HOF Review: Northwest Division

Next stop on our Hall of Fame franchise review is the Northwest Division.  As a reminder, our 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:

Ground Rules 

Atlantic Division

Central Division

Southeast Division

Southwest Division

Denver Nuggets

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  In our Atlantic review, we consider Carmelo Anthony Knicks property (though it was a close call).  But that doesn’t really matter because, Nikola Jokic, by nearly all advanced metrics, is the best Nuggets.  Really, he has been the best player in Denver history and it’s not particularly close.  The only issue for Jokic is whether he ages well.  Jokic is a big man without much explosive athleticism (his coordination is pretty amazing though) and he is the type of player who may become so slow he is not playable. 

The hope is that Jokic can play at this level for a five more years and then be effective in his 30s a la Arvydas Sabonis, who played a very similar game with a similar body type (and lack of speed).  Sabonis put up ridiculously good advanced numbers, even as a 38-year old part times (4.6 BPM his final season!). 

-Best retired non-HOFer:   Many of the big names of past Nuggets teams are in the Hall of Fame already (David Thompson, Dan Issel, Bobby Jones, Dikembe Mutombo, Alex English).  This is kind of surprising since these teams were solid but not great.   That leaves us with a bunch of high scorers from the 1980s teams and a few post-1980s players.  Let’s take each player and do a quick rundown:

Kiki Vandeweghe:  Kiki was a great scorer but his numbers were obviously inflated by playing for a running team in the 1980s.  In 1983-84, Vandeweghe’s final season in Denver, the Nuggets were second in the NBA in offense and first in pace.  That year, Kiki scored about 30 ppg and English (26.4 ppg) and Issel (19.8 ppg) were not far behind.  But the Nuggets were second to last in the NBA in defense and went 38-44. 

The perception (correctly) was that Vandeweghe was a good scorer but a defensive sieve.  Vandeweghe told Sports Illustrated in 1986 that: “[i]n the NBA I got the no-defense rap early in my career, in Denver, when I was scoring a lot and we were giving up a lot.  That was Doug Moe’s system. And Doug used to kid me about my defense all the time. I think some of that stuck.”  Vandeweghe told that story in the context that he was now a better defender after being traded to Portland.  Kiki’s assertion doesn’t seem accurate.  Vandeweghe’s DBPM was -1.9 for his career and he was about as bad for Portland as he was for Denver.  He needed to score a lot to offset this defensive shortcoming, which he usually did when he was younger. 

Fat Lever:  Lever was traded for Kiki and also benefited, statistically, from Moe’s system.  Lever was one of the first modern players to routinely flirt with a full-season triple double (19.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 7.9 apg in 1988-89).   He also rated out as a good defender and hit at least 4.9 BPM four straight years, which is a better run than a lot of more well-known players have done.  Lever’s knees went almost immediately after the Nuggets traded him to the Mavs in 1990-91.  It would have been fun to see what a healthy prime Lever (he was 30) would’ve done without Moe but we’ll never know.  I assume the system helped him quite a bit though.  In either case, Lever rates out as more valuable than Kiki in the 1980s (3.3 BPM for his career).

Michael Adams:  Adams was not particularly good but gets credit for being the first high volume three-point chucker in NBA history.   He led the NBA in three-pointers four straight seasons from 1987-88 to 1990-91 and he didn’t shoot badly for Moe (.363%).  His one year with Paul Westhead (1990-91) is another matter.  Adams went 167-564 from three that season which came out to a gross .296%.  We won’t talk about Natt because he played much more for Portland than he did for Denver.

Andre Miller:  Miller played for nine NBA teams and his only really extended run with one franchise came with the Nuggets (he also had a second shorter stint near the end of his career).  Miller was the antithesis of the other players mentioned above.  Miller didn’t have any gaudy stat lines and was even a poor jump shooter (man was his shot trajectory flat) but he didn’t have many other weaknesses.  Miller also lasted forever and was relatively effective until his last two seasons.  On the other hand, he was never really close to All-Star level outside of his second and third seasons (on terrible Cleveland teams). 

