HOF Review: Southeast Division

Let’s turn to part three of our franchise review of likely and potential Hall of Famers, the Southeast Division.  For review, you find the ground rules here.  Our reviews of the Atlantic and Central Division are also available on those links.

Atlanta Hawks

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  The Hawks have a few nice active players who are not really HOFers in Paul Millsap and Al Horford.  Horford is distinctly short of the line but has a chance when you combine his college titles with his NBA career.  That still seems like a bit of a stretch.  The most likely HOFer of active Hawks then is Trae Young.  It is way too early to say that Young is even close to a HOF career but anyone who scores 30 ppg at 21 years old is off to a good start (yes, I realize the defense is still bad and his stats came in the context of a terrible team). 

For a quick reference, here are Young’s advanced stats compared to other players at 21 years old or younger since 1979-80:

-23.9 PER (3rd, minimum 1,500 minutes)(Young is 2nd if you raise minimum to 2,000 minutes)

-5.9 WS (19th)(if you pro-rate Young to an 82-game season, he would have 8.0, good for 8th)

-.134 WS/48 (15th, minimum 1,500 minutes)(Young is 13th if you raise minimum to 2,000 minutes)

-4.0 BPM (9th, minimum 1,500 minutes)(Young is 7th if you raise minimum to 2,000 minutes)

-3.2 VORP (12th) (if you pro-rate Young to a full season, he hits 4.0, which would be 7th)

Most of the players ahead of Young on the list are in the Hall of Famer already or are overqualified current players (by the way, we will surely do a similar exercise for Luka Doncic next time but he’s way better than Young).  Young is aimed in the right direction for Springfield in 2040ish.   We will see what if he can keep up the pace.  There are a few reminders below that show that great careers are hard to maintain. 

-Best retired non-HOFer:  The Hawks were pretty good in St. Louis and their early years in Atlanta.  They have a bunch of HOF players from those times.  Not just Bob Pettit but Cliff Hagan, Zelmo Beaty, Ed Macauley (more for his Celtics years), Pete Maravich, and Walt Bellamy (he played his most games with Atlanta even though most of his HOF case comes from two inflated years with the Chicago Packers).  

There are plenty of pretty good Hawks players (Bill Bridges, Joe Caldwell) not in the HOF but few with serious arguments.  The best non-HOFer is Lou Hudson.  Is Hudson, objectively, a HOFer?  Wasn’t he better than his contemporary Maravich, who made the HOF easily?  How did Maravich get in so quickly and Hudson languish for 40 years?  Let’s look into this a little bit.

Hudson was a six-time All-Star for the Hawks from 1966-67 to 1976-77 (and finished up with the Lakers thereafter).  He was very good and his Hawks were legitimate title contenders in the West for a few years (yes, the NBA geography was screwy back then).  For two seasons (1968-69 and 1969-70), the Hawks made the Western Conference Finals (only to be stomped by the West/Baylor/Wilt Lakers). 

In 1970-71, the Hawks drafted Maravich (acquired primarily for the rights to Beaty, who had jumped to the ABA).  Maravich was a very good pro but the team was mostly bad during that time.  Hudson and Maravich were the core of that team, until after the 1973-74 season when the Hawks traded Maravich to the Jazz for a boatload of players and pick (Bob Kauffman, Dean Meminger, and five picks).  Neither the Hawks or Jazz were any good (or made the playoffs) over the next few years, though Hudson and Maravich both scored a ton of points.  Both players retired by 1980.

Here’s where the stories diverge.  Maravich waltzed into the HOF in 1987 and Hudson has distinctly been outside the Hall discussions.  Let’s compare the advanced stats of the two players:

Maravich: 658 games, 18.4 PER, 46.7 WS, .092 WS/48, 0.2 BPM, 8.9 VORP

Hudson:  890 games, 17.4 PER, 81.0 WS, .131 WS/48, 0.4 BPM, 6.8 VORP

VORP and BPM can’t really be relied upon because both players have stats that pre-date 1973-74 (before which, such stats can’t be calculated).  Over half of Hudson’s career, including most of his peak, was played before that date (515 games) and his BPM and VORP would be much higher otherwise.   1973-74 was the last season of Hudson’s peak and he put up 2.9 BPM and 3.2 VORP.  He probably would’ve put up about 3 VORP the prior five seasons too. 

Suffice it to say, Hudson was a much more effective pro than Maravich but just didn’t have Pistol’s buzz.  Why that was is perhaps the more interesting story than HOF selection disparities.  It is easy to see what happened merely by reviewing some of the old articles.  Maravich captured fans’ imagination for a variety of reasons. 

A good example comes from a 1978 article that Curry Kirkpatrick wrote in Sports Illustrated stating that: “Maravich has always seemed to be misplaced: an individualist in a team environment; a perfectionist but not a purist; the white boy in the (now 75%) black man’s game; the people’s choice who feels that the people are against him.”  That’s a bit cringe worthy to read in 2020 (this was a time when the NBA worried about being “too Black” and would purposely make sure some of the backend players were Caucasian).  There is no doubt that Maravich was a great scorer and that some fans were drawn to him for his style (which was legitimately entertaining) and for the implied spectacle of a white guy who played with flair. 

