s now commonly known as position-less basketball.

On a team that featured two-time MVP Steve Nash running the show and an athletic monster in Amar’e Stoudemire dominating the paint, Marion worked as the glue to bring it all together as the trio battled out West. 

“Without Shawn Marion, that Seven Seconds or Less could not have worked,” Eddie Johnson said. “When Seven Seconds or Less was rolling, it was Shawn Marion getting rebounds, kicking it out and then still beating Steve down the floor. It was Shawn Marion getting putbacks. It was Shawn Marion guarding five positions. It was Shawn Marion being an underrated passer. He’s the ultimate teammate.”

His ability to score, athleticism and relentless motor gave him video-game-esque qualities on the court as he was as complete of an all-around player the game of basketball had ever seen.

“You look at the numbers that he has had, scoring, rebounding and every other part of the game, they’re right up there when you look at the list of Suns greats,” Al McCoy said.

McCoy speaks the truth. Here’s the proof…

SUNS REGULAR SEASON LEADERBOARD:

1st in double-doubles (343)

4th in points (12,134)

2nd in rebounds (6,616)

2nd in steals (1,245)

3rd in blocks (894)

5th in three-point makes (652)

2nd in minutes played (24,948)

6th in games played (660)

CAREER PER-GAME AVERAGES AMONG SUNS PLAYERS (min. 100 regular season games)

4th in rebounds per game (10.0)

4th in steals per game (1.89)

9th in blocks per game (1.35)

13th in points per game (18.4)

SUNS PLAYOFF LEADERBOARD

1st in rebounds (706)

2nd in blocks (99)

3rd in steals (97)

7th in points (1,109)

6th in games played (65)



In the 1999 NBA Draft, the Suns selected Marion ninth overall out of UNLV and his demeanor and swagger on and off the court instantly made him a fan favorite in Phoenix.

“He was a perfect fit for our organization at the time,” said Bryan Colangelo, who served as the team’s General Manager and made the decision to draft Marion. “He brought an infusion of youth and energy and athleticism. Shawn’s personality was a great fit for the City of Phoenix and a great fit for the organization.”

What made The Matrix such a complete player wasn’t just his ability to soar through the air and perform highlight plays, but his willingness to do anything and everything for his teammates to secure the win. The Suns certainly secured a few of those during his time in Phoenix, 456 to be exact.

ADVANCED STATS AMONG ALL PLAYERS IN SUNS HISTORY:

First in career Win Shares with 100.7 in regular season and playoffs combined (Win Shares are tracked by Basketball-Reference and provide an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player).

First in career Value Over Replacement Player with a 38.7 mark (VORP is tracked by Basketball-Reference as the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level player, translated to an average team and 82-game season).

Second behind only Hall of Famer Charles Barkley with a career Box Plus/Minus of +4.2 (BPM is tracked by Basketball-Reference as a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player).

Fifth in Suns history with a 20.9 Player Efficiency Rating behind only Charles Barkley, Amar’e Stoudemire, Paul Westphal and Kevin Johnson (PER is tracked by Basketball-Reference as a measure of per-minute production, standardized such that the league average is 15).



Early in his career, Marion’s teammates began to notice how special and unique of a talent he was, as he brought a perpetual excitement to the game.

“My last year was his first year,” Rex Chapman said. “He was a rookie and just a livewire, just an electric body. He floated up and down the floor. There were several times during that year where we were on the court together. I’d grab one and throw it up, one that I thought was going to go out of bounds, it’s way too high, and he’d just float up there and dunk it back down. The Matrix is what we called him.”

The Matrix went on to earn four All-Star appearances, two All-NBA selections, six Western Conference Player of the Week and two Western Conference Player of the Month honors as well as an NBA championship later on with the Dallas Mavericks. But that doesn’t tell the full story of the overall impact that he made on the game every time he stepped onto the hardwood.

OFFENSIVELY

“He was so difficult to defend,” McCoy said. “He had a great array of shots. He could score from outside. He could drive to the hoop. He could run the floor. He really was a complete player.”



Marion primarily transitioned back and forth between the two forward spots throughout his career, but standing 6’7” with the smoothness of a guard, defenses never stood a chance.

“He was a matchup nightmare for power forwards, they couldn’t stay with him,” said Scott Williams, who was teammates with Marion in Phoenix for parts of two seasons. “A lot of the threes (small forwards) were too small to be able to play him around the basket because he’d just jump over the top of guys. So, he was a matchup nightmare for the other team defensively.”

In a time where the game was played with five precise roles and clearly-defined positions on the court, point guard through center, Marion had the ability to change the norm and ruin any opposing team’s gameplan.

HIS BOUNCE

While he averaged an eye-popping 18.4 points per game over a nine-and-a-half year stint with the Suns, many of those points came as a result of his ability to create second-chance opportunities.

“Never have to call a play for him,” former teammate Steven Hunter said. “He just gets everything off the glass. Offensive rebound, defensive rebounds, he runs the floor like a deer. Always able to catch lobs and had some of the best hands that you’ll ever find.”



While never the tallest guy in the paint, he was often the best leaper. Ranking first in Suns history in doubles-doubles (343) and second in rebounds (6,616), Marion’s hops and quick reflexes made opposing players look as if they were moving in slow motion, sort of like The Matrix.

