HOF Review: Pacific Division

One day soon there will be actual live basketball games but for now we have reached the final leg of our Hall of Fame franchise review, the Pacific 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

Northwest Division

Golden State Warriors

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  This is an easy one.  Stephen Curry’s Hall of Fame case is set in stone.  The only question is whether the Warriors can continue to compete sufficiently to get him into the Michael Jordan tier.  Last time, we looked at Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard versus other great PGs, including Steph.  To summarize, the quick finding was that Magic Johnson and Chris Paul were the top tier and that Curry and John Stockton were slightly below them.  Stock’s case was built more on sustained excellence, while Curry’s peak was pretty ridiculous.  We will see how Curry ages from here.  He could separate from Stockton.

The interesting side issue is whether some of the GS secondary stars, namely Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, will also make the Hall as important pieces to a multi-title team.  I agree with the general sentiment that being the third or fourth best player on a title is not, on its own, a really good argument to make the Hall.  Nevertheless, it certainly doesn’t hurt a player’s candidacy.  Let’s take a look at where both players stand right now:

Klay Thompson: 615 games, 16.4 PER, 46.8 WS, .110 WS/48, 0.7 BPM, 14.2 VORP

Draymond Green: 576 games, 15.1 PER, 44.4 WS, .132 WS/48, 2.8 BPM, 19.5 VORP

In looking at the numbers a few things are clear: (a) both players have declined quite a bit from their peaks, (b) Green is the more valuable player, and  (c) neither is quite HOF-level yet.  Thompson was a great player in 2014-15 and very good in 2015-16.  Since then, he has not been great (he has even gone negative in BPM in 2017-18 and 2018-19).  If Thompson can put up decent raw stats for five or six years, there is a HOF path but he’s not, objectively, a great choice.

As for Green, he is similar to Dennis Rodman, a very effective player but not the force of nature he was earlier.  Green’s problem has been a drop off in offense that is eating into his value.  He’s posted three-point shooting under 28% the last two seasons (while his attempts from three have gone up).  Green’s 2015-16 .388% is likely a fluke but he needs to get closer to .333% to make him viable stretch forward/center.  It’s possible that Green can turn the ship around but there are now several years of evidence that he can’t consistently hit the three.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  The easy answer is Tim Hardaway.  As noted, Hardaway will get in when the PG logjam (mostly Kevin Johnson and Chauncey Billups) clears up.  Turning to other retired Warriors, most of the greats are already in the Hall (and GS was pretty terrible from the time Ricky Barry left to the Curry teams with notable exceptions). 

If forced to pick a second Warrior retired HOFer, things get much tougher.  The best pre-three-point era player not in the Hall is probably Jeff Mullins.  His resume isn’t awesome but Mullins made three straight All-Star games and scored over 20 ppg four years in a row.  Because most of his career is pre-1973-74, we don’t have as detailed advanced stats record.  What we do have (16.3 PER, 62.8 WS, .123 WS/48) shows merely a good player.

My choice for second Warrior is Sleepy Floyd, who was a pretty underrated PG.  For two years (1985-87), Floyd looked really good (20.1 PER, 17.5 WS, .144 WS/48, 3.9 BPM, 8.7 VORP).  The rest of the time, Floyd was only okay (on the backend of his career, the last four years, he was a horrible backup).  Floyd’s great peak is better, to me, than Mullins’ longer but flatter run.

Finally, I wanted to look at Purvis Short, a corner jump shooter who scored a bit for bad GS teams in the early 1980s.  I remember Short mostly for being Bernard King’s competition to lead the NBA in scoring in 1984-85.  They were two offense-only small forwards on terrible teams.  Short ended up scoring 28.0 ppg without many people actually watching many of his games.  Yet, I was keenly aware of the leaderboard for PPG and knew he was scoring (and losing) somewhere.

I thought we could revisit that scoring season to see if it was as good at it seemed my pre-teen self.  Sure enough, it was not: 18.9 PER, 6.2 WS, .097 WS/48, 0.6 BPM, 2.0 VORP.   Short was pretty good but the perception that his gaudy PPG was a bit empty seemed correct.

Los Angeles Clippers

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  Another easy one….Chris Paul.  Since we’ve discuss CP3 at length previously already (see above), we will shift to Blake Griffin, the other viable candidate.  Quick aside, I know there were some badly timed injuries but it is still crazy to me that the CP3/Griffin Clipps didn’t make it past the second round.  Still, Griffin was an incredible talent and the only issue is whether he has amassed, or will amass enough stats, before injuries cause too much decline.

