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NBA Hall of Fame: Are We Missing Out on Greatness?

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What current players are in the conversation for the Basketball Hall of Fame? Given the circumstances should the NBA begin the development of it's own Hall of Fame?

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Would a player like Alonzo Mourning be helped or hurt by by an NBA-only Hall of Fame?
Would a player like Alonzo Mourning be helped or hurt by by an NBA-only Hall of Fame?
Jim Rogash

March 4, 2005Couple of friends and I were watching the defending champion Detroit Pistons face my Seattle SuperSonics. I hadn't been to an NBA game in almost two years (two years removed from high school I was as broke as most 20 year olds in college).

It wasn't a very memorable game really, outside of being amazed at Jerome James' 16 points and 8 rebounds (leading my cousin Dante’ to predict he'd get overpaid that following season – we all know how that one ended), having a full blown conversation with Louis Williams (which I had no idea until my friend Ben said, "Uhh, you know who that is right?"), and being mesmerized standing a foot from one Chauncey Billups. He gave me the "what’s up" head nod. I've been a supporter of Billups ever since.

Maybe it’s me being not as informed, but shortly after Billups announced his retirement, there has been a clamor to discuss his Basketball Hall of Fame credentials. I always thought it would be a no-brainer that he wasn't getting in. "Good player," I thought, "but his career wasn't strong enough." I've seen some compelling arguments for (here and here) and against (here).

What if there was an NBA-only Hall of Fame? He'd probably be a lock.

It got me thinking. What current players, when they retire, would we be having these same type of discussions about? Could we miss out on recognizing them because they're accomplishments outside of the NBA aren't as great?

Measurements

Using Basketball Reference.com’s Hall of Fame probability metric and some subjective and objective insight let’s take a look at some current players that may be in line with discussions along the lines of Billups. A few notes on how I gathered the player list:

  1. The threshold for the players considered are at or above the Basketball Reference’s HOF 0.05 level listed in the above link.
  2. This list of players have played at least 400 min in their career (or approximately 5 seasons).
  3. I've included both NBA and ABA players.
  4. The sure-fire HOF players I won't dig into, though you’ll see them in the breakdown below.
  5. We'll be thinking on if their careers ended today, but also some look into what the future may hold, given their current career arc.
  6. This is not going to be a WAR, PER, Win Shares, etc. breakdown. This is much more juvenile and a way for us to really explore differing opinions.

Current Players

NBA HOF List

I've highlighted three tiers of players with questions surrounding their status, Everyone in the white is, in my weird mind, a sure lock.

Tier 1: Almost Locks

I may get some scrutiny for including Paul Pierce in this tier and not with the sure locks, but hear me out. He was never the unquestionable best player at his position, he’s never been the league MVP (the closest he’s become is 7th in 2008-09), he has one ring, 4x All-NBA, and his All-Star count (10) is lower than those in the list around him for a sure lock.

Chris Bosh is another interesting case. Public perception sometimes jades how good he has been. 2 championships, 9x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, and career averages of 19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks. The problem is his raw number rankings are in the 100s. Now that he’s a feature offensive option again, that may boost his numbers in his later years, but that’s not a given.

Carmelo Anthony has the raw stats down. 7x All-Star, 6x All-NBA, 25.3 point career scoring average (11th all-time), but he has no hardware to speak of and it’s not looking like he’ll be getting any anytime soon. He’s also never been considered the best in the NBA nor at his own position. Anthony does have his amazing college year to draw on that will strengthen his case.

Dwight Howard is in a sturdier boat than Melo. Howard is an 8x All-Star, 8x All-NBA, 3x DPOY, career averages of 12.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and is already 40th in total rebounds and 26th in total blocks. He also was routinely considered the second or third best player in the NBA. The issue is both in his scoring and lack of championships. His public perception as a whiner and headcase may come into play also.

Tier 2: On the Threshold

Steve Nash may be in the first tier for many. I know I may be in the minority, but I strongly believe that Shaquille O’Neal (2005), given his impact on the Miami Heat, and Kobe Bryant (2006), given his ridiculous 35.6 points per game average and carrying a sorry Lakers team (Kwame Brown and Smush Parker), deserved those MVPs. Nevertheless Nash won them.

