We just took a month off from writing in hopes that the NBA labor stalemate would move forward while we all thought of other things. Unfortunately, the world of the NBA present is still stuck in neutral (and possibly even reverse). On the bright side, we can spend as much time talking about the NBA’s past here as its present. I thought we could use some our time to take another look at the Hall of Fame.
I know that discussion of the Hall of Fame tends to be a lightning rod. There are some fans who believe the institution has made the wrong choices and needs fixing and hate the confidential selection process. There are other fans who are agnostic about the Hall and wonder, for many different reasons, whether there is value to intensely debating which former players gets official recognition for deeds that were accomplished long ago. I tend to fall into the latter group. Sure, I don’t think Dennis Johnson was a strong Hall of Famer but he was good and it would’ve been really cool if he had gotten that honor when he was still alive.
Having said all that, I do have my opinions on who belongs in the Hall, though I lack the passion to really worry about it. Watching the Hall ceremony last month, I did find myself wondering whether Chris Mullin or Dennis Rodman really belonged in the Hall. I won’t do the analysis now but both certainly have good cases, even if I think there may be better options out there. In so wondering, it was the “better options” thought that really stuck in my mind. I wondered, who is the best player, per franchise, not currently in the Hall. In the next few weeks, we’ll run through this question, by division, starting today with the Atlantic Division.
Before we jump to the teams a few notes to consider:
-Do we use the Hall’s standards for admission in our analysis or our own standards for what constitutes a Hall of Famer? This is a hard question to answer since we don’t know exactly what the Hall’s standards are (they’ve never been explicitly articulated to the public). We do know, though, that based upon the picks that the Hall gives great weight to college careers (see Walton, Bill) and being on a winning team (see Celtics, Boston). We would probably give no weight to college career unless the pro had a really historic college career. We will attempt to resolve this issue by choosing our official endorsed candidate, as well as who we think the Hall would choose (assuming the player is different).
-Can multiple franchises have the same candidate? For example, Bernard King is a vey good candidate and played with several different teams. But his best years were in New York, and so he really is only a candidate for the Knicks, even though he was pretty good for the Bullets. We’ll try to keep each candidate with the team he is best known for unless the player plausibly put up a Hall of Fame quality stats on more than one team.
-Other stuff. The Hall loves to put in players for their non-playing accomplishments. Just this year, Satch Sanders, a solid starter/role player for the 1960s Celts got a lifetime achievement award pick. I wasn’t really aware of Sanders’ post-NBA career and it would be hard to know what many of these guys have done since they retired, so we’ll leave out this type of Hall pick unless the player has a glaringly impressive post-career accomplishment.
-Current players. Do they count? They are technically ineligible for the Hall but we’ll note fully qualified current or recently retired players.
With all this in mind let’s begin:
1. Boston Celtics: Who better to start with than the franchise with the most Hall of Famers?The Celts have basically their entire roster in the Hall from the 1950s and 1960s and a quite few more since then. From the Russell Years, no one has been missed and, if anything, the Hall was a bit over inclusive. Likewise the Bird Celts have pretty much everyone in, unless you think Danny Ainge deserves entry as a player/executive. Ainge has had a pretty good run but I don’t see him quite there yet. Don Nelson was mostly a Celtic as a player and is a surefire Hall of Fame coach but we’ll leave him out since his playing has virtually nothing to do with his candidacy (I know he hit a crazy short in the 1969-70 Finals and was a solid pro but he’d be in the Hall as a coach even if he’d never played an NBA game).
As for modern players, the current team is made up of players whose best years were elsewhere (Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett). The only local product is Paul Pierce, who seems pretty much qualified right now. He hasn’t ever been a superstar but Pierce has the longevity and consistency to be deemed a likely Hall of Famer (through age-33, Pierce has only twice had a PER below 19.0, both coming recently). Pierce might need a few more solid seasons to ensure enshrinement but the chances of him getting in are good.