Before 2019-20, Griffin’s rate states were incredible and incredibly consistent:

Blake Griffin: 622 games, 22.0 PER, 75.2 WS, .167 WS/48, 3.8 BPM, 31.9 VORP

Optimists will note that Griffin was as good and healthy as always in 2018-19.  Pessimists will note that he was terrible in a limited action this season and is already 30 and has a history of injury issues.  He’s not quite fully HOF-level yet but is way better than some other HOF forwards like George McGinnis.  So, the HOF is still a reasonable possibility now based upon Griffin’s stats, flashy game, and great college career.  I just hope he can put up a few more good seasons to make it a no-brainer.

 -Best retired non-HOFer:  Before Griffin, Brand was the amazingly consistent power forward with a chance at the Hall.  Unlike Griffin, Brand’s game was not super exciting or above the rim and one bad injury (Achilles tear before the 2007-08 season) ended the HOF case at age-28.  Here is how Brand rates out for his career:

Elton Brand through 2006-07: 606 games, 22.7 PER, 81.5 WS, .168 WS/48, 3.5 BPM, 32.4 VORP

Elton Brand from 2007-08 to 2015-16: 452 games, 16.1 PER, 28.2 WS, .116 WS/48, -0.3 BPM, 4.9 VORP

Elton Brand Career totals:  1,085 games, 20.5 PER, 109.6 WS .151 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 37.3 VORP

Pre-injury Brand was a dead ringer for Griffin based upon advanced stats.  Post-injury Brand was…….not.  That total package is still pretty close to HOF and the best retired Clipper by far.

In order to do a thorough wrap up, we note that Randy Smith was a star shooting guard from the Buffalo days but his prime years do not actually rate that great (peak BPM 1.5, 2.9 VORP).  Similarly, Danny Manning was only truly a star for about 1.5 years.  His pretty good NBA career plus his NCAA exploits really should get him in the Hall (by typical HOF standards).

Los Angeles Lakers

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   The current Lakers don’t have a sure Hall of Famer who isn’t claimed by another franchise (LeBron and Anthony Davis).   The only player who is surely headed to the HOF is Pau Gasol, who was on a roster in 2019-20 (but was waived before playing in a game).  Pau was really good.  His advanced stats are on par with Blake Griffin’s above, except for the fact that Gasol played 1,226 games and had some great playoff moments too.  So, that’s a clear HOFer.

If you don’t count Pau as an eligible active player, there is literally no second option.  Let’s strain for a second and try….Kyle Kuzma?  Alex Caruso?  I guess Kuzma would have to be the choice because he could get props for being the third scorer on a title team potentially.  I don’t agree with the logic but it is the only semi-plausible case I can come up with.

-Best retired non-HOFer:   Again, Pau fits here if he’s considered retired.  If he’s not, then almost every key Laker of the last 50 years is in the Hall already.  Even Vlade Divac is in the Hall.  That leaves one old guy who was pretty good in Rudy LaRusso, power forward for the Jerry West/Elgin Baylor Lakers of the 1960s.

LaRusso was a strange case.   He played his first eight seasons with the Lakers and put up 14.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg as a third wheel to Baylor and West and even made three All-Star teams.  Red Kerr told Roland Lazenby in “The Show” that: “Rudy was good.  He was a defensive player.  He was the banger on the team.  A guy we didn’t respect sometimes during the game, a guy who did the dirty work for them.  When it was all over, you’d say, ‘You know, that guy killed us.’”

LaRusso was also known for sucker punching Willis Reed in 1966-67, whereupon Reed was so enraged that he essentially fought the entire Laker team (successfully).  An amazing breakdown of the fight can be found here.  Things got weirder later that season when the Lakers traded LaRusso to the Pistons.  LaRusso refused to go to Detroit and threatened to retire because he did not want to leave his pregnant wife and sat out the rest of the season.  After the season, Detroit sold LaRusso to the Warriors.  

In SF, LaRusso had his two best seasons (21.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and made the All-Star in 1967-68 and 1968-69.  The Lakers were a .500 team both seasons and, ironically, lost to the Lakers in the playoffs both seasons. LaRusso apparently commuted from Los Angeles when he played with the Warriors.  He retired in 1969, despite being an All-Star, and went into banking and was a sports agent.