In the end, Lever is my choice for best retired Nuggets who is not in the HOF.  He had almost the same VORP as Miller (despite playing so many fewer games), a better career BPM, and that great peak. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   We previously determined that Kevin Love should be considered a Timberwolf and not a Cav (based upon Love’s awesome Minny peak).  That makes him the most likely HOFer from this franchise.  I understand that Love’s Cleveland years are not quite as satisfying but he was a hell of a third option and well worth the trade for Andrew Wiggins.

But the story does not end there.  Love still has to be compared with Karl-Anthony Towns, who looks pretty good so far too.  Let’s compare where Towns is now versus Love at the roughly the same number of games (Love missed most of his age-24 season, so we extended his stats to age-25):

Kevin Love:  364 games, 23.2 PER, 47.0 WS, .189 WS/48, 4.0 BPM, 18.2 VORP

Karl-Anthony Towns: 358 games, 25.1 PER, 50.4 WS, .197 WS/48, 4.9 BPM, 21.2 VORP

It’s pretty close but Towns looks like the better player.  If Towns keeps this up and/or gets on a title contender, the HOF should be in his future.  The Wolves have been pretty bad most of his tenure but this is not really Towns’ fault (nor was it Love’s fault that his Minny teams stunk). 

-Best retired non-HOFer:   This is much harder now that Kevin Garnett is in the Hall of Fame.  KG is slated to be inducted this year and I’m sure his speech will be understated and he’ll have Ray Allen introduce him. 

What’s left with retired Wolves?  Meh.  By way of example, the best BPM by a Wolf player who is not associated more strongly with another franchise is the immortal Micheal Williams in 1992-93.  So, let’s through this inspiring group:

Micheal Williams: 413 games, 17.9 PER, 28.5 WS, .132 WS/48, 2.3 BPM, 11.2 VORP

Al Jefferson: 915 games, 20.6 PER, 71.0 WS, .130 WS/48, 1.2 BPM 21.3 VORP

Wally Szczerbiak: 651 games, 16.0 PER, 53.3 WS, .127 WS/48, 0.7 BPM, 13.6 VORP

Tom Gugliotta: 763 games, 15.9 PER, 40.2 WS, .082 WS/48, 0.6 BPM, 15.3 VORP

Christian Laettner: 868 games 16.9 PER, 64.9 WS, .121 WS/48, 1.0 BPM, 19.5 VORP

I put in Williams to show that his BPM wasn’t actually an anomaly.  He was a fairly good point guard before injuries knocked him down.  As for the rest, I really hate to say it but Laettner maybe the best of this lot.  Gugs had severe injuries that made him a strongly negative player after 1999-00 (he played out a big contract he got from the Suns but was terrible at that point).  Even pre-injury Gugs wasn’t that great anywy.  Laettner and Jefferson are a near push, though Laettner was a positive defensive player, while Jeff was not.  On top of that, Laettner’s legendary college career pushes him over the top (don’t worry, I despised him then too).

Wolves fans I’m sure are not happy with this result since Laettner was not exactly fun for the franchise.  In recognition of this fact, here are some highlights of Laettner’s shmuckiness in Minnesota:

-Laettner was stuck on a really bad Minny team in the early/mid-1990s and was not shy to complain about it. In 1993-94, he was suspended a game for cursing out assistant coach Bob Weinhauer who dressed down reserve Marlon Maxey in practice.  Laettner told the assistant to “shut the  ______ up!” and that he was an “old piece of _____” and then told his teammates that “[y]ou ______ should be standing up for Maxey too.”  It sounded like Laettner was being nice to Maxey but his teammates did not support him (Chuck Person said that Laettner “defamed Bob’s character.  He disrespected Bob as a man.  Bob has fads older than Christian”).

-There was a reported story that Laettner pointed at all the other players in a meeting and calling each one “loser” and then pointing to himself and saying “winner.”  Did this happen?  Laettner said in 2011 that: “I can’t recall it happening. There might be some context. If it’s true, maybe some is context needed to be added, I don’t know. But as I said, I made some mistakes along the way. Does that mean you should be crucified for it? And have your image forever tarnished? I don’t know. But that’s the nature of the beast.”  Hmmm….sounds like it totally happened.