For eligible players, the field is pretty well mined. The only key player from a Celtic multi-title team not enshrined is Jo Jo White, the scoring guard for the 1970s Celts. White peaked at 23.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, and 5.3 apg for the 1971-72 team and was a solid scorer until age-30. He lost it rather quickly after that point and was done in the NBA by age-34. Perhaps this decline came from the heavy minutes White played in his 20s. White played at least 39 mpg from 1971-72 through 1976-77 and had a run of 35 of more MPG for eight years. On the negative side of his candidacy, White does not score great with advanced stats, never having a PER higher than 16.2 (15.0 PER is considered about average). Of course, White played his best years before the NBA started taking account of turnovers, steals, or blocks and it is possible that he would’ve boosted his PER a bit with steals and a low turnover rate (though his steal and turnover stats from later in his career give no such indication). In short, White seems like the perfect Hall candidate: he played for a winner, had nice superficial stats, and was always considered a good guy. At some point, if candidates thin out, White is a likely default older player to get in, though he falls short on the objective test (his career PER is 14.2). Even with all his warts, there really isn’t a better retired Celtic than White out there. The other options are Ainge (similar PER but less volume of shots) and Cedric Maxwell (better raw numbers but a shorter career).
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Paul Pierce
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Jo Jo White
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Jo Jo White
2. New York Knicks: The Knicks lack the titles of the Celts and, as a consequence, some really good players from New York’s past are not in the Hall. The Knicks have three really strong candidates: Carl Braun, Richie Guerin, and Bernard King. King is the most storied option, based upon his historic scoring run in 1983-84 playoffs (34.8 ppg) that he kept up for 1984-85 regular season, until he blew out his knee. Though King made a huge impression on the Knicks’ fans, he only played three seasons in New York and actually played more games with the Bullets. King’s best years were with the Knicks so we’ll consider him a Knick for the purposes of this inquiry and he’s not a bad Hall choice.
Sure, King couldn’t do much but score but man could he score in the low post as an undersized post player, getting to the line 10 times per game at his peak and scoring almost a point a minute and racking a career 19.2 PER. Incidentally, it’s not quite fair to tie King’s candidacy to that of Adrian Dantley. AD had a similar style of play but Dantely played 100 more games and ended up having a good deal higher PER (21.5). Still, King is a worthy Hall of Famer if not a slam dunk.
As good as King was, I tend to think the underappreciated Richie Guerin could be a better candidate. As a tough forward in the 1950s and 1960s, Guerin missed little time and consistently put up points and boards (his best was 29.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 6.9 apg in the1961-62 season). Guerin made six straight All-Star games for the Knicks and was a pretty good player until age-37. Guerin was hurt by playing during a bad time for the Knicks (in his seven years with the Knicks, they made the playoffs only once). Also, Guerin’s offensive numbers look a little inflated by the offensive explosion of the 1960s but he is also a worthy candidate as well.
Finally, Braun was a nice shooting guard from the 1940s and 1950s and played during some Knick glory years. His numbers are harder to assess since they came in the Mesozoic Era when shooting wasn’t quite proficient (for example, he scored 14.3 ppg but shot .323% as a rookie in the old BAA in 1947-48). Braun’s shooting improved in the 1950s and he made several All-Star teams but he is a lesser candidate compared to King or Guerin.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Bernard King (with Guerin a hair behind)
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Bernard King
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Bernard King
3. New Jersey Nets: This ain’t too pretty. The Nets have produced a few Hall of Famers but the only player of Nets vintage not yet in the Hall is Jason Kidd and, arguably, Vince Carter. Kidd is a lock Hall of Famer and is best associated as a Net (though he’s starting to compile quite a few games played in Dallas, Kidd will always remembered most for turning the Nets into a contender in the early 2000s).
VC actually has a pretty strong case too but his most memorable and best years are with Toronto, so we’ll leave him alone for now. Putting aside Kidd or VC, there is no other legit candidate on stats alone. If forced to choose, Buck Williams is the easy (and only) choice. Buck put up solid stats at power forward for the Nets for eight years, making three All-Star team. Williams boarded and defended but his PER never exceeded 18.6 in Jersey and he spent another ten years as a role player in Portland and the Knicks. Williams also passes the Hall’s “good guy” test, as he was president of the NBPA in the 1990s and had a reputation as a solid citizen.
