HOF Review: Atlantic Division

Over time, I have become less enthused about the concept of choosing Hall of Famers.  The exercise of trying to perfectly quantify the order of entry into the Hall of Fame of outsiders seemed somewhat futile.  The tipping point to me was Dennis Johnson.  I thought his qualifications were borderline and expressed that position.  Shortly thereafter, DJ died before he ever learned of his induction.  I know my analysis had no impact in Johnson missing the honor but it made me rethink the process. 

Ultimately, the honor of getting a plaque and a speech is not something that needs to be guarded so zealously.  Some HOF choices make you scratch your head (e.g. Dino Radja and a myriad of title team role players) but that stakes are not/should not be high.  Even in this more detached state, sometimes I do stop to take stock at the current outsiders and wonder who will/should be next.

With that in mind, I thought we could run through each franchise and assess: (a) which current player is most likely to make the Hall of Fame and (b) which already retired player is the next best Hall of Fam candidate.  For retired players, we will only consider players by their primary franchise.  Example: Chris Webber is considered only a Sacramento King for the purpose of our work.  There are a few players who were HOF quality for significant periods for more than one franchise and we will have to review which franchise should claim them.   

Another question to consider: are we predicting who should be in the HOF by our definitions or are we predicting who would be next under the HOF standards?  (HOF standards tend to skew towards some, umm, intangible qualities that are not really quantifiable).  We’ll try to do apply our own objective standards but the HOF standards (such as college accomplishment coaching success, or off-the-court contributions) may creep in a bit.  This series will be done by the old divisions, starting today with the Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  There is really no active player who is a definite Hall of Famer for the Celtics.  There are a few players with shots (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford) but they are definitely not considered true Celtics.  Rajon Rondo was a Celtic but he is way below any reasonable standard for the HOF.  All this being the case, Jayson Tatum seems most likely.  He has a long way to go but he an All-Star at 21, which is a good start. 

-Best retired non-HOFer:  Kevin Garnett is clearly the best retired Celtic not in the Hall.  KG had a great run with Boston but he is, in essence, a T-Wolf first.   Garnett played 970 games in Minny versus 396 in Boston.  Boston had more team success with Garnett but this is not KG’s fault.  He was a HOFer if he had retired in 2007 before he ever came to Boston.

Taking away KG makes Paul Pierce the obvious choice.  Pierce played almost his whole career with Boston and was really good.  He will be voted in as soon as he is eligible.

What if we took away Pierce?  Who is second?  This is an interesting academic question because Boston has so many HOFers already, many of whom are dubious.  How many players can we put in from Boston’s dynastic runs?  JoJo White, Frank Ramsey, and K.C. Jones were great players but questionable choices.  The answer is sort of a cheat.  Danny Ainge will get in as a hybrid candidate, a good player and very good executive.

New York Knicks

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  This seems to require little discussion.  Carmelo Anthony is the only realistic choice (I’m still holding out hope for Pablo Prigioni!).  The thornier question is whether Melo is truly a Knick or Nugget.  Instinctively, he seems like a Knick.  He played in New York for years and dumped Denver to come to NYC.  What do the numbers say?  Let’s take a peak and see:

Denver: 564 games, 36.4 mpg, 24.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 20.2 PER, 53.5 WS, .125 WS/48, 1.2 BPM, 16.4 VORP

New York: 412 games, 36.0 mpg, 24.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 21.8 PER, 43.6 WS, .141 WS/48, 20.0 VORP

It is very close but NY Melo was a slightly more productive player, albeit in quite few less games.  This better per game production and the fact that Carmelo chose New York actively over Denver makes Anthony a Knick for our purposes.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  Like Boston, most of New York’s potentially viable players are already in the HOF.  The cupboard is pretty empty.  Kenny Sears was a pretty good player in the 1950s but didn’t last very long and wasn’t great.  In more modern times, Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell were the best players of a solid Knicks team but neither moves the needle. 

