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Now that the Suns have the #1 pick in the 2018 draft locked up, it’s time to move on to more pressing issues.
Who will the Suns be picking at #16?
Realistically, the Suns might not even keep the pick. Now that they have secured the ultimate reward for multiple seasons of really bad basketball, it’s time for the Suns to finally win some games. The #16 pick could be used in a trade to bring a win now player into the fold.
In the current NBA landscape mid first round rookies don’t usually contribute much immediately.
It didn’t always used to be that way.
Ricky Sobers entered the NBA at a time when rookies were expected to make immediate contributions.
A time when first round picks weren’t given years of excuses for poor performances.
A time when the first round of the draft was only 18 picks.
Being picked at #16 actually made Sobers a late first round pick.
It would be the equivalent of the #27 overall pick with the current 30 pick per round system.
But for those of you who think that #27 might be a little late to produce quality talent, think about this… Four of the last five players taken at that spot are Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance Jr., Bogdan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert. That’s arguably as good as the Suns have done picking in the lottery.
Being picked at #16, Sobers, an All-American from the UNLV Running Rebels, was ready to contribute right away.
He arrived in Phoenix for a very special year (1975-76) and managed to play a pivotal role.
The regular season wasn’t anything particularly foudroyant for Sobers. He played in 78 games coming off the bench and averaged 9.2 points and 2.8 assists per game. He did progress during the season, scoring in double figures in 19 of his last 26 games and pouring in a season high 27 points.
The postseason was where Sobers really shined.
Sobers upped his averages to 13 points and 4.2 assists per game in the playoffs and actually moved into the starting lineup during the Conference Finals against the defending champion Golden St. Warriors and for all six games of the NBA Finals series against the Celtics.
After a relatively quiet first round series, Sobers put his mark on the series against the Warriors.
By game six, Sobers was such a potent weapon for the Suns, with 21 points through three quarters, that the Warriors were actually switching defensive assignments to account for him. The Warriors moved future hall of famer Rick Barry off of Sobers to give Phil Smith a chance to try to contain him.
The move seemed to backfire though, because while Smith did in fact contain Sobers, Dick Van Arsdale managed to limit Barry to just two fourth quarter points after scoring 28 in the first three.
The Suns 105-104 home win tied the series up at 3-3 and forced a game seven on the road against the Warriors.
So what did the rookie Sobers do when facing the hostile environment of a playoff game seven?
He walked in and punched Ricky Barry in the face.
The altercation took place with the score tied 2-2 just moments into the game and helped set the tone.
The Suns weren’t afraid of the Warriors.
And Ricky Sobers wasn’t intimated by a legend.
Of course, this was the old guard of NBA basketball so after the melee cleared everybody just kept on playing… bloody noses and all.
The Suns went on to win the game 94-86 and eliminate the defending champions, moving on to play the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
A great recap of the game six and seven occurrences can be found in the May 24, 1976 edition of Sports Illustrated entitled, “Have the Suns Risen in the West.”
Sobers didn’t have quite as much impact in the Finals against the Celtics.
Although he did pump in a team high 25 points in the Suns 128-126 game five loss, he was mostly quiet during the series.
I vaguely remember hearing about some guy named Gar Heard hitting a pretty big shot at some point in that series.
The Suns lost to the Celtic in six games and didn’t return to the Finals again until 1993.
The Suns are now 25 years and counting since that appearance.
Sobers would end up only playing one more year for the Suns. He improved his averages to 13.6 points and 3.0 assists per game in 79 appearances, but his career really took off the next year after a trade to the Indiana Pacers.
Sobers was traded to the Pacers for 26 year old Don Buse, who was coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons. Although that seems like a pretty solid move, trading for an All-Star in his prime, Buse would only average about 8 points and 4.5 assists per game for the Suns in three seasons before moving on.
Sobers, meanwhile, averaged 18.2 points and 7.4 assists per game the next year for Indiana.
Sobers only played two years for the Pacers though, before bouncing around to the Chicago Bulls, Washington Bullets and Seattle SuperSonics. He carved out respectable career averages of 13.3 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 45.9% from the field and 84.3% from the line.
A pretty solid, but not spectacular, career.
Interestingly enough, Sobers was involved in another trade to the Suns to start his NBA career.
Sobers was traded by the Buffalo Braves (as a future 1975 1st round draft pick) to the Suns for a 1976 1st round draft pick that became hall of famer Adrian Dantley.
Despite Sobers’ 1976 playoff heroics I’m still gonna put that trade in the loss column.
Still, if the Suns can take someone at #16 this year and he ends up having a huge impact in a Western Conference Finals victory in 2019… I’d take that.
I would also just suggest that maybe the Suns shouldn’t give up on him so soon.