On this lovely long holiday weekend, our Hall of Fame franchise review finally heads west for the fourth segment, the Southwest Division. Catching up new readers, the HOF review seeks to find each franchise’s most likely active and retired player to make the Hall. If you want more details on what that means, check the following links:
-Most likely HOFer, active players: Last time, we observed that Trae Young’s early career was pretty impressive relative to other great young stars of the past. Everything we said about Young is doubly true for Doncic. Here’s how Doncic rates against other 20-year olds (hat tip to Basketball-Reference.com):
1. Luka Doncic 2019-20, .215
2. Anthony Davis 2013-14, .212
3. LeBron James 2004-05, .203
4. Nikola Jokic 2015-16, .185
5. Andre Drummond 2013-14, .180
1. LeBron James 2004-05, 8.6
2. Luka Doncic 2019-2020, 8.4
3. Chris Paul 2005-06, 5.2
4. Anthony Davis 2013-14, 4.8
5. Magic Johnson 1979-80, 4.8
1. Luka Doncic 2019-20, 27.7
2. Anthony Davis 2013-14, 26.5
3. LeBron James 2004-05, 25.7
4. Shaquille O’Neal 1992-93, 22.9
5. Andre Drummond 2013-14, 22.6
We excluded VORP and WS because those are accumulation stats and, instead, focused on rate stats because of Luka’s year has been abbreviated. The rate stats show Luka as whoa-level great. He bests, or is on par, with LeBron and AD. That’s pretty good. Assuming normal incremental improvement and health, Doncic could waltz into the HOF.
-Best retired non-HOFer: The Mavs have a pretty good candidate in Dirk Nowitzki. Since Dirk will obviously be inducted as soon as he is eligible, let’s focus on the deeper cuts. In the 1980s, the Mavs were the model franchise. They drafted well and built up from bad to competitive pretty quickly. They had two 50+ seasons and took the Lakers seven games in 1987-88 in the Conference Finals. Things went downhill quickly from there. The decline coincided with Roy Tarpley’s drug issues. Tarpley was really good (albeit briefly) but the other parts weren’t bad either, namely Derek Harper, Rolando Blackman, and Mark Aguirre.
How to rank them? At the time, Harper seemed to be the least appreciated part of the three. Harper, famously, never made an All-Star team while Blackman and Aguirre made seven collectively. In retrospect, it would seem intuitive that the point guard who was a good defender would be more valuable than a couple of players who were primarily scorers. Let’s see the tale of the tape in advanced stats:
-Derek Harper: 1,199 games, 16.0 PER, 86.8 WS, .110 WS/48, 1.8 BPM, 35.7 VORP
-Rolando Blackman: 980 games, 16.7 PER, 75.6 WS, .113 WS/48, 0.4 BPM, 19.8 VORP
-Mark Aguirre: 923 games, 19.0 PER, 67.8 WS, .117 WS/48, 1.5 BPM, 24.4 VORP
And the hunch was correct. Harp rates out as a little better than his teammates because of longevity and because of defense. Aguirre’s gaudy point totals (which were high even for an 1980s small forward) put him close(ish) to Harper. Harper is actually hurt a bit because he hung around as a backup for several years after Blackman and Aguirre couldn’t play anymore. Let’s take away the tail end of Harper’s career and see if that changes the comparison:
-Derek Harper through 1994-95: 931 games, 16.8 PER, 73.5 WS, .118 WS/48, 2.4 BPM, 32.8 VORP
Well, that makes Harper look even better. Harper’s BPM was great through 1994-95 and makes the choice easier to make between him and Aguirre.
Are there any post-1980s Mavs to challenge Harper? Since then, we have two potential challengers in Michael Finley and Jason Terry. Let look at their stats:
-Michael Finley: 1,103 games, 16.0 PER, 85.2 WS, .108 WS/48, 1.0 BPM, 28.8 VORP
-Jason Terry: 1,410 games, 16.2 PER, 102.0 WS, .116 WS/48, 1.5 BPM, 37.4 VORP
Finley is slightly below Harper’s stats. As exciting a player as Finley was, he just wasn’t efficient enough but Terry is right there. Terry’s first 11 seasons are arguably better than Harper’s. It’s a coin toss but we have to choose Terry because of his ridiculous longevity (and the fact that he stayed pretty good longer).