LaRusso wasn’t a superstar but, as a five-time All-Star, is probably the best non-HOFer the Lakers have.  The other competition is made up of borderline All-Sars like Byron Scott, Happy Hairston, or Ron Artest.   Larusso was better, for his time, than they were for theirs and it would be nice to see Rudy’s family get a little recognition (he passed away in 2004).

Phoenix Suns

-Most likely HOFer, active players:   This is your daily reminder that the Suns are not very good right now and haven’t been for quite a while.  The last four years, Devin Booker has put up over 22 ppg and has continued to score very easily.  He has even upped his assists to a very nice clip (6.6 this year).  At age-23, Booker could possibly leap into superstardom.  Yet, there is evidence of some holes.  Specifically, Booker’s defense always rates poorly, leaving his BPM at 1.7 and his other advanced metrics are not as good as you would think for his scoring rate.  He has a chance at the Hall if he can score like this for ten more years but the deep dive shows his value may be overstated.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  We don’t have to go back to Rudy LaRusso’s time to find HOF players in Phoenix.  They have a boatload of surefire Hall of Famers: Kevin Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion.  Behind them, Alvan Adams and Larry Nance were perceived as not quite as good but still very good.  Let’s lineup their advanced stats and see how they rank:

Amare Stoudemire: 846 games, 21.8 PER, 92.5 WS, .169 WS/48, 1.3 BPM, 22.0 VORP

Shawn Marion: 1,163 games, 18.8 PER, 124.9 WS, .150 WS/48, 2.7 BPM, 47.6 VORP

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

Alvan Adams: 988 games, 18.3 PER, 73.5 WS, .130 WS/48, 2.8 BPM, 33.0 VORP

Larry Nance: 920 games, 19.9 PER, 109.6 WS, .171 WS/48, 3.6 BPM, 43.5 VORP

These results were not expected.  KJ is the best of the bunch but Nance is not far behind.  The advanced stats really disliked Amare’s defense as much as Knicks fans did.  Stoudemire’s BPM and VORP are pretty bad for a HOF-quality player.  As for Marion, he’s in line with Nance but had a decline phase that knocked him down a little as well.  The bottom line is that all these players but Adams are due to make the Hall but the order, to me, is: (1) KJ, (2) Nance, (2a) Marion, (3) Amare.

Sacramento Kings

-Most likely HOFer, active players:  Currently, DeMarcus Cousins is the best active player of Sacramento vintage.  Coming off of two major injuries, though, it probably won’t ever happen.  If I had to put my money on one Sacramento player, I’m betting on is De’Aaron Fox.  Fox has steadily improved the last three years and might be the fastest tall point guard I’ve ever seen.  The advanced stats are okay but he’s one worth watching.

-Best retired non-HOFer:  No one gets more of a bum deal than Chris Webber.  The fact that he has had to wait to make the Hall for more than 12 years seems unfair, as he sure feels like a Hall of Famer.  Let’s see if the advanced stats support that feeling:

Chris Webber: 831 games, 20.9 PER, 84.7 WS, .132 WS/48, 3.4 BPM, 42.1 VORP

It’s nice to see that the advanced stats are strongly in Webb’s favor (and even stronger than we expected).  The numbers are great even though they include five post-knee injury seasons of struggling.  Before that, Webber was good for 5+ BPM every year (Webber was even good as a raw rookie).  When you add in his legendary college career, it’s hard to understand why he has had to wait (I know some stuff went down in Michigan but that’s not nearly enough to blot out Webber’s great career).

Forgetting Webb for a second, here’s a quick look at second tier Kings with possible HOF arguments:

Peja Stojakovic: 804 games, 17.1 PER, 82.6 WS, .147 WS/48, 1.9 BPM, 26.2 VORP

Sam Lacey: 1,002 games, 14.2 PER, 50.9 WS, .077 WS/48, 2.4 BPM, 25.9 VORP

We also ran more kooky candidates like Otis Birdsong, Scott Wedman, and Reggie Theus.  Their numbers are about as low as you’d expect without having seen the stats (Birdsong was the best of the bunch).  Peja and Lacey are not actually close to Hall of Famers but both were pretty effective and should get some credit for that.