Note also that Nash’s peak, where he made his Hall of Fame case, was relatively short (6-7 years). Those Phoenix teams may have helped boost his numbers more than the norm, given his numbers before that time and immediately after that time. Now I’m not a Nash hater, the man is arguably the greatest all-around (at the rim, mid-range, and 3-point) shooter ever.

The thing is his peak is so dang high he probably should be in the previous tier/a lock. He’s third all-time in assists.

Pau Gasol and Vince Carter are in weird spots. Gasol’s profile in the NBA is pretty average for a HOF candidate (4x All-Star, 3x All-NBA, 2 championships, ROY, top 75 in total points, rebounds, and blocks), and the same goes for Vinsanity (8x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, 30th all-time in total points, top 90 in total assists and steals).

The thing is Carter has an illustrious USA, high school and college career that adds to his case. Gasol has one of the best international careers of all-time that should make him a virtual lock. Vince was at one time one or two on the best shooting guard list, back when it mattered (late 90s-early 00s). Gasol on the other hand was the clear cut best player on the Grizzlies and is the all-time leader in numerous categories.

Manu Ginobili may be the most curious case of them all. Per his NBA career (4x championships – where he was a key contributor, 2x All-Star, 6th Man of the Year, 2x All-NBA) Ginobili has a below-average to average case as a Hall of Famer. Frequently underrated, Manu’s decision to stick in San Antonio as their overqualified sixth man gave him truncated numbers and a lower popularity profile.

It’s his international resume that makes him a virtual lock: 2004 Olympic Gold Medal, 2002 World Cup Silver Medal, 5x MVP (Athens games, Euroleague Finals, Italian Cup & League), 2x League Champion (Euroleague, Italian). To say Ginobili is accomplished is an understatement, he has maybe the greatest overall pro career of a Hall of Famer ever.

Tier 3: On the Outside

Anyone in this tier is either too young (Russell Westbrook, though his career arc should put him in the previous tier) or has some glaring holes in their resume due to a smaller role on a championship team (Rajon Rondo, Richard Hamilton), health issues cutting their career short (Amare Stoudemire, Elton Brand), or they are right on cusp, but I believe their case is weak (Chauncey Billups, Shawn Marion).

NBA Hall of Fame

Would Bill Walton (Hall of Fame Probability 0.1619) be a Hall of Famer if not for his college and high school career? What about someone like Ralph Sampson (0.0269)? Would Carmelo be as strong a case if he never wins a championship? Would someone with a solid NBA career affected by injury, but prolific none the less (think Grant Hill), make a stronger case?

The saturation of professional, college, and high school players in the Basketball Hall of Fame has really taken away from the uniqueness of the NBA/ABA career. There really should be an NBA Hall of Fame all its own. Many have covered ideas surrounding how this should be (Bill Simmons, SB Nation, and Basketball Reference), With Simmons being my ideal favorite due to his thoroughness in his "The Book of Basketball".

Take a look at Simmons link, players like Shawn Kemp, Robert Horry, and Tracy McGrady that had questionable careers outside of the NBA, but would have an argument in an NBA-only Hall of Fame. Shawn Kemp is a prime example of a player who would be in the discussion as one of the leaders of a contender in the 90’s, a 6x All-Star, a 3x All-NBA, a three top 10 MVP candidate, and a 0.1121 Basketball Reference HOF Probability (74 spots higher than the aforementioned Ralph Sampson, who was surely helped by his college career).

The greatness of players like Kemp are constantly being lost in the cracks of history. We remember the McGrady's and Hill's, and Penny Hardaway's. We argue vehemently about their place in history. We don't cast them away like many of these current stars may find themselves, if the NBA doesn't create it's own Hall of Fame.

With NBA-only Hall of Fame maybe a Chauncey Billups no longer has to even argue his case. Instead he'll be as respectfully recognized as I saw him that day.