-Laettner was clearly frustrated by losing and the bad teams but his cardinal sin was not recognizing when the team was actually going to be good.  Laettner’s final year in Minnesota (1995-96) was Kevin Garnett’s rookie year.  After a loss in February 1996, Laettner took shots some not-so-subtle shots at KG: “[y]ou’ve got to have the rookies and young kids shut up, and you’ve got to have the coaches and the veterans take care of the team.  We’ve got some big britches on this team. We’ve got a lot of people who know everything.”  Coach Flip Saunders made clear where Minnesota’s priorities lay: “[t]he sad thing is they can say whatever they want, but that kid [Garnett] knows how to play basketball and he’s better than anyone in that locker room.”   

But the fun didn’t end there.  GM Kevin McHale and players Doug West and Gugliotta all publicly backed Garnett.  West went so far as to say: “[t]o be honest about it, was pissed off at what [Laettner] said.  How could he talk about Kevin like that?”  The Deseret News reported that: “[t]he final straw apparently occurred at a team meeting the next day, when coach Flip Saunders brought up the subject of team unity, apparently hoping Laettner would step up and clear the air. He didn’t take the hint.”

A few days later, Laettner was traded to Atlanta.  From there, Laettner’s career continued without many more incidents (he even made the All-Star team in Atlanta) but the bloom was off the rose.  Laettner was a decent starter and not much more and was never really looked at as a team leader.  His post-NBA career is a whole other discussion.

Oklahoma City Thunder

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   This is an easy one.   Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are already overqualified for the Hall.  For fun, let’s see where they rank with potential positional competitors through similar games played (modern era only):

Kevin Durant: 849 games, 25.2 PER, 141.7 WS, .217 WS/48, 6.7 BPM, 69.0 VORP

LeBron James (through 2013-14): 842 games, 27.8 PER, 168.5 WS, .243 WS/48, 9.3 BPM, 94.5 VORP

Larry Bird (through 1990-91): 852 games, 23.6 PER, 140.3 WS, .205 WS/48, 7.0 BPM, 74.1 VORP

Scottie Pippen (through 1997-98): 833 games, 19.7 PER, 99.4 WS, .160 WS/48, 4.8 BPM, 51.0 VORP

Dominique Wilkins (through 1992-93: 833 games, 22.8 PER, 101.6 WS, .158 WS/48, 3.8 BPM, 45.2 VORP

Julius Erving (NBA only):  836 games, 22.0 PER, 106.2 WS, .178 WS/48, 5.2 BPM, 51.8 VORP

KD can’t hang with LBJ, who was light years ahead of everyone.  Outside of James, Durant is better than everyone (Bird is pretty close and didn’t play in the NBA until age-23).  In other words, Durant is on pace (if healthy) to be the second best non-power forward ever (I realize calling anyone a small or power forward doesn’t quite mean the same thing in today’s NBA).  Lastly, we should not forget how good Erving was.  If you include his ABA stats, he is only slightly below KD and Bird.  Yes, Dr. J wasn’t known as a great jump shooter but the advanced stats are consistent with the acclaim he got at that time.

Now let’s go to Russ versus inner circle PGs:

Russell Westbrook: 874 games, 23.5 PER, 101.3 WS, .161 WS/48, 4.8 BPM, 52.1 VORP

Magic Johnson (through 1990-91): 874 games, 24.2 PER, 152.2 WS, .226 WS/48, 7.6 BPM, 78.2 VORP

Isiah Thomas (through 1991-92): 842 games, 18.5 PER, 76.8 WS, .119 WS/48, 3.1 BPM, 39.3 VORP

John Stockton (through 1993-94): 816 games, 21.6 PER, 111.1, .204 WS/48, 7.1 BPM, 60.1 VORP

Gary Payton (through 2000-01): 865 games, 19.7 PER, 105.0 WS, .160 WS/48, 4.0 BPM, 47.9 VORP

Jason Kidd (through 2005-06): 866 games, 18.8 PER, 91.3 WS, .135 WS/48, 4.0 BPM, 49.1 VORP

Steve Nash (through 2007-08): 860 games, 20.1 PER, 94.4 WS, .171 WS/48, 3.1 BPM, 34.4 VORP

