HOF Review: Central Division

Today is part two of our franchise review of likely and potential Hall of Famers.  Part 1, the Atlantic Division, (and our rules of review) can be found here.  Today, we move on to the Central Division….

Chicago Bulls

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  Doesn’t seem that the Bulls’ current roster has anyone HOF worthy.  Since we are forced to choose for our purposes, the choice comes down to two guards from happier times in Chicago, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.  Butler has clearly had the longevity as a star. Actually, he didn’t become a star until after Rose blew out his knee the first time.  Since that point, Butler has a surprisingly good HOF case.  He has been really good six years and, at age-30, he was a good as ever this year (23.4 PER, 8.5 WS, .219 WS/48, 5.2 BPM).  He’s not a certain HOFer but if Butler can age well and win a title or two (the Heat have to pull off a free agent coup again for this to happen), there is a decent shot that he makes the Hall.

As for Rose, he has little shot but it’s worth noting that he looked like a certain Hall of Famer after his first four seasons.  Instead, Rose has the unique chance of becoming the first NBA MVP not to make the HOF.  Injuries had something to do with this but Rose wasn’t really a strong MVP candidate to begin with.  Rose had among the lower WS/48 of any MVP winner (.208).  The lowest WS/48 came from Dave Cowens in 1972-73 at .168.  Since the NBA kept track of block and steals in 1973-74, the five lowest WS/48 for MVP winners are:

Allen Iverson, 2000-01: .190

Moses Malone, 1978-79: 200

Steve Nash, 2004-05: .203

Derrick Rose, 2010-11: .208

Kobe Bryant, 2007-08: .208

You can’t rely on WS/48 as a dispositive indicator of who deserves MVPs.  Nevertheless, Rose (like AI and Nash before him) was objectively not a great choice.  This is not to degrade Rose’s accomplishments but a big part of his HOF case came from an MVP award that was dicey. 

-Best retired non-HOFer:  It’s hard to come up with a good faith argument for any retired Bull who is not currently in the Hall.  Norm Van Lier and Bob Love were fun players for a time but neither has a real argument (Van Lier was the more valuable player by the way).  The best case really can be made for Toni Kukoc.  Kukoc was a much better player in both Europe and the NBA than the already enshrined Dino Radja (their teammate Drazen Petrovic is also in the Hall).  Throw in three rings with the Bulls and Kukoc should get in sometime (at least by HOF standards).

For posterity, here’s how Love, Van Lier, and Kukoc compare on NBA career advanced stats (we omit BPM and VORP for Love and Van Lier because they had peak years in seasons before those stats could be calculated):

Love: 789 games, 14.9 PER, 50.4 WS, .096 WS/48

Van Lier: 746 games, 14.0 PER, 47.8 WS, .088 WS/48

Kukoc: 846 games, 17.3 PER, 59.6 WS, .129 WS/48, 2.8 BPM, 27.2 VORP

Toni was no star but he was a very good pro (more productive than Love and Van Lier).  Interestingly, Kukoc’s best stats came with Michael Jordan from 1994-95 to 1997-98.  After that, Kukoc was still good but not nearly as effective as a lead player.  Man, did he fit in well with MJ and Pippen though.

Cleveland Cavaliers

-Most likely HOFer, active players:    Call it a hunch but I think LeBron James has a pretty good chance in this category.  LBJ has the top nine career WS seasons in Cavs history.  If we were to exclude James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have strong cases as well.

First, let’s look at Love.  Before assessing his Hall case, Love could plausibly be considered a T-Wolf instead of a Cav.  At this point, Love has played 364 games for Minnesota and 349 for the Cavs.  Love was better as a T-Wolf too (4.0 BPM versus 2.7 in Cleveland).  The counterpoint is that Love has been good in Cleveland and won a title there and will almost certainly play more games in Cleveland (he is owed about $90 million for the next three years).  Yet, the Cavs version of Love is decidedly not quite HOF caliber.  The Minny years are more vital to considering Love’s case.  It’s a close call but I see Love as a Wolf and not a Cav.

As for Kyrie, it’s hard to get a handle on him.  He is supremely talented and, statistically, getting better.  You could understand why some get frustrated with him but Irving has been better than Love (even if we considered Love a Cav).  Kyrie could flame out from injuries and pressure but he is on a pretty strong HOF path now.  Getting deep into the playoffs with Kevin Durant for a few years should seal that path.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  The two best cases come down to teammates Mark Price and Brad Daugherty.  We looked at Price already last time when we lumped him in with a bunch of very good 1990s and 2000s point guards who are not yet in the HOF.  To recap the review quickly, Price was a very effective player who had injuries that subordinate his cases compared with the hordes of great point guards also waiting to get in the Hall. 