It was not Maravich’s fault that some fans liked watching a white guy score but it wasn’t to his credit either and it made things tough for everybody.  In 2014, Paul Silas told NOLA.com that: “[a]ll the older guys on [the Hawks] – Lou Hudson, Walt Bellamy, Zelmo Beatty, Joe Caldwell – they were all really upset because Pete was making all that money. They’d been there so long and weren’t making half as much. And Pete had to live with that. All he wanted was to be accepted. He was a hell of a player and those guys just didn’t welcome him.”  It was quite complicated and Maravich both benefitted from and was caught in the middle of an uncomfortable racial subtext (and a bunch of other issues).

In the end, neither Hudson nor Maravich is really a HOFer based upon NBA accomplishments.  The question becomes whether we can cobble an argument that Hudson should be elected because Maravich got in.  The argument can surely be made.  Hudson was a much better pro and deserved to be paid more than Maravich.  It is not a particularly appealing argument in the sense the HOF being wrong on Maravich is the rationale to push Hudson (two wrongs don’t make a right).  In addition, Maravich’s HOF case isn’t really only about his good NBA career (Maravich might’ve made the HOF just on scoring 44 ppg in college).  Still, I wouldn’t complain if Hudson made the Hall and we should all remember that he was the better wing player for the Hawks between the two of them.

Charlotte Hornets

-Most likely HOFer, active players:    Yeesh, they don’t have many options in the active status.  Kemba Walker is a really good player and has a chance.  Given his smaller size and his age (he’s turning 30 already), it’s hard to think he can keep this level of production the four or five years he needs to have a chance.  If he can win a title in Boston, though, you never know.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  Again, yeesh.  Kemba is already better than any potential HOFer from the retired group.  There are only two players worth any discussion, Baron Davis and Glen Rice.  Putting aside the merits of their cases, neither player is even cleanly a Hornet.  Davis played most with the Hornet franchise (barely) but was a better player in Golden State.  Rice played more games in Miami (by significant margin) but was an All-Star only as a Hornet.

Since neither the Warriors nor the Heat “need” Davis or Rice, we will deem them as Hornets, if only because Charlotte is desperate to have even nominal candidates. Having said that, let’s compare Davis and Rice:

Baron Davis: 835 games, 17.8 PER, 63.1 WS, .106 WS/48, 2.6 BPM, 33.1 VORP

Glen Rice: 1,000 games, 16.2 PER, 88.7 WS, .122 WS/48, 0.8 BPM, 24.9 VORP

Davis was the more dynamic player and stopped playing at age-32 while Rice played a bit to age-36 (but was ostensibly done by age-33).  Davis has no shot of making the HOF based upon the point guard logjam we reviewed earlier.  Rice also gets a bonus point for being the best player on an NCAA title team.  Even so, Davis was such a better all-around player that he’s our choice for Charlotte.

Miami Heat

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   Since we have already deemed LeBron James a Cav for HOF purposes, there is no obvious choice (we also consider Jimmy Butler a Bull for the moment).  If you asked Bob Cousy, I guess Hassan Whiteside is the answer.  For the rest of us, Goran Dragic is the best you got for right now.  Dragic is already 33 and declining but has decent career stats (17.0 PER, 54.1 WS, .114 WS/48, 16.3 VORP).  Seeing those stats alongside Baron Davis makes it clear that the Heat will have to do better then Dragic.

-Best retired non-HOFer:   Dwyane Wade seems like a pretty good option.  As an aside, Chris Bosh and Tim Hardaway should eventually get in the Hall.  We do not consider them Miami property because they played more games (just as effectively) with other teams.

Orlando Magic

-Most likely HOFer, active players:    This is another easy one.  Dwight Howard has been HOF qualified since about 2013.  His post-Orlando career has had some bumps but he’s still a pretty good player, if not the same force he was.  The more interesting issue to consider is how Howard matches up with some of the HOF centers.  Here’s a quick look at how Howard’s current career numbers compare with other pretty good and great centers of the last few decades:

Dwight Howard: 1,106 games, 21.5 PER, 133.9 WS, .173 WS/48, 2.1 BPM, 38.4 VORP

Patrick Ewing: 1,183 games, 21.0 PER, 126.4 WS, .150 WS/48, 2.9 BPM, 50.1 VORP

Hakeem Olajuwon: 1,238 games, 23.6 PER, 162.8 WS, .177 WS/48, 4.7 BPM, 74.4 VORP

David Robinson: 987 games, 26.2 PER, 178.7 WS, .250 WS/48, 7.5 BPM, 82.0 VORP

Shaquille O’Neal: 1,207 games, 26.4 PER, 181.7 WS, .208 WS/48, 5.1 BPM, 75.5 VORP

Moses Malone (NBA stats only): 1,329 games, 22.3 PER, 167.1 WS, .178 WS/48, 1.7 BPM, 42.4 VORP