As crazy as it sounds, the most likely HOF Knick is Stephon Marbury.  He was erratic at times and left MSG under a cloud (some of this was his fault but most of the tumult was caused by James Dolan and Isiah Thomas throwing him under the bus).  When he was healthy, Marbury was an excellent point guard.  Throw in in his redemption in China, Marbury actually has cognizable HOF argument.  This is obviously a stretch but he had an impressive peak and he played more games with the Knicks then he did with any other team (yes, his last three seasons in NY were not good).

Brooklyn Nets

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  Kyrie and Kevin Durant are definitely not Nets for the purposes of this discussion.  The default choice is Vince Carter, if you assume he is still active and mostly a Net as opposed to a Raptor.  Let’s compare the numbers:

-VC, TOR: 403 games, 3.5 mpg, 23.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 21.8 PER, 47.7 WS, .151 WS/48, 4.9 BPM, 26.1 VORP

-VC, NJ: 374 games, 37.9 mpg, 23.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 21.0 PER, 43.6 WS, .148 WS/48, 4.0 BPM, 21.4 VORP

The stats slightly favor Toronto and most fans probably think of VC as a Raptor first in their minds anyway.  So, let’s deem Carter a Raptor for our review.

Without Carter, there really is no active Net who is credibly a Hall of Famer.  Since we have to choose, the most likely candidate is Brook Lopez, a second-tier All-Star center.  If he can hang around for a while and win a few titles with Milwaukee, he might (emphasis on might) have the Robert Parish-lite career path.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  There is no single compelling candidate but three definitely have an argument:

Buck Williams: All-Star level power forward for about a decade and overall smart and respected player.  Problem is he was never great, merely pretty good, for a long time.  He actually spent more years as a role player as a fourth option and backup with Portland and the Knicks.

Micheal Ray Richardson:  Sugar was a legendary flameout.  He was the first All-Star level player whose career was snuffed out by drug problems.  Ultimately, Richardson never played enough to really be a viable HOFer but his story is well-known and the redemptive arc is something the HOF loves.  He played more with the Knicks than the Nets but he really is more associated with the Nets (and he would’ve played more games with NJ but for several suspensions).

Deron Williams:  Deron is sort of the anti-Sugar.  Williams did nothing wrong off-the-court but had an early decline, which many (including some of his teammates) blamed on his character and not his bad ankles.  Williams actually played a bit more (and better) with Utah than NJ, so he doesn’t qualify as “Nets property” for our analysis.  Nevertheless, we will place the stats of all three players just to see how they compare in the data:

-Buck Williams: 1,307 games, 32.5 mpg, 12.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 15.3 PER, 120.1 WS, .136 WS/48, 0.0 BPM, 21.7 VORP

-Micheal Ray Richardson:  556 games, 33.4 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 7.2 apg, 16.9 PER, 35.2 WS, .091 WS/48, 2.5 BMP, 21.2 VORP

-Deron Williams: 845 games, 34.2 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 8.1 apg, 18.2 PER, 77.3 WS, .129 WS/48, 1.9 BPM, 28.3 VORP

Buck amassed a ton of career value but, even during his Nets run, he was not a star.  Sugar’s brief career had some great moments and also plenty of not good seasons.  There really is no right answer here but, if forced to choose, I would probably take Buck over Sugar.  Nevertheless, Deron had better numbers than both of them.

Philadelphia 76ers

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  It’s been eight years but Andre Iguodala actually spent, by far, the most games of his career with Philly.  He’s not really a HOFer but he fits the secondary definition of a good player with playoff success (and a Finals MVP).  The most likely active HOFer for Philly is still Joel Embiid if he stays healthy.  The other AI is a dark horse candidate (albeit one that I don’t agree with).

-Best retired non-HOFer:  Like Boston and New York,nearly all the big names in Philly hoops history have made the HOF.  Even good players like Maurice Cheeks, Chet Walker, and Dikembe Mutombo are in.  This leaves us with more obscure possibilities like Doug Collins, Archie Clark, and some guys from the Syracuse Nationals time period.    

In the 1950s, the Nationals were no joke (they won the first NBA Finals of the Shot Clock Era in 1954-55) and they had three players with viable cases: Paul Seymour, Red Kerr, and Larry Costello.  They were all multiple season All-Stars, with Costello leading the way with six appearances.  The stat record isn’t great during that time but Costello had the most All-Star appearances and played point guard, a position with few good players in the 1950s and early 1960s. 