His competition, here, is two other players with serious injury issues, Daugherty and Terrell Brandon.  Let’s review the tale of the tape:

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

Brad Daugherty: 548 games, 18.9 PER, 65.2 WS, .156 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 21.3 VORP

Terrell Brandon:  724 games, 19.7 PER, 65.9 WS, .147 WS/48, 3.6 BPM, 30.3 VORP

We can dismiss Daugherty out-of-hand.  His career had no decline phase (a disc herniation forced a retirement very early) and, even without a decline phase, Daugherty can’t match up to Price.  Brandon is a different story.  Price’s successor at the point was also really good and nearly a dead heat with Price.  Price is ever so slightly ahead Brandon in the stats and gets bonus points for playing more games as a Cav.  Just to give a slight consolation price for Brandon, let’s acknowledge that Brandon in 1995-96/1996-97 was putting up LBJ level WS.  For those two years, Brandon might’ve been the most underrated player in the NBA.

Detroit Pistons

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   The only active player with a Piston pedigree that has any cognizable HOF case is Andre Drummond.   Drummond is only 26 and has averaged 13.8 rebounds per game in his eight years.  If he could do this another 10+ years, Drummond might have a case.  Alas, he is playing in an area that does not hold traditional centers in high regard (not to mention ones that are not great scorers).  The odds are stacked against him aging so well.

-Best retired non-HOFer:   On the retired front, however, Detroit has a bunch of potential HOFers.  First and foremost is Chauncey Billups.  He was the best player on a title team and MVP of the Finals.  His enshrinement is inevitable.  We won’t review all of his stats again but suffice to say, they meet the threshold easilyl (he has the best WS season in Pistons history, as well as five of the top 15).

The next viable Pistons HOFer is, Larry Foust, a center on the Fort Wayne Pistons and a big rival of George Mikan in the 1950s.  Foust was an All-Star eight times (and even replaced his Mikan on the Lakers in 1957-58).  Foust likely would not be a star today but, in the context of his time, he was very good.  He never won a title but the Pistons were pretty good (they lost in the Finals twice).  In “The NBA Finals,” Roland Lazenby described Foust as “one of the few players over the years capable of giving Mikan a decent matchup.” 

Being among the best centers of that era was a mixed blessing because they were regarded as stiffs by modern standards.  In “Tall Tales,” Terry Pluto described Foust thusly “[l]et’s just say he wore the biggest pants in the league and he was a throwback to the huge, plodding dinosaur centers of the early Mikan Era.”  But in the same book, Johnny Kerr called Foust “The second-best center behind George Mikan in the early days.” 

Being a dinosaur, however, hurt Foust’s reputation.  Charley Eckman told Terry Pluto that Bill Russell “ended the careers of guys like Larry Foust and Neil Johnston.  They’d take these slow, sweeping hook shots and Russell would time his jump so that he’d take the ball right out of their hands.  I saw Foust get a couple of shots blocked, so he nailed Russell in the forehead with an elbow and then made one.  All that did was piss Russell off and be he blanketed Foust to the point where we couldn’t even get a pass in to him.”  Foust did no better against the other new athletic center, Wilt Chamberlain.  Rudy LaRusso told Pluto that Foust “was not about to get near Wilt’s dunk….When Foust heard [PA announcer Dave] Zinkoff say, ‘Dipper,’ [Foust would] turn and run down to the other end of the court, giving, Wilt all the room he wanted.”

On a strict statistical basis, Foust has HOF numbers (for his time).  While it is true that the stat lines were limited, Foust’s career PER was tenth in NBA history at the time of his retirement in 1961-62.  Foust was clearly worse than Mikan (and Neil Johnston) but Foust was one of the top players and he is the only player of that group not in the HOF.  It’s not clear why Foust is the odd man out for the HOF.   Perhaps, being behind two better centers and being made abruptly obsolete by Wilt and Russell hurt Foust’s case.  Whatever the reason, Foust passed in away in 1984, so there is no urgency to electing him but he meets the standards and should get in just so the HOF can close out the 1950s NBA stars properly.

Outside of Billups and Foust, the Pistons have a few more players below them with legitimate arguments.  Everybody still hates him (and mostly for good reason), but Bill Laimbeer was a very good player.  Laimbeer leads the Pistons in WS for what it’s worth.  Let’s see how he stacks up in advanced stats with other very good centers of his era:

Bill Laimbeer: 1,068 games, 16.1 PER, 105.6 WS, .149 WS/48, 1.4 BPM, 29.3 VORP

Robert Parish: 1,611 games, 19.2 PER, 147.0 WS, .154 WS/48, 1.5 BPM, 40.7 VORP

Artis Gilmore: (NBA stats only): 909, 20.2 PER, 107.4 WS, .174 WS/48, 2.6 BPM, 34.7 VORP