Harper and Terry have something else in common, the fact that neither ever made an All-Star team. For posterity, here are the single season leaders in advanced stats, who never made an All-Star team:
PER: Al Jefferson, 2007-08 & 20013-14 (22.7)(minimum 2,500 minutes)
Hassan Whiteside, 2015-16 (25.7)(minimum 2,000 minutes)
WS: Cedric Maxwell, 1979-80 (12.2)
WS/48: Cedric Maxwell, 1979-80 (.214)(minimum 2,500 minutes)
Clint Capela, 2017-18 (.242)(minimum 2,000 minutes)
BPM: Mike Conley, 2016-17 (6.8)
VORP: Brent Barry, 2001-02 (5.8)
A few quick notes…PER tends to skew a bit too heavily in favor of low post scorers who don’t miss many shots. It’s not much surprise that Jefferson would do well in that respect and still not be All-Star level. More interesting was Maxwell, who had a higher WS and WS/48 than rookie Larry Bird. This was likely noise (Bird beat Maxwell in PER, BPM, and VORP) but Maxwell was highly efficient early on in his career (he led the NBA in TS% in 1978-79 and 1979-80). Brent Barry will be worth a look when we get to the OKC/Sonics.
-Most likely HOFer, active players: See Harden, James. For reference, Harden compared with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant through the same age (30):
James Harden: 826 games, 24.7 PER, 133.3 WS, .226 WS/48, 6.9 BPM, 63.6 VORP
Michael Jordan: 667 games 29.8 PER, 147.6 WS, .274 WS/48, 10.9 BPM, 84.0 VORP
Kobe Bryant: 948 games, 23.6 PER, 136.5 WS, .190 WS/48, 5.1 BPM, 62.0 VORP
This is another reminder that Jordan was so good. Even with three years of college and taking off from the NBA for his age-30 season, MJ smokes his competitors in rate and cumulative stats. As for Kobe vs. Harden, it’s hard to emotionally accept but Harden looks a little better stat-wise. I’m not saying I would choose Harden over Bryant if I had to start a team with each of them in their prime. Bryant was a relentless player as we’ve ever seen outside of Jordan. Having said all that, Harden’s stats are a bit better because he has turned hitting the three and getting to the line into an art form. We’ll see how well Harden ages compared to Kobe but Harden’s track looks pretty good right now.
-Best retired non-HOFer:
-Most likely HOFer, active players: As you might imagine, this could be a Gasol-heavy list. The first question is whether Pau Gasol is a Grizz or Laker for our discussions. He played a few more games with Memphis but his stats are slightly better with the Lakers and he won two rings. To us, Pau is a Laker, which saves us from having to compare him to Marc head-to-head (editor’s note: Pau was better).
Removing Pau from the group leaves us with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley (Zach Randolph is finally retired). Here’s how Marc and Conley stack up:
Mike Conley: 829 games, 17.5 PER, 73.5 WS, .131 WS/48, 2.3 BPM, 29.3 VORP
Marc Gasol: 831 games, 18.2 PER, 82.2 WS, .143 WS/48, 3.1 BPM, 35.4 VORP
It seems unfair to have to choose between them. The stats are close and the two played so well together. This is not quite Stockton/Malone but there is a similar vibe. Having said all that, Marc has a small but distinct advantage in the numbers. Throw in the ring in Toronto and he’s our pick.
Side note: it’s way too early to even project out Ja Morant. He looks really good but not good enough to speculate about yet. Let’s give it another year.
-Best retired non-HOFer: The Grizzlies don’t exactly have a storied history outside of the Gasols and Conley. As much as we liked luminaries like Ashraf Amaya, the only real choices are Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Zach Randolph, two scoring forwards. Reef was good immediately but was betrayed by his knees, while Z-Bo lasted forever as an old school low post player. Let’s see which career path accumulated more value:
Shareef Abdur-Rahim: 830 games, 19.0 PER, 71.2 WS, .118 WS/48, 1.0 BPM, 21.9 VORP
Zach Randolph: 1,116 games, 19.3 PER, 81.1 WS, .112 WS/48, 0.2 BPM, VORP 18.8 VORP
The advanced stats really do not like Randoph’s defense. As a consequence, he rarely had a very good BPM (2009-10, 2010-11, and 2014-15 were the only seasons he was really above-average). This was also borne out in VORP, where Abdur-Rahim was able to eclipse him without paying well after age-29. Randolph deserves to be remembered as part of the best Grizzlies teams of the franchise (so far) but Reef deserves to be remembered as the Grizz’s first legitimate star.