“The quickest second jumper that I’ve ever seen in the NBA,” Suns Ring of Honor member Jerry Colangelo said. “If he didn’t get the rebound the first time, he was jumping a second time while people were still coming down.”



Whether it was battling for boards, rising up over defenders to block shots or throwing down highlight-reel slams, it was almost rare to see Marion with both feet on the ground.

“He had these pogo-like legs that allowed him to be so bouncy and so springy,” Williams said.

DEFENSIVELY

Due to his elite athleticism, no one could really guard Marion, yet, Marion could guard anyone.

“He can defend any position,” McCoy said. “He can guard any player on the floor. He had the quickness, the reach, the arm length, everything else to be a tremendous defender.”



Marion’s high basketball IQ, coupled with his dangerous shiftiness, had him sliding along the perimeter against guards as well as holding strong and rising over bigger bodies in the paint. Night-in and night-out, Marion’s defensive matchup would change dramatically, but his effort and production remained consistent.

“He was just a defensive juggernaut,” Stoudemire said. “This guy would guard the best player every single night for us, which is amazing.”

From 2003-2007, Marion became the only player in NBA history to record over 150 steals and 100 blocks in four straight seasons. The only other players to do so in as many as three seasons are NBA legends Julius Erving and Hakeem Olajuwon.



“Defensively, he was so long,” Williams said. “He could guard pretty much one through four on the floor. You could put him out on the perimeter or in the backcourt chasing after the basketball. He could still go on the block and play against a power forward and play with his back to the basket.”

CONSISTENCY 

The grind of an NBA season, not including playoffs, can be draining both physically and mentally, even for the greatest athletes in the world. This makes high-octane players so crucial for programs as teammates feed off their energy, allowing for more consistent product on the court. That motor and consistency was precisely what made Marion so special.

For his Suns career, Marion averaged 18.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.89 steals and 1.35 steals per game. He joins Charles Barkley, Paul Silas and Deandre Ayton as the only players in franchise history to average a double-double for their Suns career (min. 100 games). He’s also the only player in Suns history to hold career averages of 10+ points/rebounds and 1+ steals/blocks with the franchise.

“We never called a play for Shawn, but he’d still have 20 points and 10 rebounds,” Stoudemire said.



During his time with the Suns, Marion notched eight individual seasons averaging at least 15 points, 9 rebounds, one steal and one block. All other players in Suns history have combined for six such seasons. He averaged at least 15/9/1/1 in each of his final eight seasons with the team and joins Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Shawn Kemp as the only players in NBA history to clear those thresholds in in at least eight consecutive seasons (Basketball-Reference).

Over a five-year span from 2001-2006, Marion averaged 20.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Since steals and blocks were first recorded in 1972, the only other player to average at least 20/10/2/1 over a five-year span is Hakeem Olajuwon (Basketball-Reference).

Oh, and just to add to that consistency, he also shot 48.1 percent from the field and 82.4 percent from the free throw line while in a Suns uniform.



There wasn’t a single facet of the game that Marion didn’t produce numbers for, and if you had him on your team in the early days of fantasy basketball back in the day, you’d surely agree. While rarely viewed as a first overall selection, those who played fantasy basketball in the 2000s recognized the immense value of his all-around game. According to Basketball Monster, he was the NBA’s top-ranked player in nine-category fantasy leagues in three consecutive seasons from 2004-2007, ranked in the top three in five straight seasons from 2002-2007 and ranked in the top six in seven straight seasons from 2000-2007.

The versatility he was equipped with on both sides of the court, plus the consistency he brought both in energy and stats, had Marion playing well ahead of his time and soon changed basketball forever.

Before Marion averaged 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 three-point makes in 2004-05, only Charles Barkley and Antoine Walker had ever averaged 10+ boards and 1+ triple in a season. In 2019-20, six different players are doing so.

Over his final six full seasons with the Suns, Marion averaged a combined 10.3 rebounds and 1.2 three-pointers, becoming the first player to average at 10+ boards and 1+ triple over a six-season span. Since Marion, Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins have both accomplished this over a six-season span with Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid on pace to join them.



Remembered primarily for playing above the rim, many also recall Marion’s unique shooting form. While unorthodox, that shot allowed him to knock down 34.8 percent of his 3-point attempts over his final six full seasons in Phoenix, right around the league average over this span (35.4 percent) in addition to everything else he brought to the floor.

One of the premier players to ever put on a Phoenix Suns jersey, Marion’s impact on the game of basketball went beyond just The Valley as it forced the rest of the league, as well as future generations, to adjust their games and embrace position-less basketball.

“You don’t really recognize or appreciate his greatness until you match it up with some of greats that ever played this game,” said Suns General Manger James Jones, who was teammates with Marion for two years in Phoenix (2005-07, plus two other seasons in Miami (2008-09) and Cleveland (2014-15). “His versatility was unmatched. His endurance, his motor, his skill level, his competitiveness, his athleticism. When you put all those things together, and you talk about great players, like generational talent, Shawn checked every box. That’s why The Matrix will always go down as one of the greatest Suns ever.”

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