Chris Paul (through 2017-18:  892 games, 25.6 PER, 164.8 WS, .251 WS/48, 8.0 BPM, 79.7 VORP

Stephen Curry (through 2019-20): 699 games, 23.8 PER, 103.2 WS .207 WS/48, 6.4 BPM, 50.7 VORP

Westbrook definitely belongs in the top ten PGs of the three-point era so far but is distinctly below Magic, Stockton, CP3, and Curry.  He’s barely ahead of Payton and Kidd (Thomas and Nash are the bottom rung of the stars).  Given that Westbroook has already entered decline phase, it’ll tough for him to keep up with Payton and Kidd but we shall see.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  This comes down to the key players from the late 1970s Sonics (Gus Williams and Fred Brown) versus the key players from the 1990s Sonics (Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf).  Let’s do a statistical tale of the tape:

Gus Williams: 825 games, 18.5 PER, 67.9 WS, .127 WS/48, 2.9 BPM, 31.8 VORP

Fred Brown: 963 games, 17.7 PER, 63.2 WS, .124 WS/48, 2.1 BPM, 22.6 VORP (first two seasons were pre-modern stats)

Shawn Kemp: 1,051 games, 19.1, PER, 89.5 WS, .147 WS/48, 0.6 BPM, 19.4 VORP

Detlef Schrempf: 1,136 games, 17.2 PER, 109.5 WS, .156 WS/48, 1.8 BPM, 32.3 VORP

Peak Kemp was the most exciting player of the group but it’s hard to emphasize how quickly he became terrible.  After the lockout, Kemper played very overweigh but he still reasonably effective.  Decay really set in the next season, 1999-00.  Here are his stats from before and after 1999-00:

Kemp 1989-99: 747 games, 20.6 PER, 80.7 WS, .169 WS/48, 1.7 BPM, 21.6

Kemp 2000-2003: 304 games, 13.8 PER, 8.8 WS, .066 WS/48, -3.4 BPM, -2.2 VORP

Woof.  The 2000s were so bad it chipped away at a lot of Kemp’s value and was negative enough to knock him off of the list.  That leaves us to choose between Williams and Schrempf (Brown is a bit below both of them).  It’s hard to choose but I would go with Schrempf’s longevity.  The two players were pretty close in value on a per game basis anyway.

Finally, let’s take a moment to acknowledge a couple of BPM stat stars for the Sonics: Nate McMillan and Brent Barry.  It’s hard to say that McMillan was more valuable than the above players but his defensive stats are so great it looks like he has an argument:

Nate McMillan: 796 games, 14.5 PER, 50.2 WS, .118 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 27.2 VORP

Nate led the NBA in DBPM three straight seasons and was really good a few more years.  This is quite impressive for a guard.  It could be a stat glitch (his DWS aren’t quite as good) but it evidences some value not apparent at first glance. 

As for Barry, he was efficient most of the time but his 2001-02 season (5.5 BPM, 5.8 VORP) rates with a good Payton season.  Barry was no star but was much better than he was given credit for.

Portland Trail Blazers

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  Damian Lilllard seems like he’s pretty close to the HOF already.  Let’s jump on the prior Westbrook review and see where Lillard stands so far compared to the rest of the group of star PGs of the past:

Damian Lillard:  607 games, 21.9 PER, 79.9 WS, .174 WS/48, 4.6 BPM, 36.9 VORP

Lillard’s numbers are very similar to Westbrook’s in overall effectiveness. The difference is that Lillard is starting to peak as a player, while Westbrook was already declining a bit as a player.  If Lillard can stay near his 2019-20 numbers for two more years, he will be ahead of Westbrook and ensconced below Magic, CP3, Stockton, and Curry.  Lillard’s ability to shoot long range (which Westbrook lacks) bodes well for Dame going forward.