Brad Daugherty: 548 games, 18.9 PER, 65.2 WS, .156 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 21.3 VORP

Rik Smits: 876 games, 17.9 PER, 56.6 WS, .118 WS/48, -0.2 BPM, 10.4 VORP

Jack Sikma: 1,106 games, 17.3 PER, 112.5, .146 WS/48, 2.0 BPM, 37.0 VORP

Laimbeer is pretty good but not quite HOF level.  Gilmore and Parish are a bit better (and that doesn’t include Gilmore’s ABA stats).  Sikma also has a distinct advantage over Laimbeer.  Still, Laimbeer will likely make the HOF eventually.  His case is similar to that of Danny Ainge’s, a good NBA career plus a good post-playing career (Laimbeer has been one of the better WNBA coaches for about 15 years now).  No word on whether Michael Jordan has the prospective induction date marked on his calendar.

The other parts of the great Pistons teams of the 2000s (Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton) have outside cases for the Hall. Rasheed Wallace was excellent but not quite good enough to overcome some of his baggage (the technical foul rules were change basically because of he amassed so many).  Ben Wallace also has a legitimate case, though he is behind Laimbeer (if forced to choose between the two) and a few other centers.  Hamilton was a good player but nowhere near as valuable as either Wallace.

Indiana Pacers

-Most likely HOFer, active players:    It feels like a long time ago but Paul George’s career has mostly been as a Pacer and he has a decent shot at the HOF if he wins a title with the Clippers.  There are no other likely HOFers active (we’ll have to wait and see on Victor Oladipo).

-Best retired non-HOFer:    Unlike the Pistons, Indy’s got nothing.  They have plenty of nice players (Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Rik Smits) but no players that have much of a good faith argument.  The only player that comes close is Jermaine O’Neal, who made six All-Star teams in a row.  In the end, his advanced stats are underwhelming (17.9 PER, 66.0 WS, .116 WS/48, 0.3 BPM, 15.6 VORP) but he’s all they got for now.

Milwaukee Bucks

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  As with Cleveland, the subjective question has a definitive answer.  Giannis Antetokounmpo is already the best Buck ever not named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Not to pick on Jermaine O’Neal but since we were just looking at his stats, O’Neal is even with Giannis in WS (despite playing 11 more years).  Giannis is about two seasons from absolute HOFer and could arguably make it if he retired today.

-Best retired non-HOFer:    The Bucks have had many good teams and some really good players who are right on the border.  Thankfully, Sidney Moncrief finally made the HOF, so we can focus on a couple more good players who have been forgotten: Sam Cassell, Marques Johnson, Terry Cummings, and Bobby Dandridge.

Cassell is about on par with Johnson and Cummings and has three rings (19.5 PER, 87.5 WS, .141 WS/48, 1.8 BPM, 28.8 VORP).  His issue, like that of Price, is the backlog of better point guards  in the queue now and more will be entering soon.  So, Sam-I-Am is not a likely HOFer (despite his famous dance) but I think he is their best candidate.

As for Johnson and Cummings, about a year ago, we did a deep dive into the trade of Johnson for Cummings (which was a great trade for Milwaukee).  This doesn’t mean that Johnson was worse than Cummings, just that Marques was older and less healthy (these days, Johnson, at age-64, can still dunk!).  Johnson’s career was effectively ended by knee and neck issues, while Cummings went the Buck Williams route, and had a longer career as role player after he could no longer be a feature player.  Here’s how the two players stack up on the advanced stats:

Marques Johnson: 691 games, 20.1 PER, 79.8 WS, .162 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 31.7 VORP

Terry Cummings: 1,183 games, 18.3 PER, 91.1 WS, .129 WS/48, 0.6 BPM, 22.5 VORP

Very different careers, so let’s limit Cummings to his first eight season (698 games) so we can compare peaks:

Terry Cummings: 698 games, 19.7 PER, 70.2 WS, .140 WS/48, 1.7 BPM, 22.4

The prime numbers clearly favor Marques.  Cummings’ second half career is fun but not enough to push him over Johnson as our choice. 

Lastly, we have Dandridge.  On the numbers, Dandridge is nowhere near either Johnson or Cummings.  Dandridge’s case arises from being a good player on several title contenders.  This type of career usually puts most Celtics or Lakers in the HOF.  Dandridge’s career, however, was in Milwaukee or Washington, and the HOF voters didn’t seem to care as much about those title teams.  Advanced stats also aren’t great for Dandridge to the extent we have them (his first four years came before 1973-74).  What we have is just okay: 16.7 PER, 80.3 WS, .131 WS/48, 1.3 BPM, 15.1 VORP.  There are worse players in the HOF but Dandridge doesn’t quite reach the point of having a strong argument.