Costello also gets bonus points for coming out of retirement to help the 1966-67 76ers team (he unfortunately tore his Achilles before the playoffs) and for winning a title as a coach for the Bucks (he was 430-300 mostly with Milwaukee).  Frankly, it’s not clear why Costello isn’t in the HOF yet.  Perhaps the HOF feels less urgency because he passed away in 2001 or because so many players from that era are already in.   Regardless, Costello is a very deserving candidate.

Toronto Raptors

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  Kyle Lowry’s HOF case has snuck up on everyone.  He is not a slam dunk HOF quite yet but he has won a title and has made six straight All-Star teams (streak is ongoing).  His case is tougher because there were always several points regarded as better (Curry, Paul, Westbrook, Lillard).  Once they all get in, though, Lowry is in the conversation with several other players.  Here’s how Lowry matches up with some of the other PGs from the last couple of decades who were very good and are not yet in the HOF:

Kyle Lowry: 908 games, 18.4 PER, 93.5 WS, .157 WS/48, 3.2 BPM, 38.0 VORP

Chauncey Billups: 1,043 games, 18.8 PER, 120.8 WS, .176 WS/48, 3.2 BPM, 43.5 VORP

Sam Cassell: 993 games, 19.5 PER, 87.5 WS, .141 WS/48, 1.8 BPM, 28.8 VORP

Tim Hardaway: 867 games, 18.6 PER, 85.0 WS, .133 WS/48, 3.1 BPM, 39.6 VORP

Kevin Johnson: 735 games, 20.7 PER, 92.8 WS, .178 WS/48, 3.9 BPM, 37.3 VORP

Terry Porter: 1,274 games, 17.2 PER, 110.4 WS, .150 WS/48, 2.9 BPM, 43.3 VORP

Rod Strickland: 1,094 games, 18.0 PER, 85.8 WS, .122 WS/48, 2.3 BPM, 36.6 VORP

Mark Price: 722 games, 19.6 PER, 71.1 Ws, .158 WS/48, 3.7 BPM, 31.1 VORP

Stephon Marbury: 846 games, 18.7 PER, 77.5 WS, .117 WS/48, 1.8 BPM, 30.7 VORP

Lowry compares favorably to most of them but some of cases are very close.  Many of these players have strong arguments that they are as good (or better) than Lowry.   If Lowry can maintain near peak play for a few more season, he could vault to the top of the list.  If his career ended today, Lowry wouldn’t get until the backlog of good PGs clears.

(As a side note, DeMar DeRozan does not strike me as an HOFer but has a chance if he compiles solid stats long enough).

-Best retired non-HOFer:  As mentioned above, Vince Carter is a Raptor in our book and no doubt HOFer.  Anyone else?  Chris Bosh also looks like a no doubt HOFer.  We forget his first seven years came with the Raptors, where he played 509 games versus 384 for the Heat.  Bosh “feels” like a Heat more than a Raptor because he played with LeBron and won two titles.  Yet, Bosh’s best years were with Toronto and we see him also as a Raptor.

Now the question for posterity, who has better, Bosh or VC?  Let’s run the tale of the tape:

Bosh: 893 games, 20.6 PER, 106.0 WS, .159 WS/48, 1.9 BPM, 31.1 VORP

Carter: 1,541 games, 18.6 PER, 125.3 WS, .130 WS/48, 3.0 BPM, 57.9 VORP

Their careers are very different.  Bosh lasted 13 years (through age 31) before being forced into retirement with an aneurism risk.  Bosh can’t match Carter’s longevity and VC’s rate stats are lower because he spent so many years as a role player.  Let’s compare apples to apples by cutting out Carter’s second career and just looking at his first 13 years (which went from ages 19-33) so we can compare similar ability periods for the players:

Carter: 852 games, 21.1 PER, 98.6 WS, .150 WS/48, 4.3 BPM, 49.9 VORP

Still a close call but peak Vince looks slightly better than peak Bosh (and if you look at VC’s stats through age-31, they get even better). All this is a long way of saying that both were great players but I would take Carter by a hair.  Fortunately, they will both easily make the HOF.