The other active Blazer-based star with a HOF case is LaMarcus Aldridge.  Aldridge’s advanced stats, much like his actual game, are solid but not overwhelming.  Aldridge rarely blows anyone away but is a solid All-Star player.  For some reason, his defense doesn’t rate well.  His blocks are not great and his steals are surprisingly low and hasn’t been dunked much since 2010-11.  All these facts give the feel of a nice low post specialist playing in an era where he skillset is less valued.  Specialist is unfair, of course.  Aldridge is a very good player and has a decent HOF case.  Here’s how compares his predecessor Tim Duncan, as well as a few other modern bigs who occupied similar niches and have HOF cases:

LaMarcus Aldridge: 1,003 games, 20.8 PER, 111.4 WS, .155 WS/48, 1.7 BPM, 32.4 VORP

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

Rasheed Wallace: 1,109 games, 17.0 PER, 105.1 WS, .139 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 38.4 VORP

Tim Duncan: 1,392 games, 24.2 PER, 206.4 WS, .209 WS/48, 5.6 BPM, 91.1 VORP

Aldridge is clearly in the conversation with Bosh and Sheed for the Hall.  It’s fairly amazing how much better Duncan was.  LA could make the HOF as compiler but will need a few more good years.  Aldridge is a cut above other good powers forwards like Terry Cummings and Buck Williams.

-Best retired non-HOFer:   For two seasons, Brandon Roy played as well as any two-guard in the NBA.  For all the hoopla Penny Hardaway and Gilbert Arenas got for their fleeting peaks, Roy came and went even faster.  Roy has no serious HOF case except to say that Roy’s 2008-09 season could fit in to a Kobe Bryant prime season.

The most underrated Blazer, career-wise, is Terry Porter.  He wasn’t as good as Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway but was damn close and played an extra 400 or 500 games as a very good backup:

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

We looked at this previously but Porter is behind Chauncey Billups, Hardaway, and KJ for retired PGs who are not yet in the Hall and in line with Sam Cassell.  Porter will never make it because there are so many PGs who will be eligible in a few years but TP would be a decent choice at some point.

Utah Jazz

 -Most likely HOFer, active players:  Not many obvious candidates at this time.  Donovan Mitchell is a good player but has to show a much higher ceiling to project even close to HOF.  Mitchell is already 23 and has hit only 2.1/2.2 VORP every season.  He could take a big leap but it’s not probable.

Mitchell’s nemesis, Rudy Gobert, has been more effective relative to his peers.  Gobert potentially has an HOF trajectory as a Dikembe Mutombo-type specialist.  Yes, Gobert’s skills are not prototypical for the 2020 NBA but dominant defenders in the post always have value.  For reference, here’s Gobert and Andre Drummond, his only similar peer:

Rudy Gobert: 468 games, 21.5 PER, 62.9 WS, .219 WS/48, 3.8 BPM, 20.1 VORP

Andre Drummond: 599 games, 22.1 PER, 60.6 WS, .157 WS/48, 1.5 BPM, 16.3 VORP

Rudy’s a little older but his numbers look a bit better on both sides of the ball.  Putting aside the COVID stuff and his Mitchell feud, Gobert has some serious value still.

Two older active players of Jazz origin, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap, have likely missed the window of improvement to be in the Hall.  Still, they are both very productive and were top players for a few years there. 

-Best retired non-HOFer:   On the retired side, the Jazz have a number of very good players with different profiles: Jeff Hornacek (efficient shooting guard), Andrei Kirilenko (Russian Scottie Pippen Lite), and Deron Williams (CP3’s main competition before D-Will petered out young).  Here are the numbers:

Jeff Hornacek: 1,077 games, 17.7 PER, 108.9 WS, .154 WS/48, 2.9 BPM, 42.1 VORP

Andrei Kirilenko: 797 games, 18.7 PER, 75.4 WS, .151 WS/48, 4.9 BPM, 41.7 VORP

Deron Williams: 845 games, 18.2 PER, 77.3 WS, .129 WS/48, 1.9 BPM, 28.3 VORP

Williams was briefly a star but it’s clear that he was never quite in CP3’s league and the career ended to quickly to match the other two players here.  As for the others, it’s hard to understate how much an improvement Hornacek was over Jeff Malone, who was below average in most facets of the game (Malone but up -2.3 BPM for Utah).  Hornacek didn’t dominate a game like AK-47 could though.  Alas, Kirilenko had a relatively short career.  Again, a very hard choice between but Hornacek’s longevity makes him a narrow winner to me.