New Orleans Pelicans
-Most likely HOFer, active players: Chris Paul has actually played more games with New Orleans than any other franchise, albeit barely (425 games for New Orleans and 409 for the Clipps). On the other hand, CP3 was better in Los Angeles and he specifically repudiated New Orleans to get there. That makes Paul a Clipper in my book.
With no Paul, the Pels still have a Hall of Famer in the franchise with Anthony Davis. Yes, AD is already a Hall of Famer. His numbers are incredible and he’s only 26. In the end, his HOF identity will likely be coopted by the Lakers (or some other team) but, at this point, he’s a pretty easy choice and there is no second choice among active pros.
-Best retired non-HOFer: On the retired side, the Pelicans are missing options. The only player with a realistis case is David West, a solid power forward. He’s not a bad choice it’s just that there is literally no player worth comparing him to. We are struggling to find players who other decent players who played primarily for the Pelicans. The options are merely solid pros like Emeka Okafor, P.J. Brown, and David Wesley. They are respectable but not worth actually running the ink test to see if they can claim to be in league with West.
San Antonio Spurs
-Most likely HOFer, active players: Another easy one. Kawhi Leonard should get in fairly easily based upon his current body of work and he should have, at least, three more very nice seasons left. Not sure he’ll invite Gregg Popovich to do the intro in Springfield.
LaMarcus Aldridge is building case as well but he’s clearly a Blazer and not a Spur for our analysis.
-Best retired non-HOFer: Both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili should get in the HOF. Parker has the longer career and the Finals MVP but Manu has those crazy good rate stats. Let’s match them up:
Tony Parker: 1,254 games, 18.2 PER, 111.3 WS, .140 WS/48, 1.1 BPM, 30.1 VORP
Manu Ginobili: 1,057 games, 20.2 PER, 106.4 WS, .190 WS/48, 5.0 BPM, 47.6 VORP
Wow. We knew Manu had great rate stats but those rate stats are great. Manu played about as well as Clyde Drexler and Kobe Bryant in shorter bursts. Throw in the fact that Ginobili was the best player in Europe for a few years and we have a slam dunk Hall of Famers. By contrast, Parker is a very nice player but in line with other good point guards from the last 20 years who are not yet in the HOF. Parker will get in because of his great playoff success that other similar points did but Ginobili was significantly better.
Lastly, let’s talk about a Spur who has no HOF case at all but is worth remembering as pretty good, Johnny Moore. He played point for the Spurs for most of the 1980s and never made an All-Star team. With solid offense and nice defense, Moore put up BPMs between 2.5 and 4.0 from 1981-82 to 1985-86. Moore wasn’t quite as good as Parker but not that far off on a per game basis. In a stat head world, Moore would’ve gotten much more love.
Alas, Moore’s prime was cut short due. Moore was playing well until he fell ill with a scary brain fever during the 1985-86 season. Moore sat out the rest of the season and underwent an excruciating treatment where a hole was drilled into his skull to drip in medicine. Moore returned for the 1986-87 but wasn’t the same player. His BPM was a career-high 4.0 in 1985-86 when he became sick. In 1986-87, that number fell to -1.7.
Moore had a recurrence of the sickness in 1987-88 and the Spurs let him go after four games. The Nets quickly signed Moore, where he played one game for ten minutes before being waived again due to an infection around his skull drip point. Moore was seemingly done with the NBA but had not given up trying to play.
He played in Mexico for the 1988-89 season and the CBA to start 1989-90. He made enough of an impression that the Spurs gave Moore another shot as a backup point to Maurice Cheeks in November 1989. But Moore, at age-31, had little left. He shot .373% in 10 mpg (8.1 PER, -2.7 BPM). His NBA career ended after that season. Today, Moore has recovered fully but he never was the same player.