Alonzo Mourning: 838 games, 21.2 PER, 89.7 WS, .166 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 27.6 VORP

Dikembe Mutombo: 1,196 games, 17.2 PER, 117.0 WS, .153 WS/48, 1.7 BPM, 34.0 VORP

Jack Sikma: 1,106 games, 17.3 PER, 112.5, .146 WS/48, 2.0 BPM, 37.0 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 games, 20.2 PER, 107.4 WS, .174 WS/48, 2.6 BPM, 34.7 VORP

Howard stacks up quite well actually.  He’ll never catch the Big Three (or Ewing) but he’s surprisingly close to Ewing and Moses.  On top of that, Howard is better than the rest of the HOF centers we list above except maybe Gilmore (if you throw in Gilmore’s ABA years, he’s almost certainly better than Howard).  Unless something crazy happens, Howard isn’t going to get much better than he is now but a top eight center of the last 40 years is really good.  (Note: Tim Duncan is obviously better if we consider him a center).

-Best retired non-HOFer:   Penny Hardaway had three HOF caliber seasons before knee injuries turned him into a decent player at age-26.  Check out his first four years versus the rest of his career:

1993-94: 17.4 PER, 7.1 WS, .112 WS/48, 2.9 BPM, 3.8 VORP (rookie season, not really part of the peak)

1994-95: 20.8 PER, 10.7 WS, .177 WS/48, 4.1 BPM, 4.5 VORP  

1995-96: 24.6 PER, 14.4 WS, .229 WS/48, 7.2 BPM, 6.9 VORP

1996-97:  21.4 PER, 8.1 WS, .175 WS/48, 4.9 BPM, 3.9 VORP

Post-1997 Career: 404 games, 14.2 PER, 21.6 WS, .083 WS/48, 0.5 BPM, 7.9 VORP

Total Career: 704 games, 17.4 PER, 61.9 WS, .125 WS/48, 2.5 BPM, 26.9 VORP

Penny’s first four seasons were HOF worthy, though he was perceived to be better than he actually was at the time.  During Penny’s absolute apex season in 1995-96, he kept the Magic afloat while Shaq missed time with a broken thumb (courtesy of a Matt Geiger karate chop).  Penny had some “next MJ” vibe at the time as well.  Hardaway was really good that year but not quite in the MJ or even Kobe ballpark. 

With the help of Basketball-Reference.com, we see Penny’s advanced stats are very good, if not tip top.  Hardaway’s 1995-96 stats are as follows: 52nd among guards in BPM and 43rd in VORP.  Really good numbers but even if could have repeated them that makes Penny more Clyde Drexler than Jordan.  I don’t mean that as an insult but nostalgia has a way of warping the actual facts.  In any case, Penny was on a great path and is the best Orlando non-HOFer at the moment.

Washington Wizards

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   This comes down to John Wall versus Bradley Beal.  Wall was the better player but is three years older and hasn’t been healthy and Beal has taken that time to play really well.  Let’s see where their career totals currently stand:

John Wall: 573 games, 19.4 PER, 44.3 WS, .104 WS/48, 2.6 BPM, 23.6 VORP

Bradley Beal: 545 games, 17.8 PER, 41.5 WS, .106 WS/48, 1.6 BPM, 17.0 VORP

Peak Wall was a better player, primarily because he could play defense better.  Wall, however had slipped significantly in 2018-19 even before he tore his Achilles. That might’ve been just a fluke rather than true decline but it doesn’t matter now because the injury likely prevents a return to pre-2018-19 numbers.  Given the bleak stats on players returning from Achilles injuries and the fact that Beal is much younger, Beal has the better chance at the HOF going forward.  Here’s hoping Wall can be close to the same player next season, whenever next season happens.

-Best retired non-HOFer:    Arguably, Gilbert Arenas had the three best seasons in modern Wizards/Bullets history.  Arenas has the first, second, and fourth VORP seasons for the Wiz and that fourth season is only 0.1 worse than the third place holder (Chris Webber in 1996-97).  Arenas’ three-year run (2003-04 to 2006-07) was similar to Penny’s run in the mid-1990s.  Arenas ended up hurting his knee and never being good again.  Arenas’ case for the HOF (or at least as th best retired non-HOFer) stems from an unmatched peak.  Arenas’ best years weren’t quite as good as Penny of 1995-96 but pretty close.

Arenas’ only competition in Washington is Rod Strickland, another underrated point guard.  Strick bounced around a lot but was consistently good for many teams (Portland and Washington in particular).  Like Arenas, Strickland was (ahem) quirky and had teammate issues (Strickland punched out Tracy Murray).  Comparing the two players raises the classic argument between the player with short career and a high peak against a pretty good player with more longevity:

Gilbert Arenas: 552 games, 19.6 PER, 51.3 WS, .127 WS/48, 2.6 BPM, 22.3 VORP

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

Strickland played a whole second career as a good point that Arenas never had.  I still choose Arenas over Strick because Arenas was so good that it overwhelms sustained good play.  It’s a close call and tour mileage may vary as they were both very good players.