The only other possible choice is Micheal Ray Richardson, who had an abbreviated NBA career due to drug issues and was the first NBA player banned for failing three tests. Richardson’s career had a certain Greek tragedy aspect that might capture votes in the right context, particularly since he has credited the suspension for saving his life. While I don’t think this election will happen, it certainly is possible given some of the other quirky Hall selections.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Jason Kidd
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Buck Williams
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Buck Williams
4. Philadelphia 76ers: Another old franchise with plenty of options for the Hall. The best player not in the Hall here is not debatable. Allen Iverson, for all his faults, was a superstar and will been enshrined quickly after he is eligible. A few other Sixers have come close to being voted in recently are Maurice Cheeks and Chet Walker. Cheeks, the point guard for the 1980s title contender, never had gaudy stats but was a great defender and an unquestioned leader type. Cheeks’ number do not bowl you over (he did not shoot much) but was a valuable player (he did well in assists and steals). I don’t see Cheeks as a Hall of Famer on his stats alone, but his sterling reputation (remember his famous National Anthem assist in 2003?) as a player is enough to bet that he will be in the Hall soon.
Walker is probably an even stronger candidate. Walker spent most of his Sixers years as a supporting player to a great Sixer team, scoring at small forward even though he was splitting minutes with Billy Cunningham. Walker continued to play well after being traded to the Bulls and retired at age-34 after a season where he scored 19.2 ppg and a 19.5 PER. After 1,032 NBA games, Walker retired without ever having a bad season and never playing fewer than 76 games a year. Walker also isn’t a surefire Hall of Famer but he’s pretty darn good and is worthy of enshrinement at some point. Given his age, he should be pushed ahead of the younger Cheeks on the line to get into Springfield.
Finally, Larry Costello, the old point from the 1950s and 1960s has a fairly good argument for the Hall too. Costello’s playing career is similar to Cheeks’. Both were All-Star point guards (Costello made it six times) but were not ever close to being considered the best point in the NBA. Costello has the additional feather in his cap of being a successful coach (430-300 mostly for the Bucks) and coaching a title team (1970-71 Bucks). Another fun fact of Costello’s career is that he came out of retirement in 1966-67 to run point for the Sixers team that eventually won a title. Costello had been retired for a year but thought the shot at a title was too good to pass up. Costello ended up blowing out his Achilles during the season, though Philly did get that title anyway. The full playing/coaching career should be enough to get Costello in the Hall eventually. Unfortunately, Costello passed away in 2001 and there is no timing issues to spur on his candidacy.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Allen Iverson
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: Chet Walker
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: Maurice Cheeks
5. Toronto Raptors: As a young franchise, there is not much going on in Toronto in terms of Hall of Fame candidates. Chris Bosh is on the road to a Hall of Fame career but has a ways to go and that road is now in Miami. The only full Raptor player with a viable Hall argument is Vince Carter, who is a surprisingly strong candidate. VC has gotten a rap for dogging it to get out of Toronto (which is a fair point). Since then, the label of passivity has stuck. In New Jersey, there were whispers that Jason Kidd was frustrated with Carter not being more assertive and the same point was made in Orlando. Here’s the thing…Carter has been a really good player for the past decade. In Toronto, Carter put up an MVP-type year in 2000-01 (25.0 PER). He never was quite that good again but he was putting up PERs around 20.0 until he went to Orlando and played a supporting role on a slowdown team. At 34, Carter has given a lot and has a career very similar in numbers to players like Paul Pierce and Clyde Drexler.
As for the Carter dogging issue, he is not the first player to have this problem. Kidd, himself, completely dogged his way out of Jersey. There were times when even Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant refused to shoot in playoff games because of mental frustration (Jordan against the Pistons to show Doug Collins how much the team needed and Kobe against Phoenix when the series was slipping away). Carter’s problems in Toronto, however, seemed to resonate more than that of most other doggings, perhaps because he didn’t end up being as good as Jordan or Kobe (which seemed possible in 2000). Instead of worrying about that, though, the career he has had is quite impressive and is easily Hall worthy.
Finally, there are no eligible former Raptors who belong in the Hall. There are not even arguable ones. The closest thing to a possible candidate is Antonio Davis, who gave them some decent years at center and made an All-Star team for the 2000-01 team.
-Best Non-Hall of Famer in Franchise: Vince Carter
-Best Eligible Hall of Famer in Franchise: None
-If Springfield Had to Choose One Now: None